GAVEL DOWN: Closing out the Week in Congress (Jan. 30 – Feb 3, 2017)

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POPVOX Gavel Down Closing out the Week in Congress Jan 30 - Feb 3, 2017

All three branches were in the spotlight this week….

Congress passed Congressional Review Act resolutions, aimed at rolling back Obama Administration regulations. Senate approved two more Trump nominees, installing a new Secretary of Transportation and Secretary of State. President Trump signed executive actions aimed at regulatory reform. Lawmakers debated replacement options for the Affordable Care Act. President Trump announced Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch. District courts across the country heard cases challenging the president's travel ban executive order, which a Seattle court halted Friday afternoon.

Congressional Review Act  |  Two Confirmed Nominees    
Executive Actions  |  Travel Ban  |  Supreme Court Nominee    
Affordable Care Act  |  Cabinet and Agency Appointments  |  ICYMI

Congress began repealing executive rules

The Congressional Review Act (CRA) is having a moment. This week Congress invoked the rarely-used law from the 1996 Contract with America to invalidate several recent Obama Administration regulations.

The CRA gives Congress sixty “session days” to overturn a rule issued by the executive branch. Since Congress met so few days in the last months of 2016, Congress can vote to invalidate rules issued as far back as May 2016.

The following rules got a vote this week. Two (H.J. RES. 38 a and H.J. RES. 41) passed both the House and Senate and are waiting to be signed by the president.

Two more Trump nominees confirmed, total at six

This week the Senate voted to confirm two more Trump nominees — Elaine Chao for Secretary of Transportation and Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State.

On Tuesday, Chao became the fifth appointee confirmed. The final vote was 93-6. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell abstained due to a conflict of interest (Chao is his wife). The next day the Senate approved Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State by a vote of 56-43. Senator Christopher Coons [D, DE] abstained.

This makes for six confirmed presidential nominees. Catch up on the confirmations of Mattis and Kelly and Haley and Pompeo, as well as how your senators voted on all six confirmed nominees.

President Trump signed executive actions aimed at regulatory reform

President Trump signed two executive orders and one memo aimed at regulatory reform. The first executive order called for repealing two regulations for every new regulation. The second executive order directed the Treasury Secretary to review the Dodd-Frank financial oversight law. Since its passage in 2010, several bills have been introduced in Congress designed to provide greater or less regulation in the financial market.

The memo delayed the implementation of the "fiduciary rule," set to go into effect in April. The rule requires brokers to act in the "best interest" of their clients and was the talk of Congress last year. Congress passed a disapproval resolution that President Obama went on to veto.

Order: Regulatory Reform
For every new regulation issued, at least two prior regulations must be identified for elimination and the cost of planned regulations must be managed and controlled through a budgeting process.

Order: Financial Regulatory Reform
Directs the Secretary of the Treasury to consult with the heads of the member agencies of the Financial Stability Oversight Council and report back to the President within 120 days with recommendations.

Memo: Fiduciary Rule
Instructs the Labor Department to delay implementing the "fiduciary rule" for 90 days while it's reviewed.

Catch up on important executive actions thus far, and write to your lawmakers! 


Travel Ban Executive Order in the Courts

Over 50 cases have been filed challenging the executive order that bars entry into the United States by nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Many of the lawsuits claim that the order is unconstitutionally targeting people based on religion. On Friday, a decision by U.S. District Judge James Robart, halted the order nationwide.

Defending the order in a Virginia court, a Department of Justice lawyer said that over 100,000 visas were revoked in the enforcement of the order (the State Department says the number is closer to 60,000).

House Democrats introduced legislation to block the executive order. Senate Democrats vowed to introduce similar legislation and may slow the approval process for Trump nominees in response.










President Trump announced pick for Supreme Court vacancy

President Trump selected federal appeals court Judge Neil Gorsuch to fill Supreme Court vacancy. 

Judge Gorsuch (pronounced GORE-sitch) serves on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a federal court based in Denver, Colorado. The court covers Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming (and portions of Montana and Idaho). President Bush appointed Gorsuch to the post in 2006, and he was confirmed by the Senate in a voice vote.

Fast facts:

  • He earned degrees from Columbia, Harvard, and Oxford. (In fact, he and former President Obama were in the same graduating class at Harvard Law School).
  • Gorsuch's mother Anne Gorsuch Buford was the first female administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), serving under President Ronald Reagan.
  • Some of Gorsuch's most notable opinions include Hobby Lobby ruling regarding contraceptives, religious freedom for prison inmates, and a few cases regarding jurisprudence and judicial deference to agencies.
  • He clerked for Justice Anthony Kennedy. If Gorsuch is confirmed, this would be the first time a justice has served with a former clerk.
  • Gorsuch is 49 years old — the youngest nominee in decades. Currently, the youngest member on the Supreme Court is Justice Elena Kagan (56 years old).

Affordable Care Act Updates

Lawmakers continued to debate how best to address the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

House Energy and Commerce Health subcommittee considered the first Obamacare replacement bills. The committee discussed drafts of four bills (three of which have been introduced in previous years). The bills focus on pre-existing conditions, life-long coverage, and differing rates between seniors and young adults. Watch the hearing, and review the draft legislation.

House Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows and former chair Jim Jordan called for a vote on previously passed ACA repeal bill. Last year, Congressional Republicans used the budget reconciliation process to pass a bill to overturn parts of the Affordable Care Act, but ultimately President Obama vetoed the legislation. 

Some Republicans returned from annual policy retreat last week calling for "repairing" Obamacare rather than "repealing and replacing." This week Senate Finance Chair Orrin Hatch and Senate HELP Chair Lamar Alexander said they're open to repairing Obamacare ahead of wholesale repeal.

Meanwhile, Senate HELP held the second hearing this Congress (and first on the Senate side) on repealing the Affordable Care Act. Catch up on the hearings from House Oversight and Government Reform and Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

Next week, Sens. Bernie Sanders [I, VT] and Ted Cruz [R, TX] will debate the future of Obamacare on CNN. 

Still confused about the reconciliation process? Catch up here and weigh in on first two ACA replacement bills introduced this Congress.

Seven nominees head to the Senate floor,
Cloture invoked on DeVos nomination 

This week seven nominees cleared committee, meaning their nominations now head to the full Senate for consideration.

Every senator will vote on these appointees, so be sure to share your thoughts!

Five nominations were controversial, causing half empty rooms. Senate Democrats boycotted votes and Senate Republicans suspended committee rules to approve nominees without Democrats present

Today Senate convened at its earliest start time since 2009 to invoke cloture on Betsy DeVos nomination. The vote was 52-48, teeing up final confirmation vote for late Monday or potentially Tuesday. Sens. Susan Collins [R, ME] and Lisa Murkowski [R, AK] said they will not vote for DeVos, becoming the first two Republicans to break ranks on President Trump's nominees. Vote is expected to be 50-50, in which case Vice President Mike Pence would cast historic tie-breaking vote.

Scheduling note: Confirmation hearing for labor secretary nominee Andy Puzder was postponed for a fourth time.


Please keep in mind that highlighting specific legislation does not imply POPVOX endorsement in any way. As always, our goal is to offer one more way to help you stay informed about the complex U.S. legislative system.