The House will return Monday, with no votes scheduled before 6:30 PM. The House will stay in session through Thursday.
The Senate will return Monday, with the first vote set to take place at 5:30 PM. The Senate is set to stay in session through Friday.
And then Congress will break for two weeks for the Easter Recess. The Senate will be back in session on Monday, April 24, and the House will be back in session on Tuesday, April 25.
LAST WEEK ON THE HOUSE FLOOR:
The House came back into session last Monday evening and proceeded to take up and pass two bills on the Suspension Calendar.
On Tuesday, the House took up and passed the rule for consideration of H.R. 1430, the Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment Act of 2017. Then they took up and passed the rule for consideration of S.J.Res. 34, the CRA Resolution of Disapproval of the rule submitted by the FCC relating to Internet privacy. Two hours later, the House took up and passed that CRA Resolution of Disapproval, by a vote of 215-205. We’ll talk more about that in a moment.
On Wednesday, the House took up and passed the rule for consideration of H.R. 1431, to amend the Environmental Research, Development, and Demonstration Authorization Act of 1978 to provide for Scientific Advisory Board member qualifications, public participation, and for other purposes. Then the House proceeded to H.R. 1430, the Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment Act. The bill passed, by a vote of 228-194. This bill addresses a major concern with previous EPA rule-makings, by requiring the agency to be transparent with the scientific data and information that it uses when it decides to issue new regulations. It requires EPA to use the best publicly available scientific data, so that outside researchers can independently verify EPA decisions.
On Thursday, the House took up H.R. 1431, the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2017. The bill passed, by a vote of 229-193. This bill reforms the EPA’s Science Advisory Board by increasing public participation and transparency, and by making the board more independent. All reports and scientific advice of the board would be made public.
And then they were done.
THIS WEEK ON THE HOUSE FLOOR:
The House will return on Monday evening, with no votes to be held before 6:30 PM.
At that time, they will attempt to take up three bills under Suspension of the Rules, one of which focuses on North Korea and its support for international terrorism, and a second that condemns North Korea’s development of multiple intercontinental ballistic missiles.
On Tuesday, the House plans to take up a Senate amendment to a House bill under Suspension of the Rules.
On Wednesday, the House plans to take up another bill under Suspension of the Rules, and will also consider H.R. 1304, the Self-Insurance Protection Act.
On Thursday, the House expects to take up H.R. 1219, the Supporting America’s Innovators Act of 2017.
It’s possible we could also see H.R. 1343, the Encouraging Employee Ownership Act of 2017,
on the floor at some point during the week.
LAST WEEK ON THE SENATE FLOOR:
The Senate came back into session last Monday evening and voted to invoke cloture, ending debate, on whether or not to agree to allow the nation of Montenegro join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
On Tuesday, the Senate voted to ratify Montenegro’s accession to NATO. The vote was 97-2. The only opposition came from Mike Lee of UT and Rand Paul of KY.
On Thursday, the Senate took up and passed H.J.Res. 67, a CRA Resolution of Disapproval rescinding the rule submitted by the Department of Labor relating to savings arrangements established by qualified State political subdivisions for non-governmental employees. The vote was 50-49. The Obama Department of Labor rule pushed American workers into government-run retirement plans that were exempt from previous private-sector regulations, like the requirement to invest prudently and the rule against self-dealing. And they gave these government-run retirement plans a competitive advantage, so that over time, they would crowd out private-sector retirement plans. The CRA Resolution of Disapproval overturns that rule, and is now headed to President Trump’s desk for his signature. For those keeping score at home, it’s the 12th CRA Resolution of Disapproval to pass both houses and go to the White House.
Then the Senate took up H.J.Res. 43, a CRA Resolution of Disapproval rescinding the final rule submitted by the Secretary of Health and Human Services relating to compliance with Title X requirements by project recipients in selecting subrecipients. That’s fancy legislative language for blocking a rule from going into effect that would have forced state governments to include Planned Parenthood among their recipients of Title X federal grant money, even if they didn’t want to include Planned Parenthood.
The vote was 50-50, with GA Sen. Johnny Isakson – who’s recovering from back surgery – using a walker to enter the Senate chamber to cast the tying vote on the motion to proceed. His vote allowed a 50-50 tie, so Vice President Pence could cast a tie-breaking vote from the chair. He did. About four and a half hours later, the resolution itself hit the floor, and Isakson’s vote was required again to reach a 50-50 tie. Again, the Vice President was in the chair as President of the Senate to cast the tie-breaking vote, and the CRA Resolution of Disapproval passed.
THIS WEEK ON THE SENATE FLOOR:
The Senate will return Monday, with the first vote set for 5:30 PM, on passage of S. 89, the Delta Queen bill.
On Tuesday, the Senate will vote to confirm Elaine Duke of VA to be Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security.
On Friday, we expect the Senate will take up the confirmation vote to put Judge Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court of the United States.
There’s been some rather lopsided coverage on this CRA Resolution of Disapproval and what it does, so let’s take a moment to discuss it. I’m going to quote extensively from a piece written by one of our very good friends, Phil Kerpen:
“The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) until 2015 was the cop on the beat for Internet privacy, data security, and consumer protection broadly. The FTC had a well-developed framework that treated all the players the same way – Internet Service Providers (ISPs), search, advertising networks, and social media companies.
“That all changed when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted on a 3-2 party-line vote to adopt Barack Obama’s plan to regulate the Internet like a public utility.
“That vote pre-empted the FTC’s jurisdiction and stripped Internet users of consumer protections – deliberately creating a vacuum which could then be used to shift the focus of the privacy debate to ISPs, taking the heat off Google, which has vastly more access to personal data.
“The FCC took this party-line action despite warnings from the FTC that it would no longer be able to protect consumers as it had in over 100 privacy and data security cases and 150 spam and spyware cases.
“FTC Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen warned that “economists (and common sense) tell us that if different sets of rules govern competitors, companies subject to the more onerous or unpredictable regime are disadvantaged compared to those outside that regime.”
“That’s precisely what happened as Google – which had an astonishing 250 personnel rotate into the Obama administration – used its stroke to hobble competitors.
“Under the proposed FCC regulations, ISPs with limited market share and limited ability to collect user information would be subject to heavy-handed regulation effectively prohibiting running ads without a prior opt-in, while edge providers that have dominant market share and vast databases of user information are exempt.
“The FCC claimed ISPs are uniquely situated to collect user information, but the best available data shows otherwise. Steven Englehardt and Arvind Narayanan of Princeton University found that 61 percent of the top million sites on the web use Google Analytics.
“The FCC claim that ISPs are uniquely situated to collect and use user information reflects a basic misunderstanding of how the Internet works.
“The Institute for Information Security & Privacy at Georgia Tech concluded that ISPs are highly limited in their ability to collect user information because the average Internet user has more than six different devices, encryption is pervasive and employed by all 10 of the largest websites and 42 of the top 50, and users increasingly decline to use DNS services offered by their ISPs. They found companies like Google have far more access to user information.
“As Ajit Pai observed in his dissent: “due to the FCC’s action today, those who have more insight into consumer behavior (edge providers) will be subject to more lenient regulation than those who have less insight (ISPs).”
“Pai continued, “when you get past the headlines, slogans, and self-congratulations, this is the reality that Americans should remember: nothing in these rules will stop edge providers from harvesting and monetizing your data, whether it’s the websites you visit or the YouTube videos you watch or the emails you send or the search terms you enter on any of your devices.”
“Under the Democratic rules, ISPs can use personal data to tailor advertising or make you special offers – but they need to buy the data from Google first. That’s crazy.
“The vote in Congress wasn’t about whether privacy should be protected, but rather who should do the protecting – and whether there should be a level playing field or a sweetheart deal for Google; it’s unfortunate that so many “real” news organizations bought into the Obama Administration spin instead of checking the facts.”
It was just nine days ago that Speaker Ryan, acting with the agreement of President Trump, decided to pull from the floor the ill-fated American Health Care Act, a bill that did not repeal ObamaCare’s core elements, that only than one in six Americans supported, and that was hemorrhaging support from the right and left.
Both the White House and the GOP congressional leadership said they would move on to tax reform, as if that would be an easier hill to climb than ObamaCare repeal. (Editor’s note – it’s not.)
But many of the conservatives who opposed the AHCA were still determined to live up to their campaign promises to repeal ObamaCare. In comments over the weekend last weekend, and at the start of the week, they insisted that the GOP should maintain its focus on health care and get the job done.
That sounded good, at the start of the week. But as the week played out, it became clear there was a coordinated effort between the White House and the House GOP leadership to attack the Freedom Caucus and lay all the blame for the debacle at their feet.
Speaker Ryan tipped his hand last Monday, talking to donors on a conference call in advance of a fundraising gathering in Florida this weekend. He made clear who was going to get the blame for the failure of his bill – it was going to be the Freedom Caucus. Despite the fact that the Member whose defection actually served as the straw that broke the camel’s back to kill floor action was a liberal Republican by the name of Rodney Frelinghuysen, who happens to be the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, it was the Freedom Caucus that Speaker Ryan chose to blame.
“Basically … 90 percent of our members of the conference were there and ready to go and be a governing party and were happy with where we were, and around 10 percent were still in what I would call ‘opposition party mode,’” he said on the call, according to the Washington Post. “About 10 percent of our people, a particular bloc, just weren’t there yet, even with the president’s involvement.”
Let me parse that for you. First off, if the bill had actually been taken to the floor, he would have found out that he had a lot more than 10 percent of his caucus opposing him. That bill likely wouldn’t have gotten to 200 votes, let alone the 215 that would have been needed. He would have lost more than 40 votes, maybe even more than 50, because liberal and centrist Republicans were peeling off fast.
Second, opposing a bill the leadership drafted in secret that doesn’t do what you said you were going to do and actually makes things worse doesn’t mean you’re in “opposition party mode,” it means you’re in “let’s live up to our campaign promises and make things better for the American people” mode.
Last Tuesday’s meeting of the House GOP Conference, originally scheduled for one hour, became an almost two-hour marathon of venting over what had happened over the previous three weeks. Staff was kicked out of the room so Members could speak more candidly. Coming out of the meeting, Speaker Ryan seemed pleased that his colleagues didn’t want to give up, and seemed to believe there was a path to a compromise that would yield the necessary 216 votes. There was talk of negotiations between the liberals of the Tuesday Group and the conservatives of the Freedom Caucus.
But the very next day, those hopes were dashed. Appearing Wednesday morning on CNN, Tuesday Group Chairman Charlie Dent of PA said, “I am not negotiating with anyone. I’ve seen stories that there are discussions about certain negotiations between the Tuesday Group and the Freedom Caucus. That’s not the case.” He then said it was time to bring Democrats to the table and work on a bipartisan fix for ObamaCare, rather than repealing it entirely.
Then, on Thursday, President Trump started tweeting. Despite what liberal Charlie Dent had said the day before, President Trump laid blame for the failure of the bill directly at the feet of the House Freedom Caucus. “The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast. We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!” he wrote. He followed that up with a tweet praising and promoting an op-ed from Congressman Ken Buck of CO, a Freedom Caucus member who supported the AHCA. Then he called out leaders of the Freedom Caucus in a third Thursday tweet: “If @RepMarkMeadows, @Jim_Jordan and @Raul_Labrador would get on board we would have both great healthcare and massive tax cuts & reform.” And then, to make sure nobody missed his targeting, he hit the three again in a fourth tweet: “Where are @RepMarkMeadows, @Jim_Jordan and @Raul_Labrador? #RepealANDReplace #Obamacare.”
Elsewhere on Thursday, the liberal Tuesday Group met and decided “unequivocally” not to meet with the Freedom Caucus.
And still elsewhere on Thursday, the Charleston Post & Courier reported that Rep. Mark Sanford of the Freedom Caucus claimed to have been threatened with a primary challenger by the president, courtesy of a message delivered by OMB Director Mick Mulvaney, who served as a South Carolina GOP Congressman – and was one of the founders of the Freedom Caucus – until about two months ago. Sanford said Mulvaney told him, “The president asked me to look you square in the eyes and to say that he hoped that you voted ‘no’ on this bill so he could run (a primary challenger) against you in 2018.” Sanford added that Mulvaney made it clear he didn’t want to deliver the message to Sanford, but did so at the president’s demand.
On Friday morning, Jenny Beth participated in a press conference call with leaders of other outside conservative organizations that opposed the draft AHCA, to defend the members of the Freedom Caucus. The others included Brent Bozell of ForAmerica, Michael Needham of Heritage Action, David McIntosh of Club for Growth, Ken Cuccinelli of Senate Conservatives Fund, and Adam Brandon of FreedomWorks, among others.
The White House pressure on the Freedom Caucus continued over the weekend. On Saturday, Dan Scavino, Jr., a senior White House advisor who directs the social media efforts there, tweeted at Freedom Caucus member Rep. Justin Amash of MI: “.@realDonaldTrump is bringing auto plants & jobs back to Michigan. @justinamash is a big liability. #TrumpTrain, defeat him in primary.”
Mr. Scavino apparently isn’t aware of the Hatch Act, which regulates campaigning by federal government officials. Richard Painter, the former ethics attorney in George W. Bush’s White House, responded by tweeting, “Look at the official photo on this page. Read the Hatch Act and then fire this man NOW. Someone call OSC,” referring to the Office of Special Counsel, the independent federal agency whose responsibility it is to enforce the Hatch Act.
Amash used the attack to prepare for a primary challenge – something that happened to him in 2014, when the Establishment GOP backed a local businessman over him. Amash won that primary by 57-43 percent. On Saturday, Amash responded to Scavino by tweeting, “Trump admin & Establishment have merged into @Trumpstablishment. Same old agenda: Attack conservatives, libertarians & independent thinkers.” An hour later, he tweeted, “Bring it on. I’ll always stand up for liberty, the Constitution & Americans of every background. You can help here,” with a link to his campaign’s donation’s page.
Yesterday, Vice President Pence declared, “It ain’t over yet,” speaking from a factory outside Columbus, Ohio. “The president and I have faith … that Congress will step up and do the right thing.”
On Sunday, the president played golf with OMB Director Mulvaney and Sen. Rand Paul, one of the AHCA’s fiercest critics. News reports indicate they talked about a way forward on repealing ObamaCare, but we have no details yet.
No, it ain’t over yet. But we don’t know where it’s going, either.
The probe of the Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with the Russian Government during the election campaign is the flip side of the Trump wiretapping claim, so, to keep things a bit simpler, I’m going to combine the two in our reporting going forward.
And here’s where we stand at the end of this week:
According to The New York Times and The Washington Post, two (or three) National Security Council staff members last week showed House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes intelligence reports at the White House complex indicating that the intelligence community under the Obama Administration had been deliberately targeting members of the Trump transition team, and possibly the president-elect himself, for surveillance, by targeting foreigners who they knew would be talking to or about the Trump officials. Then they “unmasked” the names of several Trump transition officials in the reports, something that’s only supposed to happen if needed to put the intelligence into context, and only if needed for national security reasons. As Nunes reported last week, the intelligence gathered had nothing at all to do with the investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian Government, and had little or no apparent intelligence value. So the names of those Trump transition officials shouldn’t have been unmasked.
We knew most of that last week. What we did not know until Thursday was the identity of Nunes’ sources. He had insisted to reporters last week that they were not White House staffers, but officials of the intelligence community. According to the Times and the Post, they were in fact officials of the National Security Council, with offices in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, and the White House Counsel’s Office. Ezra Cohen-Watnick is the senior director for intelligence at the NSC, and Michael Ellis is a lawyer who works on national security issues for the Counsel’s Office. Those two were identified by the Times. The Post contributed the name of John Eisenberg, the top lawyer for the NSC.
For the record, the NSC staff is considered White House staff.
Not surprisingly, the left and the media – but I repeat myself! – are trying to use this to discredit Nunes and his claims.
Later on Thursday, the White House invited members of the House Intelligence Committee, Republicans and Democrats, to come to the White House to read the documents for themselves.
The House Intelligence Committee’s investigation is becoming a circus. At least, that’s the view of an increasing number of people on Capitol Hill, if news accounts are to be believed. And that’s why, thank goodness, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Intelligence Committee had an Alfonse-and-Gaston press conference on Wednesday, to show that in the upper chamber, there would be none of that foolishness going on. Chairman Richard Burr, Republican of North Carolina, and Ranking Member Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, tripped over themselves to compliment one another on their bipartisan determination to get to the bottom of the whole thing.
Later in the week, former National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn’s attorney announced that Flynn would be willing to testify before the House and Senate Intelligence Committees in exchange for a grant of immunity from prosecution. Spokesmen for both committees said it was far too early in the process to be discussing immunity for anyone. But you can’t help but wonder – what is Flynn worried about being prosecuted for, failing to register as a foreign agent for work he did for the government of Turkey while he was advising the Trump campaign? Or is there something else he’s worried about? And typically when someone seeks immunity, he thinks he’s got something on a higher-up that he can give prosecutors in exchange for immunity. But which higher-up does he think he might be able to implicate in exchange for immunity? There weren’t too many people higher up on the Trump totem pole than he was.
On Friday, House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff of CA went to the White House to view the documents Nunes had seen a week earlier. Schiff’s only comment after reading the documents was to say that they should be shared with the rest of the committee.
The Senate will vote on the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to serve on the Supreme Court on Friday, and he’ll be confirmed. So says Senate Majority Leader McConnell, who’s as certain of the outcome of the confirmation vote as he is that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow.
He’s assuming he’s got the support of at least 50 of the other 51 Republicans in the upper body to change the rules by simple majority vote, if necessary, to allow for the confirmation of a Supreme Court Justice by simple majority vote. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer thinks otherwise, and is leading a filibuster.
As of press time, only three Democrats – West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, Indiana’s Joe Donnelly, and North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp – have said they will vote to confirm Gorsuch.
The key to the Democrats’ filibuster strategy came early last week, when Florida Democrat Bill Nelson announced he would support a filibuster of the Gorsuch nomination. Nelson is up for reelection next year in a state Trump won, and he’s been seen as a bellwether on the filibuster. Apparently, he calculated the political damage he would suffer from the left wouldn’t be worth it in his reelection campaign if he chose to vote to break the Democrats’ filibuster.
Just FYI, some Democrats, knowing they’re about to be on the losing end of a bad hand, are trying to turn lemons into lemonade by trying to find three Republicans they can seduce into cutting a deal to block McConnell’s anticipated rules change. They’re looking for a deal where Democrats would agree not to filibuster Gorsuch now – thereby negating the need for the “nuclear option” – in exchange for a GOP promise that the NEXT Supreme Court vacancy would only be filled by someone who could get 60 votes. That “deal” would effectively give the left veto power over the NEXT Supreme Court vacancy. If they could find three idiotic Senate Republicans to cut that deal, McConnell would not be able to change the rules by a simply majority, because he wouldn’t have a simple majority.
But so far, the Democrats haven’t found any takers. Looks like the Majority Leader may blow up the filibuster for nominations once and for all.
On April 28, the current Continuing Resolution expires, and the government will shut down – unless Congress and the president first come to agreement on either another Continuing Resolution or an omnibus appropriations bill. Given that Republicans control both houses of the Congress and the White House, failing to come to agreement would be rather embarrassing.
To that end, Senate Democrats have announced they will filibuster the inclusion of either of two provisions they know Republicans want – a ban on federal funding for Planned Parenthood, and a down payment of a few billion dollars on the construction of President Trump’s border wall. Senate Majority Leader McConnell and Speaker Ryan have already announced that they have no intention of allowing a shutdown, and have signaled that they will defer to the Democrats on both items.
But the White House is insistent that it get a down payment on funding for the border wall. So it will be interesting to see how that plays out over the next three and a half weeks. Remember, by the time Congress comes back from its Easter Recess, there will be less than a week before the April 28 deadline to pass a bill through both houses and get it signed by the president.
My best bet? House and Senate will both pass a short-term Continuing Resolution at current funding levels to give themselves some extra time. I expect it wouldn’t last more than 10 days or possibly two weeks, and it could well be shorter if they think they’re close to agreement by the end of the week, right before they break for the Easter Recess.
JENNY BETH MARTIN/TEA PARTY PATRIOTS:
MISCELLANEOUS:Read the complete text here: Tea Party Patriots Weekly Report from Washington for 4/2/17