Articles of Interest

GOP Unified Control Still Means Divided Congress

The demise of the Republican effort to repeal the 2010 health care law put an exclamation point on what has become obvious in Washington: The GOP, for all its enthusiasm following its election win last year, is too riven with dissension to meet ambitious goals it set out for itself.

And President Donald Trump seems to have oversold his skills as a deal-maker.

“On delivering on their campaign promises, it’s hard to pat them on the back and tell them they’ve done a good job,” said Sam Geduldig, a former aide to House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, now a partner at the CGCN Group lobbying firm.

That said, the downfall of the Senate health care effort has obscured the achievements Congress has had.

History shows that “it is a mistake to expect big-ticket legislative accomplishments during the early months of presidents newly elected to the office,” said David Mayhew, the Yale political scientist who is perhaps America’s foremost student of congressional productivity.

The exceptions come in moments of crisis, such as early 1933, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed landmark legislation to regulate the sale of stock in response to the Great Depression, or early 2009, when President Barack Obama got his stimulus bill to revive an ailing economy.

Obama didn’t sign his health care law or his financial regulatory overhaul, Dodd-Frank, until his second year in office. President George W. Bush got a tax cut across the finish line in June of his first year but didn’t sign the biggest policy victory of his first Congress, the No Child Left Behind law, until January of the following year.

Trump and Republican leaders in Congress have set ambitious goals to overhaul the 2010 health care law and revamp the tax code. Prospects for both look bleak — GOP leaders announced last week they were throwing out their initial tax plan — but who knows?

It’s easy to foresee the 115th Congress setting a record for futility. But there have been achievements.

So far, the biggest GOP win was the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, gained by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to change Senate rules to allow a simple majority to confirm him — as well as hold the seat open more than year after Antonin Scalia’s death, depriving Obama of the chance at so much as a hearing for his nominee to succeed Scalia, Merrick G. Garland.

The Senate has confirmed every Trump Cabinet appointee it considered. Trump’s only loss on that front, his first Labor Department nominee Andrew Puzder, dropped out after acknowledging that he’d hired an unauthorized immigrant as a housekeeper.

Trump trails his three most recent predecessors, Obama, Bush and Bill Clinton, in the pace of his nominations and confirmations.

On the productive side of the ledger, this Congress did make innovative use of the Congressional Review Act, a 1996 law allowing it to rescind recently finalized regulations.

It had been used successfully once before, in 2001, when Bush signed a resolution revoking a rule by the Clinton Labor Department requiring employers to protect their workers from repetitive stress injuries: the ergonomics rule.

This year, Congress rescinded 14 Obama-era regulations to keep pollution out of streams and guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, among other things. Such CRA resolutions make up nearly a third of its legislative output.

It also sets a precedent future Congresses will surely mimic.

In May, Congress finalized fiscal 2017 spending. It came seven months after the fiscal year began, but was done without shutdown brinkmanship.

In June, Trump signed a law that marks a bipartisan win: a measure responding to the scandal at Veterans Affairs Department hospitals, where dying veterans were left waiting for appointments. The law makes it easier to fire VA employees for poor performance and for whistleblowers to come forward.

Still, Congress hasn’t made much progress on basic obligations. Fiscal 2018 appropriations bills have only begun to move, with no indication Republican leaders can, as promised, restore an orderly budget process.

The House passed a “minibus” spending bill Thursday covering four of the 12 annual appropriations bills for defense, military construction and veterans’ benefits, energy, and the legislative branch. It included $1.57 billion for barriers along parts of the U.S.-Mexico border.

There’s little likelihood it will be enacted in its current form. Because Democrats can block appropriations bills in the Senate, given the 60-vote threshold there, the two parties need to reach a deal to raise limits on defense and nondefense spending enacted in 2011.

Democrats don’t plan to go along with the wall funding, or the defense spending increase in the House bill if there are not comparable nondefense increases. Congress must raise the debt limit, too, this fall — always a fraught vote.

House Republicans hope to move a fiscal 2018 budget resolution when they return in September that would allow them to move forward with a tax overhaul using the fast-track budget reconciliation procedure. Reconciliation allows the Senate to pass measures that have budgetary effects such as taxes, spending and the deficit with only a simple majority.

But disagreements among Republicans over the centerpiece of the House GOP leaders’ initial tax proposal, a border adjustment tax that would have hit imports, prompted leadership on Thursday to ask the tax-writing committees to start over.

Meanwhile, Congress is making progress on other must-pass bills. The House has passed measures reauthorizing the Food and Drug Administration’s system of user fees — which help fund the agency — and a defense authorization bill. They await Senate action.

Both chambers are moving forward with legislation, due by Sept. 30, to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration. Progress is slow because of Trump’s plan to privatize the air traffic control system. The House has incorporated the proposal into its bill, but the Senate has rejected it. Republicans are divided over the idea, with rural members most likely to oppose it for fear it could hurt small airports.

And work has begun on reauthorization of the federal flood insurance program, also set to expire this year.

Another issue is what to do about surveillance authority granted to the National Security Agency in 2008 to collect emails of foreign terrorist suspects. The NSA’s dragnet at one time captured messages written by Americans who were not suspects but merely mentioned people who were, prompting an outcry from civil libertarians. The agency earlier this year said it was now only collecting emails to or from suspects.

Even so, the expiration of the authority at the end of this year will prompt a fight between security hawks who want to renew it, and civil liberties advocates who want to let it expire, or curtail it. Congress has made no progress on a resolution.

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McConnell, Graham leave wiggle room for Barr to withhold parts of Mueller report
Other congressional leaders, Trump call on attorney general to release full report to public

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell left it up to the discretion of Attorney General William Barr to keep some parts of the Mueller report out of the public eye. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

While Democratic lawmakers and many of their Republican colleagues called on Attorney General William Barr to publicly release the full Mueller report, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham left room for Barr to keep parts of it under wraps at the Justice Department.

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III delivered the final report on his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections and possible collusion between Russia and the Donald Trump campaign to Barr on Friday.

Robert Mueller submits Russia report to Justice Department
Report’s delivery sets up showdown over how much public will see of it

Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III on Friday delivered his report on his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible connections between the Russians and the Donald Trump campaign to Attorney General Robert Barr on Friday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III on Friday submitted to the Department of Justice the long-awaited final report on his nearly two-year investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible links between Russia and the Donald Trump campaign.

No more indictments are expected in the investigation, a senior Justice Department official told reporters.

Canoeists claim victory on access to Potomac River near Trump’s golf club
Coast Guard publishes a new rule creating an access corridor

Area canoeists are claiming a legal victory over access restrictions in the Potomac River. (CQ Roll Call file photo)

A group of area canoeists is claiming victory after the Coast Guard announced new regulations that will make it easier for paddlers to float down the Potomac River while President Donald Trump is at his Northern Virginia golf club.

“The paddling community has a voice and we effectively used it to execute change,” Canoe Cruisers Chairman Barbara Brown said in a statement. “The Potomac River is for the American people and we’re glad to see their access to it restored.”

Trump reverses Treasury sanctions on North Korea
President says he would go against his own department to rescind sanctions

Traffic passes a large LED screen as it shows a handshake between U.S President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, on the second day of the USA-DPRK summit on February 28, 2019 in Hanoi, Vietnam. (Carl Court/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump announced Friday he would go against the order of his own Treasury Department and remove additional sanctions imposed on North Korea. 

Trump, via Twitter, said he would not add to existing sanctions on the country, aimed at slowing its nuclear ambitions. The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announced Thursday it would impose sanctions on two Chinese-based shipping companies that helped North Korea evade sanctions.

Big Tech's Breakup With Democrats
CQ on Congress podcast, Episode 145

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., says it's time to break up tech giants like Google, Facebook and Amazon. (Photo by Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, but especially Democrats, are saying that the government should intervene to rein in, or even break up, tech giants like Amazon, Google and Facebook. CQ technology reporter Dean DeChiaro says an antitrust action would require a novel legal approach focused less on pricing power and more on market dominance, while Patrick Pexton, CQ's tech editor, says the tech industry, long aligned with the Democratic Party, could shift its political loyalties

Show Notes:

GOP Rep. writes 407-word Fox News op-ed defending McCain — doesn’t mention Trump once
Kinzinger’s apparent hesitation to explicitly invoke Trump’s name has been a trend among many GOP lawmakers

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., has criticized President Donald Trump in the past for some of his words and actions, but he declined to name the president when defending the late Sen. John McCain. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Adam Kinzinger penned a Fox News op-ed Friday defending the late Sen. John McCain as a bipartisan “maverick,” a man who stuck to his convictions in a civil manner and a rare politician who was “first to say he wasn’t always right.”

The Illinois Republican, who counted the longtime Arizona Republican as a friend and mentor, did not explicitly mention the reason McCain’s legacy emerged in the news cycle seven months after his death: President Donald Trump has re-upped his criticism of the longtime lawmaker this week.

Lawmakers from both parties resist humanitarian and refugee aid changes
A White House proposal would not only cut funding but reshape humanitarian assistance, particularly for refugees

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., speaks with reporters as he arrives for the votes in the Senate to keep the government open on Feb. 14, 2019. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Democratic and Republican lawmakers say they are determined to block a White House budget proposal that would gut the State Department’s refugee operations and slash overall humanitarian aid levels.

President Donald Trump’s 2020 budget request proposes consolidating three separate humanitarian assistance accounts operated by the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development. The new umbrella account would be managed by USAID and, in theory, have more flexibility to respond to rapidly evolving global crises.

Dems are ‘anti-Jewish’ and ‘wasting everybody’s time’ with investigations, Trump says
The president spoke with press on his way to Mar-a-Lago, where he will meet with Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu

President Donald Trump talks with journalists before departing the White House March 20, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

New Orleans congressman calls Steve King a ‘white supremacist’ after Katrina comments
Cedric Richmond slams Iowa congressman after he contrasts Katrina victims with Iowans suffering from flooding

Louisiana Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond did not mince words Thursday, quickly dubbing Iowa GOP Rep. Steve King a white supremacist for his comments about Hurricane Katrina. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Democratic congressman who represents much of New Orleans condemned Rep. Steve King as a white supremacist for belittling Hurricane Katrina victims Thursday.

“My heart goes out to all Iowans. Though it unsettles me that [King] would dare compare them to the countless victims of Katrina, many of whom lost their lives,” Rep. Cedric Richmond  said in a tweet. “When people show you who they are, believe them. Steve King is a white supremacist and I won’t stand for it.” 

Trump continues to bash McCain as ‘horrible’ for role in Russia dossier
President blames media for asking questions about his unprompted criticism seven months after McCain’s death

Cindy McCain, the wife of the late Sen. John McCain, and their son Jimmy follow an honor guard carrying the senator’s casket out of the Washington National Cathedral after his funeral in September 2018. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Donald Trump continued his feud with the late Sen. John McCain, calling the Arizona Republican “horrible” for handing to the FBI the so-called dossier of unflattering information about his pre-White House activities in Russia.

Trump has been lashing out at McCain for nearly a week after he apparently was reminded about the former Senate Armed Services chairman’s role in turning over that document to federal investigators. During a speech Wednesday ostensibly about the economy, the president even criticized the deceased senator and his family for not thanking him for approving parts of McCain’s funeral plans that needed a presidential green light.

Little-known provision prevents Dreamers from working on Capitol Hill
DACA recipients cannot legally serve in congressional offices

Staffers watch as demonstrators rally in the Hart Senate Office Building in January 2018, calling on Congress to pass the Dream Act. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

When Arizona Rep. Greg Stanton was elected last November, he considered it a no-brainer that his campaign’s political director, 28-year-old Elizabeth Perez, would join his congressional staff.

Perez had spent months knocking on doors and speaking to voters across south Phoenix and Mesa. She had deep roots in the 9th District, where she’d lived since she was 4 years old.

For Nancy Pelosi, a woman is chief
Terri McCullough returns home to the Hill in pinnacle role as speaker’s chief of staff

Terri McCullough, incoming chief of staff for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is photographed in the Capitol on Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Terri McCullough is coming home.

The 50-year-old San Francisco Bay Area native, who began her career as an intern for Rep. Nancy Pelosi and has spent more than half her life since working for the California Democrat, is returning to the Hill on Monday.

That congressional intern? He might play in the NFL
NFL player’s association continues off-season externship program for sixth year

NFL safety Michael Thomas, seen here during his Capitol Hill externship in 2018, returned in 2019. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Internships can put you in some tight spaces, even if you’re a lineman.

Now in its sixth year, the NFL Players Association’s externship program gives football pros a chance to explore other careers during the off season — including in the basement recesses of Capitol Hill.

So you want to be on ‘Jeopardy!’? The online test draws nigh
If you’re a political wonk, you can follow in the footsteps of four congressional staffers

Isaac Loeb, a legislative aide of Vermont Democrat Rep. Peter Welch, playing Jeopardy. (Courtesy Isaac Loeb)

Alex Trebek may have pancreatic cancer, but the game show must go on. The longtime host, who announced his diagnosis earlier this month, is still taping new episodes of “Jeopardy!” — and the show is still hunting for new contestants.

Mark your calendars, because the official “Jeopardy!” online test opens in less than a week. The exam is your ticket to an in-person audition, provided you can nail 50 questions, each from a different category. 

DC’s plastic straw ban stirs up feelings on Capitol Hill
Deadline for compliance with straw ban is July

The Longworth Dunkin’ Donuts is one of the eateries on Capitol Hill transitioning to non-plastic straws. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

If your warm-weather routine calls for a switch from hot coffee to iced, prepare yourself. Spring is officially here, and the plastic exodus is underway, according to Roll Call’s audit of straws on Capitol Hill.

Many staffers first felt the shift at the Longworth Dunkin’ Donuts, if all the queries we got in recent weeks are any indication. “What’s the deal with the paper straws at Dunkin’?” was a popular refrain.