From health care reform to Russia probe to Supreme Court nominee…
there was A LOT competing for your attention this week!
House Republicans pulled the American Health Care Act without a vote and began looking to tax reform. Senate passed resolution reversing broadband privacy rules. Top officials confirmed FBI investigation into potential ties between Trump campaign team and Russian government and refuted President Trump's wiretapping claims. Bipartisan lawmakers called for independent commission to examine Russian interference in the 2016 election. Senate Judiciary held four-day confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. Senate confirmed new ambassador to Israel and held confirmation hearings for three more Trump nominees.
Most of this week focused on health care reform, with House Rules discussing amendments to the American Health Care Act (AHCA) in an all-day session on Wednesday. Here were some of the most discussed changes in the new version:
- Allowing states an optional work requirement for Medicaid recipients
- Providing states the option for a fixed Medicaid block grant instead of a per-enrollee payment
- Repealing Affordable Care Act taxes a year earlier
- New York-specific provision prohibiting local government from matching funds for Medicaid (must be provided by the state)
- Tax credits for seniors ($75 million for tax credits for seniors, Senate would set the policy for its distribution)
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released an updated score for the revised AHCA, saying the newer revision would reduce the federal deficit by 55% less than the original version and the uninsured number would remain the same.
Full House vote kept being pushed back, and ultimately House Rules voted along party lines to pass a "same day" rule. (This meant the bill could be considered any time through Monday.) Friday morning the House passed this same-day, closed rule (aka how they would debate the legislation, not the actual legislation). The vote was 230-194 — see how your representative voted here.
The final up and down vote on the bill was expected late Friday, at the urging of President Trump and the White House. Ultimately, House Republicans decided to pull the bill, lacking the votes for passage and in response to President Trump's request.
So what happened with the health care bill?
A lot of ink will be spilled on postmortems in the coming days on why and how the bill failed, but in the end, it all came down to "counting noses." There just weren’t 216 in favor of the bill, and it was pulled before the full House vote.
The bill could not strike a balance in the Republican caucus to bring along enough moderates and enough conservatives to reach the requisite 216 votes. Members cited massive public outreach in opposition to the bill as a major factor, with lawmakers sharing messages from constitutents. Speaker Ryan explained the loss as "growing pains" for Republicans transitioning from an opposition party to a governing party.
President Trump cited lessons learned in the process about loyalty, factions within the House, and "arcane procedure."
Some of the arcane Congressional hurdles the president might be referring to include the limitations on what can be done in a "reconciliation bill." As we've discussed, reconciliation allows a bill to bypass a filibuster in the Senate but limits its content to things that reduce the deficit. That meant that many policies that might have aided the negotiation could not be included if the bill was to survive the Senate's "Byrd Rule," which prohibits "extraneous matters."
Senate voted 50-48 to undo FCC's broadband privacy rules. Bill would allow internet service providers (ISPs) to sell user data, including browsing history and location data, without user consent. Now the bill heads to the House.
Have thoughts to share? Message your lawmakers!
This week House Intelligence held first public hearing regarding Russia probe. FBI Director James Comey said there is no evidence to support Trump's wiretapping claims and confirmed the FBI is investigating possible ties between Trump's campaign team and the Russian government.
NSA Director Mike Rogers echoed Comey's remarks regarding a lack of evidence to support wiretapping claims. Admiral Rogers discussed key foreign surveillance law that's scheduled to expire at the end of this year. (You may remember hearing about FISA and Section 702 earlier this month when House Judiciary held its first hearing this Congress on the expiring amendments.) Section 702 is a key provision and establishes procedures for the government to collect communications of people outside the U.S. for foreign intelligence. Rogers reiterated this point several times throughout the hearing. If you got caught up in all the terms like unmasking and FISA, check out this glossary guide. Expect to hear more about this law as several lawmakers mentioned plans for reform. The White House said it supports renewal of the law without reforms.
With lots of misinformation flying around, here are the biggest takeaways you need to know:
- FBI is investigating Russian attempts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
- No evidence to support Trump's claims that former President Obama tapped phones in Trump Tower.
- No evidence to support claims that votes were changed during the 2016 presidential election.
Several names were mentioned throughout the hearing. On Friday, House Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes said former Trump advisers Roger Stone and Carter Page, as well as former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, volunteered to appear before the committee. FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers will testify again on Tuesday in a closed session.
On Thursday, House Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes said there was new intelligence to suggest possible legal surveillance of Trump's transition team. Reportedly, the surveillance may have been "incidentally" collected during foreign surveillance by U.S. intelligence agencies. Congressman Nunes informed President Trump and the press on the information before updating the committee. Nunes has since apologized to the full committee for the unusual order of communications. Meanwhile, bipartisan members of Senate Intelligence said they are unaware of such intel and requested agencies submit all relevant materials.
The development heightened calls from both sides of the aisle for a special committee. There's bipartisan legislation to create an independent bipartisan commission to investigate foreign interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Specifically, the bill would create a 12-member commission tasked with interviewing witnesses, obtaining documents, issuing subpoenas, and receiving public testimony. The following Congressional leaders would each make three appointments to the commission: Speaker Paul Ryan, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Support or oppose this idea? Be sure to tell your lawmakers why!
Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch faced questions from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee for three days (20 hours!), with a fourth day focused on expert panelists.
Notable moments included:
- Regarding derogatory comments made by President Tump about judges, the nominee said that when "anyone who criticizes the honesty, integrity, and motives of a federal judge, I find that disheartening and demoralizing"
- Though he has not ruled on a case that implicated Roe v. Wade, in the hearing he referred to it as "precedent of the United States Supreme Court.”
- He also stated that "the Supreme Court of the United States has held that single-sex marriage is protected by the Constitution.
- Small world: Judge Gorsuch "knew Obama at Harvard, but 'not well.'"
In one of the most heated exchanges of the hearings, Judge Gorsuch was asked by Senator DIck Durbin [D, IL] about his ruling in Thompson R2-J School District v. Luke P., regarding an autistic child and the standards schools must meet for children with disabilities. Gorsuch explained that he followed the precedent of his circuit in that case, in finding that a de minimis standard was sufficient. In an 8-0 decision released during the confirmation hearing, the Supreme Court sided with the Appeals Court in overturning the Gorsuch decision.
I understand today that the Supreme Court has indicated that the Urban standard is incorrect. That’s fine, I will follow the law. … If I was wrong, Senator, I was wrong because I was bound by circuit precedent, and I’m sorry.
And if you don't know how to say his name aloud, it's Gor-SUCH (rhymes with much).
As the hearings ended, Senate Democrats began expressing opposition to the confirmation, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Democratic opposition statements mention last year’s delay and denial of a hearing for Obama nominee, Merrick Garland.
The question looming over the nomination process is whether Democrats will filibuster and if that opposition will cause Republicans to go through with the “nuclear option,” removing the filibuster requirement entirely for Supreme Court nominations. (Democrats unilaterally took this step in 2013 and removed the filibuster for all other presidential nominations, which is why Trump cabinet nominees have only required 51 votes to pass.)
Here's the deal so you can add to your legislative process knowledge:
The House sets its own rules for the chamber and for how each vote will be conducted. Noncontroversial bills can be considered under "suspension of the rules," but larger bills must be considered "under a rule."
On Wednesday, House Rules met all day to consider amendments to the revised American Health Care Act (AHCA) and set the "rule" for how the legislation would be considered on the House floor. Recently, we talked about how Rules committee works and the spectrum of "rule" types, from open to closed. (If you missed that Q&A, here you go.)
After 11+ hours, Rules passed a "same-day" or "martial law" bill to allow the bill to be considered any time through Monday. (Normally a bill must have at least 24 hours from the time a rule is released before it gets a vote.) The same-day rule allows leadership to keep negotiating to reach deals (on both the rule and any amendments that it will allow) and then bring the rule to the floor as soon as they have an agreement.
So how's it work from there? There's debate on the rule, a vote on the rule, and if it passes, then the House moves to consider the bill under the procedure laid out in that rule. This explains what the House was voting on around 11 am on Friday — not a vote on the bill itself, rather on the "rule" in which it would be considered. The vote was 230-194. See how your representative voted!
Each week we update you on the Senate's progress in confirming Trump nominees. President Trump has now nominated 11% of the total number requiring Senate confirmation, and the Senate has confirmed 34% of the total number submitted. The Cabinet, however, is shaping up with 71% confirmed.
Catch up on confirmation hearings you may have missed:
- SEC Chairman nominee Jay Clayton testified before Senate Banking. (Watch hearing | Weigh in)
- Agriculture Secretary nominee Sonny Perdue testified before Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry. (Watch hearing | Weigh in)
- Labor Secretary nominee Alexander Acosta testified before Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (Watch hearing | Weigh in)
- President Trump signed Cruz bill into law authorizing funding for NASA and setting a new goal to send humans to Mars.
- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Trump's proposed cuts to foreign aid would be inappropriate.
- House Oversight and Government Reform leaders jointly requested the White House turn over any security clearance applications filed by former NSA adviser Michael Flynn.
- Flynn never signed the White House ethics pledge required of all Trump administration appointees barring them from lobbying for five years after leaving office.
- Supreme Court voted 6-2 to limit the president's power to fill agency vacancies on a temporary basis while nominees await confirmation.
- Bipartisan group of lawmakers want to change who appoints the head of the Copyright Office.
- Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley tweeted at Trump over this bill.
- Senate voted 50-48 to reverse OHSA rule on reporting workplace injuries and illnesses. Bill now heads to the White House.
- Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is now accepting bids to design and build southern border wall.
- Justice Department (DOJ) is preparing to send immigration judges to 12 cities to expedite the deportation process.
- Trump administration published first report on crimes committed by undocumented immigrants, per executive order.
- Navy officers convicted in corruption scandal are still eligible for retirement benefits.
- Trump administration said the CFPB's structure should be declared unconstitutional and joined legal challenge to remove the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
- White House fence jumper was on the grounds for 20 minutes before Secret Service apprehended him.
- General Services Administration (GSA) ruled President Trump's hotel in Washington does not violate lease terms, specifically the contract's ban on elected officials receiving benefits.
- Justice Department is investigating Rep. Duncan Hunter [R, CA-52] for alleged campaign finance violations.
- Lawmakers shared pictures of their dogs to celebrate National Puppy Day.
- State Dept. issued a permit to construct the Keystone XL pipeline, reversing Obama administration's decision.
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced credit bureau Experian will pay $3 million fine for providing inaccurate credit scores to consumers. Peers Equifax and Transunion reached a larger settlement on similar allegations earlier this year.
- Bipartisan group of lawmakers want infrastructure reform to be funded by offshore tax reform.
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.