GAVEL DOWN: Closing out the Week in Congress (Jun 12-16, 2017)

6 min read

Gavel Down - Closing out the week in Congress

A week of hugs, tears, prayers, and unity


A Wednesday morning shooting at House Republicans’ practice for the Congressional Baseball Game left five injured. The Congressional Baseball Game went ahead on Thursday night as scheduled, uniting lawmakers and much of political Washington, at least for one night.

In other news, a small group of GOP senators continues work on a health care bill, amid growing complaints about the secrecy of the process. The House passed several bills in its "Part Three" plan for revamping the health system.

The Senate voted on several significant international affairs bills, including narrowly approving the Saudi Arms Sale, overwhelmingly passing an amendment to add tough sanctions on Russia to its Iran sanctions bill, and an amendment reaffirming America's commitment to NATO's  Article 5 "mutual assistance" principle.


The Congressional Baseball Game

image credit: Stephen Voss, CNN

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise [LA] remains in critical but improving condition (statement from his wife). His armed Capitol Police security detail prevented a much greater tragedy. Heroic officers Crystal Griner [MD] and David Bailey [NC] sustained injuries but ultimately stopped the gunman. A current staffer, Zack Barth [TX] and former staffer Matt Mika [MI] were also injured in the attack. 

The Congressional Baseball Game went ahead on Thursday night as scheduled. It was an unusual scene of unity, with members in tee shirts standing side by side with rivals, cheering on “Team Scalise” in support of the majority whip. Officer Bailey threw out the first pitch. Members knelt together to pray before the game began. Speaker Ryan and Majority Leader Pelosi gave first joint interview.

image credit: Erica Werner

At 24,959 tickets sold, he CBG outsold Thursday MLB games in Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Minnesota and Oakland, and raised over $1 million for charity. Even late night comedians had nothing but props for the responses of the president and MOCs to the tragedy. It was a co-ed game, with Reps. Sánchez and Barragán both scoring runs. Democrats technically took the game 11-2, but gave the Roll Call trophy to Republicans to keep in the Scalise office.  

With the unity, resilience and bipartisan spirit shown, Members of Congress may have been the ones on the field, but all of America won last night.

Accountability at the VA

This week the House passed a bill to change accountability procedures at the Department of Veteran's Affairs:

As reported by Federal News Radio, the bill will:

  • Shorten the time employees have to respond to a disciplinary action,
  • Shorten the time grievance process to 21 days,
  • Expedite the appeals process for rank-and-file employees with the Merit Systems Protection Board,
  • Eliminate the MSPB as an avenue for senior executives to appeal disciplinary actions. Instead, SES can appeal directly to the VA secretary and challenge the decision in the courts,
  • Codify and strengthen the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection, which President Donald Trump created in a recent executive order, and
  • Prohibit bonuses and relocation expenses for employees who have been found guilty of wrongdoing or abuse.

Health Care Update

The House passed several bills in its third of "Three Phases of Repeal and Replace" the Affordable Care Act. These include: a bill to allow health care tax credits to be used to pay for COBRA coverage and a bill to require verification of immigration status to qualify for health tax credits.

Work on the Senate health care bill continues though the chamber may miss its goal to vote on a health bill in June. That would set up a push to expedite the bill after the July 4 recess and "jam the House" before the August recess.

President Tump met this week with thirteen key moderate senators, and he had some harsh words for the House bill. According to recent polls, the public has questions about the bill too (view state-by-state public opinion).

On Friday, Minority Leader Schumer invites Leader McConnell and entire Senate GOP caucus to “family meeting” on health care next week. He also introduced a bill to prohibit expedited consideration of a reconciliation bill (like the health care bill). 

Iran and Russia Sanctions

In an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote (97-2), the Senate passed a sweeping sanctions bill impacting Iran and Russia; Sens. Rand Paul [R, KY] and Bernie Sanders [I, VT] voted no. The bill also “reaffirm the strategic importance” of NATO.

The measure calls for strengthening current sanctions and imposing new ones on a broad range of people, including Russians engaged in corruption, individuals in human rights abuses and anyone supplying weapons to the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Broad new sanctions would be imposed on Russia's mining, metals, shipping and railways sectors.

The measure would punish individuals who conduct what the senators described as "conducting malicious cyber activity on behalf of the Russian government." Also covered by the sanctions are people doing business with Russian intelligence and defense agencies.

The bill would significantly increase the role of Congress in foreign policy, and restrict the president from removing sanctions on Russia without Congressional approval. It now goes to the House where its future is less certain, amid reports that the White House is calling House members "to stop [the bill], slow it, weaken it, dilute it.”  

Tell your representative what you think about S. 722
(Iran and Russia sanctions)

Russia Investigation (Highlights)

  • Russian incursions into our electoral system “far wider” than previously reported


  • Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee


  • Former prosecutor, Sen. Harris, is getting noticed for her questioning style


  • President Trump is under investigation by the special counsel for obstruction of justice


  • President said investigators are “very bad and conflicted people”


  • DAG Rosenstein released an unusual statement saying Americans should be skeptical of anonymously sourced stories, especially if country or agency not mentioned


  • Rosenstein may recuse himself from overseeing special counsel’s probe given role in Comey firing; would make Deputy Attorney General Rachel Brand the top official on the Russia probe


  • Potential for political landmines abound in Senate Judiciary investigation into Comey firing and politicization at the DoJ


  • Trump transition team told to preserve documents related to Russia


  • Kushner financial dealings reportedly now part of the special counsel probe


In Case You Missed It (ICYMI) / DC

  • Washington rocked over rumor Trump considering firing the special counsel, Bob Mueller


  • DAG Rosenstein told Judiciary Committee that Bob Mueller “would only be fired for good cause”


  • How Mueller could be fired (chart)


  • Nearly 200 House Democrats are suing the president claiming violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution
  • LA Times keeping up with Everything President Trump has tweeted (and what it was about)


  • Rep. Quigley introduced “Communications Over Various Feeds Electronically for Engagement Act (yes, it’s the “COVFEFE Act”) to add “social media” to records that must be preserved under the Presidential Records Act (H.R. 2884)


  • Trump administration officially repealed DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and lawful permanent residents), the Obama administration policy that had never been enacted due to ongoing lawsuits


  • DACA, deferred immigration action for “DREAMers”, those brought to the US as children, remains in place


  • Rep. Sherman drafted articles of impeachment against the president – sparking a tense “family discussion” in the Dem caucus


  • First donation ever made by Trump Foundation in 1987 was to Shakespeare in the Park (now subject of Julius Caesar controversy)


  • Congress is getting less smart


  • The USPS used to be the center of gov innovation… can it get it back?


  • President Trump will renominate Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel, a net neutrality supporter, to return to the Federal Communications Commission


  • 5-member FCC needs three commissioners for a quorum; it currently has three (2 Rs, 1 D) but the current Democrat’s, Mignon Clyburn’s, term expires at the end of June


  • President gave DoD unilateral authority over troop levels in Afghanistan


  • US Marshals made two arrests in case of violence against protesters by Turkish security guards in DC


  • Alex Pfeiffer will be the youngest White House correspondent


  • Judiciary Chairman Grassley to block DoJ nominees until his oversight requests are answered


  • Congresswoman or Wonder Woman?




In Case You Missed It (ICYMI) /Nation

  • McDonalds now accepting “snaplications


  • Heat wave in eastern US is compliments of a “coiled snake jetstream” – oh, and Lake Tahoe is got a #Juneuary snow (ski resort will stay open through July 4 for first time ever)


  • What a 2BR rental costs in all 50 states (congrats DC and Hawaii?)


  • Rural incarcerations driving high US incarceration rate


  • What it costs to get your business on one of those interstate exit signs


  • Fidget spinners – not just for humans anymore!


  • United, seriously, what is going on?


  • High schoolers made amazing meals with just $1.25 in DoEd competition


  • Flint officials charged with involuntary manslaughter over failure to act in water crisis


  • Days of real camembert cheese may be numbered – French ambassador responds


  • Patent office has received 32 requests to trademark “covfefe


  • OK, maybe it’s as statement on our ever-connected society, but still is so mean


  • New nutrition labels delayed indefinitely


  • Chimpanzees see butts like we see faces


  • Behold: the new Facebook “gif” button


  • How you draw a circle says a lot about you


  • The new Twitter is the opposite of “edge-y”


  • Monday is Juneteenth, celebrating the date Union soldiers enforced the Emancipation Proclamation freeing all remaining slaves in Galveston, Texas (two and a half years after the proclamation’s signing)


  • Amazon buying Whole Foods for $13 billion (this is totally how it happened)


  • Mapping famous Choose Your Own Adventure books


  • Nearly 2,500 journalists were laid off this week; maybe because ad revenue increasingly flowing to Google and Facebook?




In Case You Missed It (ICYMI) / World

  • General Mattis declared that North Korea is the most urgent threat to US security


  • North Korea released one of four American citizens held in that country


  • Otto Warmbier, 22, was returned comatose, with severe brain injury, after being held in North Korea for 17 months


  • Former NBA star and Apprentice contestant Dennis Rodman returned to North Korea “trying to open a door” in a trip funded by Potcoin (crypto currency for weed)


  • Buzzfeed investigating mysterious case of Russian whistleblower murdered in London


  • Thirty people reported dead and many more missing after a devastating highrise fire in West London


  • Egypt may fine parents for giving their children western names like “Mark” or “Sam”


  • President Trump announced changes to the Obama Cuba policy in Miami


  • American “dental refugees” crossing border to get affordable dental care in Mexico


  • Elon Musk lays out the detailed plan for going to Mars


  • Though recently saying that Qatar funds terrorism, on Wednesday, the Trump administration authorized the country to purchase $21 billion in U.S. weapons


  • The Australian Prime Minister was recorded expressing some characteristically Aussie humor directed at President Trump


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.