Author Archives: Whitney Wyszynski

Q&A

Q & A: Why am I hearing about coal miner benefits?

Why am I hearing about coal miner benefits?


There was a lot of talk during the 2015 end-of-year funding debate about coal miner health benefits. Congress extended the Miners Protection Act through April 28 — authorizing temporary health care and retirement benefits for miners with at least 20 years of experience (impacting approximately 20,000 retired coal miners).

While Congress doesn’t often single out a particular group for special benefits, there are other examples. For example, Medicare covers costs to treat end-stage renal disease for people of any age. Trade adjustment assistance (TAA) programs have provided health subsidies and retraining for people whose jobs were displaced by trade agreements.

If Congress does not act before April 28, the benefits will end.
 

Related legislation:

  • S. 176 from Sen. Mitch McConnell [R, KY]
  • S. 175 from Sen. Joe Manchin [D, WV]

 

Issue Spotlight

First 100 Days of the 115th Congress

POPVOX_Congresss-First-100-Days_Whitney-Wyszynski

First 100 days…You’re hearing a lot about President Trump’s first 100 days, but here at POPVOX, we’re all about Congress and legislation. Whether you’ve been too busy to pay attention or perhaps you got lost in all the developments (can you believe it’s already April?), we’ve created a quick look at what Congress has been up to in its first 100 days.

Let's Start at the Very Beginning

As laid out in the Constitution, Congress convened a new session at noon on January 3, 2017 complete with the prayer and pledge, election of the Speaker of the House, and swearing-in of Members and Delegates (meet the new members). In the House, the 115th Congress kicked off with chaos and controversy over adoption of new House rules package (catch up on the OCE controversy and why talking to your lawmakers still matters). Eventually, the House agreed to new rules package — adding fines for video streaming and reinstating the Holman Rule to allow lawmakers to reduce specific government employees' pay to $1.

The House took its first votes, veterans bills from Reps. Costello and Roe; while the Senate moved to begin work on a budget resolution to start the process of repealing the Affordable Care Act.

On the amusing side, the start of a new Congress gave us #BidenCam with then Vice President Joe Biden joking with Senate families and a teenager that was later grounded for “dabbing” during the oath pictures.

photo credit: Washington Times

 


Congressional Review Act

The Congressional Review Act (CRA) is having its moment in the sun. Congress has invoked the rarely-used law from the 1996 Contract with America to invalidate several 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.

In mid-February, President Trump signed the Huizenga resolution, disapproving of oil and gas reporting rule. You've probably seen it referenced as the "resource extraction" rule. It required oil, gas, and mining companies to report payments they made to federal and foreign governments to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). This marked the first time in 16 years the Congressional Review Act was used to repeal a regulation.

In total, Congress has taken up 15 CRA resolutions in its first 100 days. Thirteen have passed both chambers and been signed into law by President Trump. Congress has until April 28 to use this legislative tool on Obama-era rules.

Learn more and see how your lawmakers voted:

 

Two CRA resolutions have passed the House but await action in the Senate:

 

 

Healthcare Reform

 

In the beginning of January, Congress took first steps in repealing the Affordable Care Act in the form of a budget resolution, setting up a “reconciliation” process that does not need sixty votes to progress in the Senate. Catch up on how it went down here, and see how your representative and senators voted on this first step.

At the end of February, a leaked Obamacare replacement bill spurred reactions from lawmakers, with several conservatives coming out against the plan. The proposal called for an end to the Medicaid expansion program and a reduction in subsidies. This led to an unusual week with reports of a “secret” bill in a “secure location” and scavenger hunts ending with lawmakers talking to statues. Here’s how it all went down.

Following the secrecy and scavenger hunts, House Republicans officially unveiled legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) during the second week of March. The plan, called the American Health Care Act (AHCA), included refundable tax credits and changes to Medicaid. The AHCA maintained some provisions from the ACA, such as allowing children to stay on their parents' insurance plans until age 26 and rules prohibiting insurers from denying people coverage based on preexisting conditions. (Here’s a recap of the biggest changes at this juncture.)

House Rules held an all-day session to discuss amendments to the legislation. Proposed changes included allowing states an optional work requirement for Medicaid recipients and the option for a fixed Medicaid block grant instead of a per-enrollee payment. (Catch up on other changes.) 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 (24 million uninsured by 2026).

Washington spent the week on standby, waiting for a full House vote. The Rules committee voted along party lines to pass a "same day" rule (meaning the bill could be considered any time through the upcoming weekend). On 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. (Here are some more details on how it went down.)

So what happens now? House Republicans are putting the "finishing touches" on a revised plan. President Trump is pushing for the House to vote before the end of April on the new deal, but it’s unclear if the legislation will be ready in time or if the votes will be there.

 


Confirmation Hearings

The Senate has been busy with confirmation hearings. There are 554 key positions that require Senate confirmation and the Trump administration has formally nominated 46 people for these positions. Of those, the Senate has confirmed 22 nominees (47%). Check in on the nominations here.

See how your senators voted on nominees (in order of confirmation):

  1. Retired Gen. James Mattis confirmed as Secretary of Defense by 98-1 vote

  2. Retired Gen. John Kelly confirmed as Secretary of Homeland Security by 88-11 vote

  3. Then Congressman Mike Pompeo confirmed as CIA Director by 66-32 vote

  4. Then South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley confirmed as United Nations ambassador by a vote of 96-4

  5. Elaine Chao confirmed as Secretary of Transportation by 93-6 vote

  6. Rex Tillerson confirmed as Secretary of State by 56-43 vote

  7. Betsy DeVos confirmed as Secretary of Education by 51-50 vote

  8. Steven Mnuchin confirmed as Secretary of Treasury by 53-47 vote

  9. Linda McMahon confirmed as Administrator of the Small Business Administration by 81-19 vote

  10. Then Congressman Mick Mulvaney confirmed as Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) by 51-49 vote

  11. Then Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt confirmed as EPA Administrator by 52-46 vote

  12. Wilbur Ross confirmed as Secretary of Commerce by 72-27 vote

  13. Then Congressman Ryan Zinke confirmed as Secretary of the Interior by 68-31 vote

  14. Dr. Ben Carson confirmed as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development by 58-41 vote

  15. Former Texas Governor Rick Perry confirmed as Secretary of Energy by 62-37 vote

  16. Seema Verma confirmed as the Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) by 55-43 vote

  17. Former Senator Dan Coats confirmed as Director of National Intelligence (DNI) by 85-12 vote

 

So what about the Cabinet?

The Senate has confirmed 87% of the Cabinet, with only Agriculture Secretary nominee, Sonny Perdue, and Labor Secretary nominee, Alex Acosta, awaiting confirmation (both were nominated later than other nominees). During the last week of March, Senate committees advanced both nominees to the full Senate for consideration.

Acosta in for Puzder

So what happened to Andrew Puzder? Well, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) scheduled his confirmation hearing for Feb. 17, following four postponements due to missing ethics and disclosure paperwork. Two days before his confirmation hearing, Puzder withdrew from consideration, becoming the first Cabinet nominee to do so. Alexander Acosta was chosen as the new labor secretary nominee two days later.

Notable Moments in Cabinet Confirmations

The Senate confirmed two Trump nominees during his first week as president: Retired Gen. James Mattis for Secretary of Defense and Retired Gen. John Kelly. Congress had to pass a waiver for Mattis, exempting him from a federal law that states that defense secretaries must not have been on active duty in the previous seven years.

The second week of February brought marathon nights and new Senate milestones. Senate Democrats forced two all-night sessions to delay confirmation votes, leading to a full 57 hours in session — second in length only to the 1960 82-hour session on the Civil Rights bill. Then the final vote on Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos made U.S. history — the first cabinet nomination to require the Vice President to use his position as President of the Senate to break a tie.

During the debate over the nomination of then-senator/now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Senate voted to discipline Senator Elizabeth Warren [D, MA] for reading a letter from the late Coretta Scott King, which a majority of senators said violated the rarely-invoked Rule XIX: "no Senator in debate shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator."  (Read the full rule.) Fun facts about Rule 19? It was created following an all out brawl in the Senate and includes a little known provision that entitles former presidents to address the Senate with appropriate notice. Sessions became the first attorney general from Alabama in U.S. history.

The next week the Senate stayed in session overnight again, as Senate Democrats expressed concerns about Scott Pruitt's nomination for administrator of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency).

 


National Security Adviser Resigned

Michael Flynn resigned as national security adviser after reports he misled White House officials about his conversations with Russia. His 24-day tenure was the shortest in history for a national security adviser.

The Department of Justice reportedly warned the White House about Flynn's communications with Russia back in January, under the direction of then acting attorney general Sally Yates, who feared Flynn could be vulnerable to Russian blackmail attempts. The president told reporters he had no problem with the calls to Russia, but that Flynn's misrepresentations to Vice President Pence were "unacceptable."

Bipartisan senators called for a full briefing and transcript of the Flynn calls. House Oversight and Government Reform Chair Jason Chaffetz said the committee will not investigate Flynn but will investigate the leaks within the administration that led to the information becoming public. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called for an independent, outside investigation.

President Trump then named retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg as acting national security adviser. Robert Harward, former CENTCOM commander under Defense Secretary James Mattis, turned down President Trump's offer to serve in the role permanently. Towards the end of February, President Trump selected Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster to serve in the position. (His full name is Herbert Raymond, but he goes by H.R.) Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle praised the decision, noting McMaster's extensive experience. Sen. Tom Cotton [R, AR] once served under General McMaster and first suggested him for the position. This role does not require Senate approval, but McMaster will require Senate confirmation in order to maintain his military rank.


Sessions' Testimony Controversy

image credit: CNN

 

Lawmakers weighed in on reports that Attorney General Jeff Sessions communicated with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the presidential campaign, contradicting his Senate testimony.

Several senators called on Sessions to clarify his testimony through either an explanatory letter or by testifying again. Other lawmakers called for Sessions to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. Rep. Darrell Issa [R, CA-49] said recusal wasn't enough and instead called for a special prosecutor to take over the investigation, echoing comments from former President George W. Bush. Several lawmakers called for Sessions' resignation.

Sessions failed to disclose this communication while under oath during his confirmation hearing. He testified before Senate Judiciary that he was not aware of anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign having met with Russian officials. In response to a question submitted for the record, he said he had not been in contact with anyone connected to the Russian government regarding the election.

Sessions maintained that his conversations with the ambassador were part of his official duties as a senator and member of the Senate Armed Services committee (rather than a Trump surrogate). It was later revealed that Sessions used campaign funds for convention expenses, including the meeting with the Russian ambassador. Catch up on the timeline and details here.


Russia Investigations

Congressional committees have been investigating Russian hacking allegations and possible ties to the Trump campaign. At the end of January, Senate Intelligence announced it would investigate whether the Russian government had ties to political campaigns during the presidential election (reversing course from Chair’s previous remarks). Shortly after, House Intelligence joined in Russia probe, launching the second Hill investigation committee. The scope of the investigation mirrors that of the Senate Intelligence investigation, including counterintelligence concerns related to links between Russia and political campaigns and Russian cyber activity and “active measures” directed against the U.S. (Read up on the details here.)

House Intel's Russia Probe

House Intelligence held the first public hearing regarding the Russia probe, with NSA Director Mike Rogers and FBI Director James Comey testifying. Director Comey confirmed the FBI is investigating Russian attempts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election (making it the third investigation in play). Catch up on the hearing (and what all those crazy terms like unmasking and FISA meant).

The House Intelligence investigation then became embroiled in controversy after Chair Devin Nunes said there was new intelligence to suggest possible legal surveillance of Trump's transition team. Congressman Nunes informed President Trump and the press on the information before updating the committee. Nunes later apologized to the full committee for the unusual order of communications. Bipartisan members of Senate Intelligence said they were unaware of such intel and requested agencies submit all relevant materials. This 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. Learn more about it, and share your thoughts in support or opposition.

The next week House Intelligence was set to hold another public hearing regarding Russia investigation but ended up canceling its meetings for the week, amid calls for Nunes to recuse himself. Chairman Nunes said the committee needed to hold a closed session before proceeding.

There were reports that former CIA Director John Brennan briefed eight top members of Congress last August on increasing evidence of Russian interference in the election. Brennan was scheduled to testify before House Intelligence in March, but Chair Nunes canceled the hearing.

At the beginning of April, Nunes stepped aside in the Russia investigation. (Learn more about why). Rep. Mike Conaway [R, TX-11] took over the investigation. He will be assisted by Reps. Trey Gowdy [R, SC-4] and Tom Rooney [R, FL-17].

*UPDATE* Today House Intelligence re-invited several Obama administration officials to testify before the committee in a closed hearing on May 2: former CIA Director James Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates. All three officials were originally invited to testify in March, but the hearing was cancelled. FBI Director James Comey and National Security Advisor Admiral Mike Rogers have also been invited to testify again.

Senate Intel’s Russia Probe

Crossing over to the Senate side — Senate Intelligence held its first public hearing (a rarity for Senate Intel) at the end of March. The committee has received praised for its bipartisan approach to the investigation. Witnesses at the hearing described online tactics employed during the 2016 election as a continuation of Russian “active measures” dating back to the Cold War. Here are some notable moments you may have missed.

Offers To Testify

Meanwhile, former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page confirmed he met with Russian intelligence operatives. Former Trump advisers Roger Stone and Carter Page, as well as former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, offered to testify before both House and Senate Intelligence committees. Former national security adviser Michael Flynn said he would testify on possible ties between Russia and the Trump campaign if granted immunity. Flynn made the offer to all three entities conducting investigations (FBI, House Intelligence, Senate Intelligence). Flynn’s lawyer cited the politicized environment as his reason to seek immunity. If one entity grants immunity it can eliminate the ability of the others to prosecute. At the end of March, Senate Intelligence rejected Flynn’s request. No word from House Intelligence or FBI regarding the same offer.


 

Supreme Court Justice

President Trump nominated then federal appeals court Judge Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court on January 31, 2017, over a year since President Obama first nominated Judge Merrick Garland for the same vacancy. Senate Republicans refused to hold hearings or votes on the Garland nomination, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell citing much-contested Senate precedent of not approving a president's nominee in the final year of his term.

When nominated, Judge Gorsuch (pronounced GORE-sitch) was serving on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which 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. This teed up long-awaited Senate confirmation battle.

Gorsuch spent lots of time on the Hill meeting with senators and preparing for his confirmation hearings. He faced questions from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee for three days (20 hours!), with a fourth day focused on expert panelists. Catch up on the hearings here.

Ultimately, it took 419 days from Justice Antonin Scalia’s death to confirm a nominee for the vacancy. Senate Democrats filibustered the nomination, leading Senate Republicans to invoke the so-called “nuclear option.” The confirmation required Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to make a formal change to Senate precedent – the requirement for sixty votes to end debate and proceed to a vote. The “nuclear option” allowed McConnell to rule that a simple majority vote was enough to consider the nomination. This ruling by the chair was then upheld by a majority of senators, ending the 60-vote filibuster for Supreme Court nominees. That left just the final confirmation vote (which came earlier than expected) and Gorsuch was confirmed to the Supreme Court by a vote of a vote of 54-45. Gorsuch is the youngest nominee in decades and could serve on the court for upwards of 30 years.

 

 


President Trump Addressed Congress

President Trump delivered his first address to a joint session of Congress. Why was it an address rather than a State of the Union? Simply put, because that's what Speaker Ryan invited the president to deliver. It follows precedent and is typical of first year presidents because they haven't been in office long enough to "authoritatively describe the state of the union." President Ronald Reagan began the tradition of a presidential address to Congress about a month after taking office, and it has continued ever since. Learn more and troll your friends who referred to it as the State of the Union.

Trump mentioned proposals for immigration reform, infrastructure, trade, tax reform, education, terrorism, and replacing the Affordable Care Act. Morning Consult has your back with a quick recap of the biggest moments. Read the full speech.

Fashion choices — Many of the 66 Democratic female lawmakers wore white clothing in a nod to the women's rights movement in the early 1900s. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross showed up in slippers to work.


Washington’s Farewell Address

This year Senator Ben Sasse [R, NE] delivered Washington's farewell address, an annual tradition in the Senate, begun as a way to boost morale during the Civil War and has continued without interruption since 1896. A different senator is selected each year (alternating between political parties) to read the 7,461-word address. Delivery typically takes about 45 minutes. It is one of the Senate's longest and most bipartisan traditions. Learn more about the tradition, and read the full address.

 

 


President’s Budget

On March 16, President Trump unveiled his "America First" budget proposal. It included significant cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, State Department, and Agriculture and increases to Defense, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs. Trump's budget marks the first time a president has called for ending the national endowments (the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities).

President Trump instructed federal agencies to assemble a budget that includes sharp increases in Defense Department spending and significant cuts to domestic agencies. The president proposed a $54 billion boost to defense funding. If you’re confused about the interplay between the President’s Budget and appropriations, this is for you.


Fiscal Year 17 Defense Appropriations

House version of FY17 defense appropriations was released at the beginning of March. The $578 billion appropriations bill dropped later than usual and would authorize $61.8 billion in emergency war funding. If you're scratching your head because it's already 2017, here's the deal — The Defense Department has been operating on 2016 funding since the beginning of FY17 last October. The department can not begin new programs or alter funding levels until Congress passes the 2017 appropriations bill. The 114th Congress failed to pass the FY17 defense appropriations, and this spending bill "closely reflects" the version that passed the House. (Check out the explanatory statement, as well as the bill highlights and full text.) The next week the House passed the bill by a vote of 371-48. It’s now awaiting action in the Senate.

 

 


Debt Limit

The debt ceiling is a cap set by Congress on the amount of debt that can be issued by the US Treasury. Lawmakers began talking about raising the borrowing ceiling as the mid-March deadline approached. Remember: Congress sets the debt limit and only Congress can raise it.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin sent a letter to lawmakers, encouraging Congress to raise the debt limit. Congress last voted to do so in October 2015 as part of the two-year bipartisan budget deal (then Speaker John Boehner's promise to "clean the barn" before departing). See how your (then) representative and senators voted on the measure.

The 115th Congress has not voted to raise the debt limit. The current debt limit suspension expired and reset to about $20 trillion on March 16. There’s plenty more to it (like why we’re talking about the debt limit again), so check this out for more details.

 


Congressional Retreats

At the end of January, Congressional Republicans spent three days in Philly, discussing policy initiatives and jamming to White Ford Bronco. The retreat included addresses from President Trump, Vice President Pence, and British Prime Minister Theresa May.

Meanwhile, Democratic senators headed to West Virginia to refine their legislative agenda and discuss reconnecting with rural voters. During the second week of February, House Democrats convened in Baltimore for their annual policy retreat. The theme was "Fighting for All Americans," and members participated in sessions on national security, fake news, civil rights, and the economy.  

If nothing else, enjoy these pics of lawmakers in ~casual~ attire.

 


Congressional Recess

Congress spent time working from home. A lot of people bill recess as time Congress "isn't working," but that's just not true.

Part of the problem is the name: recess. It reminds you of a break from school or perhaps that old cartoon show. The official term is “District Work Week.” In parliamentary procedure, Congress "adjourns" and is said to stand in recess. Most Members of Congress use their time away from Washington to interact with constituents. They host town halls, visit local businesses and factories, and meet with constituents. These interactions inform their work when they return to Washington. Check the House and Senate calendars, and keep up with your lawmakers.

 

The lowdown on some legislation you may have heard about:

 


Really want to dig in?

Check the archives, and feel like you’ve been following every step of the way. Subscribe to our newsletters, and get the lowdown on Congress in your inbox each week!

 


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.

Gavel Down

GAVEL DOWN: Closing out the Week in Congress (Apr. 17-21, 2017)

Gavel Down - Closing out the week in Congress

Week two of recess and lawmakers are preparing to return to Washington…

House Republicans are readying new version of an Obamacare replacement bill. Current spending authorization runs out next week, meaning Congress must pass a deal to avoid a government shutdown. The 115th Congress reached 100-day mark. White House is expected to drop tax overhaul plan next week. Speaker Ryan has said Congress might not pass a tax bill until much later in the year.

Gavel Down

GAVEL DOWN: Closing out the Week in Congress (Apr. 3-7, 2017)

Gavel Down - Closing out the week in Congress

Senate made major rule change….

The Supreme Court will soon return to capacity with nine members. Senate Republicans invoked “nuclear option” and confirmed Neil Gorsuch with simple majority vote. Lawmakers responded to U.S. missile attack on Syria with mix of concern and praise, with several members calling on Trump administration to seek authorization from Congress for use of military force. House Republicans are working on reviving Obamacare replacement legislation. House Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes stepped aside in committee’s Russia probe. North Korea launched another missile, with President Trump saying the U.S. is ready to act alone on North Korea if China doesn’t intercede.


Senate confirmed Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court


It's been 419 days since Justice Antonin Scalia's death, and he finally has a successor to the Supreme Court.

On Friday, the Senate confirmed Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court by a vote of 54-45. Gorsuch is the youngest nominee in decades and could serve on the court for upwards of 30 years.

This week’s confirmation of Judge Gorsuch required Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to make a formal change to Senate precedent – the requirement for sixty votes to end debate and proceed to a vote. The so-called “nuclear option” allowed McConnell to rule that a simple majority vote was enough to consider the nomination. This ruling by the chair was then upheld by a majority of senators, ending the 60-vote filibuster for Supreme Court nominees. That left the final confirmation vote, which came earlier than expected on Friday.

It's been over a year since President Obama first nominated Judge Merrick Garland for the vacancy. Senate Republicans refused to hold hearings or votes on the nomination, with McConnell citing much-contested Senate precedent of not approving a president's nominee in the final year of his term.

No word on when Gorsuch will be sworn in as an official associate justice, so for now, learn about the newest justice to the Supreme Court:

  • 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).
  • He clerked for Justice Anthony Kennedy. With Gorsuch confirmed, this marks the first time a justice has served with a former clerk.
  • 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.
  • Gorsuch is 49 years old — the youngest nominee in decades. Currently, the youngest member on the bench is Justice Elena Kagan (56 years old).
  • Gorsuch met his wife Louise while attending Oxford. They have two daughters: Emma and Belinda.


Lawmakers respond to U.S. missile attack on Syria

On Tuesday there were reports of a chemical attack in Syria that killed over 70 people. On Thursday night, the Pentagon released details on U.S. missile strike on Syria. The Trump administration notified Russian officials in advance of the strike. Members of Congress reacted with a mix of praise and concern, with many calls for the administration to seek authorization from Congress for the use of military force.

Sen. Rand Paul [R, KY] said President Trump violated the Constitution by ordering strike without congressional approval. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi wants House to return early to debate military action in Syria. Bipartisan lawmakers called for Trump's next steps in Syria.


You've probably been hearing about AUMFs. If you're scratching your head, here's the deal: AUMF stands for Authorization for Use of Military Force. As the name suggests, it refers to Congress authorizing military force.

According to the War Powers Act, the President may command U.S. armed forces for a military operation overseas but must notify Congress within 48 hours. These forces cannot operate in a deployed status for more than 60 days without a congressional declaration of war or an authorized use of military force (AUMF).

The last AUMF authorized was in 2001, in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, authorizing the use of U.S. Armed Forces against those responsible for the attacks on September 11, 2001 and any “associated forces.”

Two AUMF resolutions have been introduced this Congress. They're identical resolutions that would authorize the use of military force against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. See the resolutions from Senator Young and Congressman Banks.

 


House Republicans working on reviving Obamacare replacement legislation


This week, the White House and Republican lawmakers discussed ways to resurrect the Obamacare replacement legislation after House Leadership pulled a vote on the American Health Care Act (AHCA) last week. Vice President Mike Pence met with both the conservative House Freedom Caucus and moderate Republican members to discuss changes to the legislation, with reported discrepancies.

On Thursday, the House Rules committee marked up an amendment to the bill, setting up vote for after recess (or possibly before per memo from House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy). The new language would create $15 billion federal high-risk pool to provide insurance coverage to Americans with pre-existing and serious health conditions. Pool would be replaced by individual state-run high-risk pools in 2020.


House Intelligence Chair Nunes stepped aside in Russia probe


This week House Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes stepped aside in Russia investigation, amid calls from bipartisan lawmakers to do so. Questions arose regarding Nunes' relationship with the Trump administration after he went to the White House to review Trump campaign communications. Nunes then shared the information with President Trump and the public before sharing it with committee members. Nunes is now under House ethics investigation per House rule that requires investigation whenever classified information is in play. 

Rep. Mike Conaway [R, TX-11] will take over House Intelligence probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, with help from Reps. Trey Gowdy [R, SC-4] and Tom Rooney [R, FL-17].

New reports this week that former CIA Director John Brennan briefed eight top members of Congress last August on increasing evidence of Russian interference in the election. Reportedly, the CIA obtained evidence early in summer and was confident by late August, whereas the FBI did not publicly draw this conclusion until early December. Brennan told lawmakers the FBI would have to take the lead because the CIA deals exclusively with foreign intelligence. Brennan was scheduled to testify before House Intelligence, but Chair Nunes cancelled the hearing.


North Korea launched another missile


State Department confirmed that North Korea launched "yet another intermediate range ballistic missile." This week the National Security Council (NSC) completed a broad review of possible actions the U.S. can take to halt North Korea's nuclear weapons.

President Trump said the U.S. is ready to act alone on North Korea if China doesn't take a firmer stand, teeing up topic of conversation for this week's visit from Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Following news of the latest missile launch, Congressman Lieu promoted legislation to restrict President Trump from launching nuclear first strike without a declaration of war by Congress.
 


#ICYMI


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.

Q&A

Q & A: What is a resolution of inquiry?

 

Great question! It’s not something you've heard a lot about before, but this procedural move is having its moment in the sun this year.

A “resolution of inquiry” requires committee action within 14 legislative days (meaning the committee has to report on the resolution – either favorably, unfavorably or without recommendation). If the committee does not act within 14 legislative days, it can be brought up immediately on the House floor for a vote.
So far, House Democrats have forced committee votes on several resolutions of inquiry on a variety of topics. The resolutions call on the Trump administration to provide certain documents – from the president’s tax returns (Pascral resolutionto documents related to the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (Kennedy resolution).

 


If you're wondering something, you're probably not alone. Each day we answer questions about Congress, the legislative process, and government in general. Submit your question(s), and look out for the answers in future Q&A posts!

Gavel Down

GAVEL DOWN: Closing out the Week in Congress (Mar. 27-31, 2017)

Gavel Down - Closing out the week in Congress

Congressional Review Act stayed in the spotlight…

Congress passed bill to allow states to deny federal funds to clinics that provide abortions. State Dept. notified Congress it will proceed on Bahrain arms sale without human rights conditions, kicking off approval period. House joined Senate in passing bill to reverse broadband privacy rules for internet service providers. Senate Intelligence held open hearing on Russia investigation. House Intelligence postponed second public Russia hearing and cancelled meetings for the week. Senate Judiciary teed up Supreme Court nominee vote for next week. President Trump signed four bills into law, reversing Obama era rules concerning education, public lands, and federal contractors. Senate committees advanced final Cabinet nominees to full Senate for consideration.


Congress passed bill to allow states to deny federal funds to clinics that provide abortions


Senate joined the House in passing Black resolution, disapproving of a Health and Human Services (HHS) rule regarding Title X federal grants for family planning and preventative healthcare services. Phew! That was a mouthful. So what's that all mean? This bill specifically targets a regulation that prohibits states from denying federal funds to health care providers that perform abortions.

There is already a ban on using federal funds for abortions (except in rare instances), but federal family planning money can support clinics for other healthcare services. This bill would permit states to block this money from clinics that provide abortions.

Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski voted against the measure, decreasing the Republican majority to 50 members. Short on votes, Sen. Johnny Isakson [R, GA] was wheeled in to vote (he's been recovering from back surgery). Ultimately, Vice President Mike Pence was called on to cast another tie-breaking vote. President Trump is expected to sign the measure into law.

  • Senate passed 51-50. See how your senators voted.
  • House passed 230-188. See how your representative voted.

File away for your trivia bank — Joe Biden didn't break a single tie in his eight years as vice president. In fact, Biden became the longest-serving vice president never to cast a tie-breaking vote. Vice President Pence has now broken his third tie. So how often do vice presidents break Senate ties? FiveThirtyEight crunched the numbers.


State Dept. notified Congress; will proceed on Bahrain arms sales sans human rights conditions


This week Secretary of State Rex Tillerson notified Congress of decision to lift human rights conditions on major arms sale to Bahrain. Previously, the Obama administration said it wouldn't complete the sale until Bahrain demonstrated progress on human rights issues. 

This notice triggered a three-week informal notification period, followed by a formal 30-day period in which Congress examines the sale and chooses to allow or block the sale. Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs are responsible for considering the sale. Members can either clear the sale or place a hold on it.

So what's Congress got to do with arms sales anyways? Per the Arms Export Control Act (AECA), Congress must be formally notified 30 calendar days before the executive can conclude a government-to-government foreign sale of certain defense equipment. (There are exceptions, such as 15 days for sales to NATO member states and a handful of other countries.) Really interested? Learn more from the Congressional Research Service.


Congress passed bill reversing FCC privacy rules for internet service providers


House joined the Senate in approving Flake resolution that would reverse the FCC's broadband privacy rules prohibiting internet service providers (ISPs) from selling customers' data, including browsing history and location data, without explicit consent. This is another example of the Congressional Review Act, which gives Congress sixty "session days" to overturn rules issued by the executive branch. The bill now heads to President Trump, who is expected to sign the measure into law.

  • House passed 215-205. See how your representative voted.
  • Senate passed 50-48. See how your senators voted.

Senate Intelligence held open hearing on Russia investigation


In a rare open hearing, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence heard testimony on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Led by Chairman Richard Burr and Ranking Member Mark Warner, the committee has received praised for its bipartisan approach to the investigation, which Senator Warner has called “the most important thing” he has taken on in public life. Senator Burr said“We are all targets of a sophisticated and capable adversary – and we must engage in a whole-of-government approach to combat Russian active measures.” 

Witnesses at the hearing described online tactics employed during the 2016 election as a continuation of Russian “active measures” dating back to the Cold War. With a weakened economy and world position, the digital “active measures” of the past few years have allowed Russia to “punch above its weight,” repurposing “their playbook and many of their players” from the Soviet era. “Today, Russia hopes to win the second Cold War through the force of politics, as opposed to the politics of force,” one witness told the panel.

Notable moments you may have missed:

  • Witness telling Sen. Marco Rubio [R, FL] that Rubio was the target of Russian social media attacks during the 2016 campaign. Rubio confirmed and noted that his staff was targeted again by Russian bots in the 24 hours before this hearing.
  • The same witness said similar attacks were leveraged against House Speaker Paul Ryan just last week.
  • When asked how to find evidence of Russian involvement, witness Chris Watts of the Foreign Policy Research Institute told Sen. Jim Lankford [R, OK] to follow the money and “the trail of dead Russians.” (Eight high profile Russians connected to the investigation have been killed in the past five months.)

House Intelligence cancelled its meetings this week, including hearing on Russia probe


You’ve probably been hearing a lot more about the other intelligence committee in Congress in the news. The investigation by House Intelligence has become mired in controversy after its chairman, Congressman Devin Nunes, made a late-night visit to the White House to view Trump campaign files. Reports this week that three National Security Council (NSC) staffers shared files showing that Trump campaign communications were swept up in surveillance of foreign nationals. Chairman Nunes (pronounced NOO-nez because we're sure you're wondering) shared the information with President Trump and discussed it publicly in a news conference before informing committee members. Catch up here.

This week House Intelligence was set to hold another public hearing regarding Russia investigation but ended up canceling its meetings for the week, amid calls for Nunes to recuse himself. Rep. Walter Jones [R, NC-3] became the first Republican lawmaker to call for recusal. 

Chairman Nunes said the committee needed to hold a closed session before proceeding. Chairman Nunes and Ranking Member Adam Schiff met to discuss the committee's stalemate over how to proceed with Russia investigation.

On Thursday, the White House counsel issued an invitation for leaders of both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees to review information “related to incidental collection and the unmasking of names.” It is not clear whether the information will be the same as that shared with Nunes by the NSC officials.


Senate Judiciary teed up Supreme Court nominee vote for next week


This week kicked off with Senate Judiciary holding a meeting on Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. Committee Democrats forced a one-week delay on the vote, teeing up committee vote for April 3. This means the earliest Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could file cloture is April 4, meaning the Senate could vote as early as next week on Gorsuch nomination.

Senators spent the week coming out in support or opposition of the nominee. Senator Leahy became the first to say he may oppose Gorsuch nomination but will vote for cloture. Sens. Manchin and Heitkamp said they will support Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, becoming the first Democratic senators to back confirmation. Meanwhile, Sens. Duckworth and Cortez Masto said Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch refused to meet with them. Roll Call is logging positions here. Miss parts of last week's confirmation hearings? Check out our quick recap!


President Trump signed four bills reversing Obama era rules

This week President Trump signed four bills into law, reversing Obama era rules concerning education, public lands, and federal contractors.

EDUCATION: Two bills to eliminate federal education regulations that required K-12 teacher training and directed states on how to enforce the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). 

PUBLIC LANDS: Bill to reverse Bureau of Land Management "Planning 2.0" rule, which gave the federal government a larger role in land use decisions.

FEDERAL CONTRACTORS: Bill to void an executive order President Obama signed that required employers to disclose labor violations, including wage theft, hiring discrimination, and unsafe working conditions.


 
Great question! You've probably heard about this recently with what's going on at Ways and Means.

 

 

House Ways and Means Chair Kevin Brady scheduled a markup on Trump tax returns. Committee Democrats forced the markup with a resolution of inquiry. So what is a resolution of inquiry? It's a tool that members of the House can use to obtain information from the executive branch. Add it to your list of procedural tools.

It's different than most orders of business in the House and is an especially powerful tool for the minority party. So in this case, if Ways and Means didn't take up the resolution, the minority could bring it up on the House floor for consideration. Now, once the committee reports the resolution, only the chairman or his designee can bring it up on the floor. Still confused? Roll Call walks you through how this works here.
 

 

 

Shoutout to Linda H. for today's question. Ask us anything and see your questions answered in future editions!

Final Cabinet nominees advanced to full Senate

Senate committees advanced final two Cabinet nominees to the full Senate for consideration.

Catch up and message your senators in support or opposition:

  • Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) advanced Labor Secretary nominee Alex Acosta by a vote of 12-11, along party lines. (Watch hearing | Weigh in)
  • Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry advanced Agriculture Secretary nominee Sonny Perdue by voice vote. (Watch hearing | Weigh in)

#ICYMI


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.

Q&A

Q&A: What is immunity?

If you're wondering something, you're probably not alone. Each day we answer questions about Congress, the legislative process, and government in general. Submit your question(s), and look out for the answers in future Q&A posts!


 

"I hear that General Mike Flynn has offered to testify if given immunity. What does that mean?"

A grant of immunity is how a prosecutor gets a witness to testify if the person might otherwise invoke their fifth amendment rights. Immunity says: even if you incriminate yourself, we will not prosecute you based on your testimony.

But what happens when there is more that one potential party who can grant immunity? Right now there are three investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election: the FBI, House Intelligence Committee, and Senate Intelligence Committee. Reportedly, Flynn made the offer to all three — to testify in exchange for “immunity from prosecution.”


If one entity grants immunity it can eliminate the ability of the others to prosecute. For example, during the Iran-Contra hearings, Congress gave Oliver North immunity from prosecution in order to compel him to testify over the reservations of the independent prosecutor. (The prosecutor then separately convicted him of destroying documents, accepting an illegal gift, and aiding and abetting in the obstruction of Congress; but those convictions were later overturned.) 

Reports today that Senate Intelligence turned down Flynn's offer to testify. No word from the FBI or House Intelligence.

Does a request for immunity mean someone is guilty? No. It means that they perceive there is a risk that their testimony could lead to prosecution. In this case, Flynn’s lawyer cited the politicized environment as his reason to seek immunity.
 

Q&A

Q&A: What is a select committee?

If you're wondering something, you're probably not alone. Each day we answer questions about Congress, the legislative process, and government in general. Submit your question(s), and look out for the answers in future Q&A posts!


What is a select committee?

When you hear folks talking about Senate Intelligence today, they're really talking about the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI). Why's this matter? Well, a select committee is different from a standing committee.

Select committees are appointed to perform a special function that is usually beyond the capacity of standing committees (aka they're an amped up committee with a more narrow focus). They're typically more investigative in nature, than say legislative (though some have the authority to draft and report the legislation just the same). 

A select committee generally expires upon completion of its duties, but they can be renewed. This is where the distinction can get lost because select intelligence committees in both the House and the Senate are treated as permanent fixtures. 

In the case of Senate Intelligence, the committee's membership is temporary and rotates among senators. There are 15 members on the committee. Eight of those seats are reserved for one majority member and one minority member of each of the following committees: Appropriations, Armed Services, Foreign Relations, and Judiciary. Of the remaining seven seats, four are reserved for the majority and three are for the minority. 

Learn more about the types of committees.

Q&A

Q&A: What is the Hastert Rule?

If you're wondering something, you're probably not alone. Each day we answer questions about Congress, the legislative process, and government in general. Submit your question(s), and look out for the answers in future Q&A posts!


What is the Hastert Rule?

The Hastert Rule isn't really a rule, well in terms of it being ironclad and codified in legislative procedure. The Hastert Rule is an informal governing guideline that says the Speaker should only send bills to the floor if a "majority of the majority" supports the legislation. The Speaker does not always adhere to this rule, but it is a normal practice in the House.

The rule is named for former Speaker Dennis Hastert who coined the practice in the mid-1990s. Hastert himself denied the existence of a spoken rule, saying it was more about valuing and understanding the will of your caucus. 

Q&A

Q&A: What is a resolution of inquiry?

If you're wondering something, you're probably not alone. Each day we answer questions about Congress, the legislative process, and government in general. Submit your question(s), and look out for the answers in future Q&A posts!


"What is a resolution of inquiry?"

Great question! You've probably heard about this recently with what's going on at Ways and Means.

House Ways and Means Chair Kevin Brady scheduled a markup on Trump tax returns. Committee Democrats forced the markup with a resolution of inquiry. So what is a resolution of inquiry? It's a tool that members of the House can use to obtain information from the executive branch. Add it to your list of procedural tools.

It's different than most orders of business in the House and is an especially powerful tool for the minority party. So in this case, if Ways and Means didn't take up the resolution, the minority could bring it up on the House floor for consideration. Now, once the committee reports the resolution, only the chairman or his designee can bring it up on the floor. Still confused? Roll Call walks you through how this works here.