Repub­li­cans see progress de­spite losses

Leave for long re­cess with only small gains

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAVID SHERFINSKI AND STEPHEN DINAN

Repub­li­cans haven’t scored a mar­quee leg­isla­tive win for Pres­i­dent Trump, but as they prepare to leave Capi­tol Hill for their sum­mer va­ca­tion, they in­sist they have made se­ri­ous gains on many nuts-and-bolts bills to re­shape the gov­ern­ment.

Fail­ure to get a health care bill passed was a sig­nif­i­cant blow, and tax re­form — the other bigticket re­form that con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans had pledged — is strug­gling to gain foot­ing.

But Repub­li­cans said they have taken ma­jor steps to rein in Obama-era reg­u­la­tions, ap­proved leg­is­la­tion over Pres­i­dent Trump’s wishes to sanc­tion Rus­sia, con­firmed a Supreme Court jus­tice, re­vamped the Vet­er­ans Af­fairs Depart­ment and avoided a gov­ern­ment shut­down.

“We lost on the big is­sues. … The head­lines are about the big is­sues and not the bi­par­ti­san stuff that we do,” said Sen. Tim Scott, South Carolina Repub­li­can.

En­ter­ing the year with con­trol over the White House and both cham­bers of Congress for the first time since 2006, Repub­li­cans had grand plans. Re­peal­ing and re­plac­ing Oba­macare was to be first, fol­lowed by tax re­form, an in­fra­struc­ture pack­age, a crack­down on sanc­tu­ary cities and tort re­form.

Some of those — in­clud­ing a hard-won health care over­haul — have cleared the House, but none has cleared the Se­nate, leav­ing House Repub­li­cans steam­ing.

“A lot of us here in the House were gear­ing up again to do the hard work and try to make the me­chan­ics and the dollars and the de­mo­graph­ics work, and we wake up the next morn­ing and the rug’s been pulled out again by the Se­nate,” Rep. David Sch­weik­ert, Ari­zona Repub­li­can, said in the wake of last week’s failed health care vote in the Se­nate.

The House left for its five-week sum­mer break last week.

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch Mc­Connell, Ken­tucky Repub­li­can, had planned to keep his cham­ber in ses­sion for an ex­tra two weeks to work on nom­i­na­tions and other busi­ness, but the Se­nate ad­journed Thurs­day — a week ahead of that mod­i­fied sched­ule — with no real floor busi­ness sched­uled un­til af­ter La­bor Day.

Lead­ers planned a se­ries of pro forma ses­sions in the coming weeks, which would pre­vent Mr. Trump from making re­cess ap­point­ments.

In­stead of the big items, con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans counted re­peal­ing more than a dozen Obama-era rules us­ing a law called the Con­gres­sional Re­view Act and con­firm­ing Jus­tice Neil M. Gor­such to the Supreme Court as wins.

“I think we’ve got­ten a lot done, par­tic­u­larly on the reg­u­la­tory side,” said Sen. John Kennedy, Louisiana Repub­li­can. “I was dis­ap­pointed we didn’t get the health care bill done, but we’re not giv­ing up. We’ll be back.”

The reg­u­la­tory roll­backs were ap­proved on par­ti­san votes but were able to clear be­cause un­der the rules they required only a ma­jor­ity in the Se­nate — mean­ing Democrats couldn’t use the fil­i­buster.

The bi­par­ti­san ac­com­plish­ments so far this year in­clude giv­ing the VA more pow­ers to fire em­ploy­ees for poor per­for­mance, and im­pos­ing sanc­tions on Rus­sia, Iran and North Korea.

Even nom­i­na­tions — usu­ally a per­func­tory piece of busi­ness in the Se­nate — have turned par­ti­san. Democrats have forced the cham­ber to go through pro­ce­dural hoops that have left the ad­min­is­tra­tion with­out a num­ber of key posts filled.

Democrats blamed the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Mr. Trump’s timetable, the Repub­li­cans’ han­dling of the health care de­bate and other rea­sons for the stalling. But the fever seemed to break this week as Democrats al­lowed FBI Di­rec­tor Christopher Wray and a se­ries of mi­dlevel nom­i­nees across gov­ern­ment to clear.

“We know we still have more to do … but we’re pass­ing crit­i­cal leg­is­la­tion, we’re con­firm­ing nom­i­nees to im­por­tant po­si­tions, we’re tak­ing steps in the right di­rec­tion,” Mr. Mc­Connell said.

Democrats said Repub­li­cans earned the slow­down by try­ing to push an Oba­macare re­peal through the fast-track bud­get process — the same method Democrats used to ap­prove the Af­ford­able Care Act in 2010.

“You can’t avoid reg­u­lar order when you want to and then say Democrats should use reg­u­lar order when­ever you want us to,” said Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Demo­crat. “But now that health care is done, I think we can tie the two to­gether — nor­mal way of leg­is­lat­ing, clear­ing non­con­tro­ver­sial nom­i­nees as we move for­ward in Septem­ber.”

Democrats warned Repub­li­cans against re­turn­ing to the fast-track process for tax re­form this fall.

In­stead, they urged Repub­li­cans to try more bills like the Rus­sia sanc­tions leg­is­la­tion, which cleared both cham­bers on over­whelm­ing votes.

Both par­ties con­sider that a win, but Mr. Trump called the sanc­tions bill an ill-timed and un­con­sti­tu­tional med­dling in his pres­i­den­tial for­eign pol­icy pow­ers.

The White House said Mr. Trump signed the bill “in the in­ter­est of na­tional unity,” de­spite the faults he found with it.

Sen. Ron John­son, Wis­con­sin Repub­li­can, said his party made a mis­take with its leg­isla­tive pri­or­i­ties by go­ing to health care first rather than tax re­form.

“In hind­sight, I think truth­fully we started on the right is­sue, which was reg­u­la­tory re­form,” he said. The “next thing we should have taken up was tax re­form.”

He said the lack of ac­tion is a black eye for Congress. “It’s not good enough. We’ve got to do bet­ter,” he said.

Asked to rate the pro­duc­tiv­ity level of the Repub­li­can-con­trolled Congress for the first half of the year, Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein, California Demo­crat, said, “I think the first six months have been try­ing months for all of us.”

When asked if things would change in the fall, Ms. Fe­in­stein crossed her fin­gers as el­e­va­tor doors closed on her.

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