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August 7, 2018
nytimes.com
This Is the Way Paul Ryan’s Speakership Ends
The Republican leader is walking away. Don’t ask him about Trump anymore.Paul Ryan has a thing about punctuality and routine. They bring a sense of order to the chaos that he otherwise must try to maneuver through. We sat down at 9 a.m. sharp in the ornate offices of the speaker of the House at the United States Capitol. It was a Wednesday in late July, and Ryan had a packed morning, starting with an appearance on “Fox & Friends” and ending with a meeting at the White House with President Trump — if there is even a difference.“Ah, jeez,” he said a few seconds after we sat down. An aide had just handed Ryan a note: The president was on the phone. “Let me take this real quick,” he said. I waited a few minutes in the reception area until being invited back in. “The president saw me on ‘Fox & Friends,’ ” Ryan told me, explaining the interruption. “He said he thought I looked good.”

This is among the headiest commendations a Republican could hope to receive in Donald Trump’s Washington. “That happens to me a lot,” Ryan added, referring to his post-TV attaboy. But it’s important to seize openings, and he used the opportunity to steer the conversation to the subject of trade policy. The speaker had met the day before at the Capitol with the top trade officials from the European Union, who later that day would be meeting with Trump. He and the president compared notes. Ryan said he encouraged him to emphasize their shared goal of reducing and eliminating trade barriers. Trump seemed to get the message, or Ryan hoped he had.
After a few minutes, the conversation concluded with Trump reiterating to Ryan that he “looked good” on “Fox & Friends.”

Ryan announced in April that he would not be seeking re-election, ending a 20-year run in Congress that, for most of it, seemed to be on a straight-up trajectory. Ryan’s official reason for leaving was that his “family clock was ticking” and he no longer wanted to be a “weekend dad.” But it’s easy to suspect otherwise, and not just because that is a clichéd excuse: Ambitious 48-year-old politicians at the peak of their powers don’t suddenly just decide to quit because they’ve discovered that their teenage children are growing up fast back in Wisconsin. Ryan should, by rights, be riding out of town at the pinnacle of his starlit Washington career. Yet he remains a distinctly awkward match to a moment — and president — that seem certain to define much of his legacy.

As has been strenuously noted, Trump and Ryan are stylistic and philosophical opposites: Trump the blunt-force agitator vs. Ryan the think-tank conservative. Trump lashes out while Ryan treads carefully. Ryan still fashions himself a “policy guy” and a man of ideas: In high school, he read the conservative philosopher Ayn Rand and was captivated by her signature work, “Atlas Shrugged.” He bills himself as a guardian of the free-trading, debt-shrinking notions that Republican-led governments used to stand for before Trump crashed the tent. The speaker says he tries to encourage good behavior in the president. “He put out a tweet last night that was really good,” Ryan told me after he and the president hung up. (It was apparently an inoccuous tweet about trade.) The speaker’s words carried the vaguely patronizing tone of a parent affirming a potty-training milestone.

Trump used to call Ryan “Boy Scout.” “I thought it was a compliment,” said Ryan, a former altar boy and habitual people-pleaser. But after the Republican-controlled Congress passed a few bills Trump announced to Ryan that he would stop using the nickname. “So I guess he meant it as an insult all along,” the speaker said. “I didn’t realize.” Ryan shrugged.
Questions about Donald Trump have been an inescapable companion to Ryan’s final months in office. They have trailed Ryan since the billionaire showman first incinerated the Republican Party as he knew it and reduced the boyish speaker to his most puzzled-over foil. “It was shocking to me,” Ryan told me of Trump’s rise. “I didn’t see it coming. It threw me off.” What would the supposedly principled conservative speaker tolerate? What would he fight for? Would he fight at all?

Ryan is clearly sick of the “What about Trump?” questions and of having the dilemma imposed upon him. He has been held up as a figure of disdain across the spectrum: Trump-lovers have remained suspicious of him as a tool of the establishment and are quick to raise Ryan’s sacrileges against their hero during the campaign; Democrats, “never Trump” conservatives and — quietly — some elected Republicans wish Ryan would provide a stronger counterbalance to a battering-ram president. Ryan, the rap goes, has deserted his post as a potential conscience of the party and voice for decency, and he has allowed Trump’s most fervent acolytes in the House — Devin Nunes, for instance — to run wild in his defense. The speaker knows better and yet goes along anyway. “Ryan traded his political soul,” the conservative columnist George F. Will has written, “for … a tax cut.”

Ryan’s defiance to Trump, such as it is, can carry an almost pro forma quality. He will avoid or claim ignorance if possible (“I didn’t see the tweet”), chastise the president if he must (rarely by name), wait for the latest outrage to pass, rinse and repeat. “Frankly, I haven’t paid that close attention to it,” said Ryan at a June news conference in which he was asked about the job status of Scott Pruitt, the scandal-drenched E.P.A. administrator who was finally run out of office in July and whose mounting offenses over several months would have been impossible for even the most casual news consumer to miss.

“I can understand all of the rationalities,” says Charlie Sykes, a longtime conservative radio host in Wisconsin who spent years trying to persuade Ryan to run for president before turning sharply against him over Trump. “In a Faustian bargain, you get a lot of things. You get the wealth, you get the beautiful women and you get all this good stuff.” In Ryan’s case, this would include tax and regulatory overhauls. “It just turns out the price is higher than you thought.”
Ryan hears such assessments all the time. “I’m very comfortable with the decisions I’ve made,” he told me. “I would make them again, do it again the same way.” He is quick to present his counterfactual. What if he were to pick a fight with Trump every time he said something that offended? “I think some people would like me to start a civil war in our party and achieve nothing.” Why should Ryan, despite his own misgivings, make himself the vehicle for anti-Trump wish-fulfillment?

The counter-counterfactual is this: Are Republican leaders so unwilling to condemn Trump because their voters support him so vigorously, or do these voters support Trump so vigorously because so few Republican leaders have dared condemn his actions? Chicken, meet egg.
“I would say the unwillingness of Ryan and others to offer an alternative vision to Trump would be the reason” that Trump’s approval number is so high, Sykes told me. “When your best and brightest basically run up the white flag, it’s going to have an effect.”

The last few months have been a particularly checkered stretch of Paul Ryan’s finale. He agreed to a series of exit interviews during a tumultuous summer, over which Trump would blowtorch his way through a tour of Europe, call the European Union a top foe of the United States, feud with NATO, embrace Vladimir Putin and absolve the Russians for election meddling — and then came home to insinuate himself into Republican primary campaigns, escalate his attacks on Robert Mueller and threaten to shut down the government if he didn’t get his border wall.

After our meeting in his office, Ryan addressed a packed house of congressional interns in the Capitol Visitor Center. A former intern himself, Ryan has a well-known Washington origin story: He worked as a waiter at Tortilla Coast, the renowned Capitol Hill bar and restaurant, before being elected to Congress at 28. In his talk to the interns, Ryan encouraged students to resist the temptation of Twitter “snark.” He encouraged them not to “degrade the tone of our debate” and to appeal to our “common humanity.”

There was no mention of the elephant in chief in the room, at least until the questions started, as they inevitably do.
Far from any unified governing philosophy, the animating objective for much of today’s Republican Party has been reduced to whatever Trump does or wants. The main goal of many elected Republicans is to curry the approval of the president, avoid provoking him (or, worse, a tweet) and thus not inflame the “base.” Being deemed an infidel inside the Church of the Base can be lethal for even the most ensconced incumbent (Mark Sanford, a South Carolina representative and a persistent Trump critic, was primaried out of his misery in June).

Ryan made a determination after Trump’s election that to defy the president too forcefully would invite a counterreaction. He tends to speak of the commander in chief as if he were sharing a coping strategy on dealing with a Ritalin-deprived child. “It boomerangs,” Ryan says of being too critical of Trump. “He goes in the other direction, so that’s not effective.” He added, “The pissing match doesn’t work.”
Ryan prefers to tell Trump how he feels in private. He joins a large group of Trump’s putative allies, many of whom have worked in the administration, who insist that they have shaped Trump’s thinking and behavior in private: the “Trust me, I’ve stopped this from being much worse” approach. “I can look myself in the mirror at the end of the day and say I avoided that tragedy, I avoided that tragedy, I avoided that tragedy,” Ryan tells me. “I advanced this goal, I advanced this goal, I advanced this goal.”

I locked in on the word “tragedy.” It sets the mind reeling to whatever thwarted “tragedies” Ryan might be talking about. I asked for an example. “No, I don’t want to do that,” Ryan replied. “That’s more than I usually say.”

After beginning his day with his regular yoga-and-spin class, Ryan invited me to ride along en route to a speech at a downtown hotel, hosted by the Economic Club of Washington, D.C. His remarks were followed by a question-and-answer session with David Rubenstein, the billionaire financier and philanthropist who also hosts a talk show on Bloomberg. Rubenstein jumped from questions about things like Ryan’s upcoming transition back into civilian life (“Do you have to get a new license?”) and why Ryan insists that sleeping on a cot in his congressional office saves time. Rubenstein also sprang a question about whether Ryan thought it would be proper for Trump to pardon anyone caught up in the Mueller investigation.

“I’m not going to touch that one,” he said. Rubenstein followed up with a related question about whether Trump should be allowed to pardon himself. Ryan laughed. “I’m good, thanks,” he said, as if he were resisting a plate of hors d’oeuvres — not touching that either.

Rubenstein eventually touched down elsewhere, but the pardon question lingered, at least with me. It came off as a quintessential example of Ryan glibly blowing off what could be a monumental abuse of presidential power and a potentially gigantic crisis. I raised this in the car heading back to the Capitol. His eyes bulged for an instant, as if some defense enzyme had been released.

“I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about that stuff,” Ryan said of the pardon issue.

“Shouldn’t you?” I said. It’s speculative, to a degree, I allowed. “But if you’re not going to touch that, who is?”
“I don’t think he’s going to do things like that,” Ryan said of Trump.

“He already has,” I said, referring to Trump’s pardoning of lawbreaking allies (Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Dinesh D’Souza).
“No, I’m talking about firing and things like that,” Ryan said.

Trump has already done that too (James Comey) and has reportedly wanted to fire Mueller on at least two occasions. “My point is,” Ryan said, “and I’ve said it all along, Mueller should be able to do his job.”

Ryan seemed to become agitated by this line of questioning. “I’m not going to spend my time being a pundit, theorizing and speculating,” he said. “I’m going to spend my time making a difference in people’s lives, getting stuff done.” Now I was slightly annoyed by Ryan’s reduction of my question to “pundit theorizing,” as if Mueller’s investigation held zero significance to people’s lives. “I’m not going to spend my time getting into these circular debates,” Ryan added. “I’m trying to get an agenda passed.”

I pointed out that if Trump fires Mueller, it might be too late for Ryan to do anything even if he wanted to, and the country could already be well into a constitutional crisis.
“I don’t think — ” Ryan began, then stopped. “He knows my opinion on these things.”

Ryan was hardly coy about his ambivalence to Trump during the 2016 campaign. He withheld his endorsement until Trump became the presumptive nominee in June, denounced his attacks on a judge of Mexican heritage as “the textbook definition of a racist comment” and distanced himself almost entirely after the “Access Hollywood” tape was revealed in October.

It was only after Trump stunned Hillary Clinton in November that Ryan forged a détente with Trump born of a powerful convenience: The new president knew (or cared) little about policy, and Ryan was happy to fill the void in exchange for Trump’s signature. (The anti-tax activist Grover Norquist once identified the most important characteristic of any Republican president as “enough working digits to handle a pen.”)
Trump’s signature across the Republican tax-reform bill gave both men their chief legislative accomplishments. In Ryan’s case, the bill supersized the deficit and made a mockery of the “debt crisis” that Ryan used to talk endlessly about during the Barack Obama years. The bill has also failed to attract the widespread approval in polls that tax cuts typically do, and has become only less popular over time.

Even so, Ryan himself has managed to remain relatively well regarded as legislative leaders go (a little like being the best ice-fisherman in Florida, but still). In a June Gallup survey, Ryan’s approval rating, 40 percent, came in decisively better than those of Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader (29 percent); Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader (24 percent); and Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader (29 percent). “I’m the least-unpopular leader in Congress,” Ryan boasted playfully.

Ryan has always been unrestrained, even ostentatious, in advertising that he never wanted to be speaker. Reluctance, for a politician, is always a deft humblebrag. Being courted lends cachet, and it’s even better to be begged, which is pretty much what congressional Republicans resorted to when it became clear that Ryan was the only one with the votes or (barely) the stomach to take the job after John Boehner stepped down in 2015.

“I do think Paul wishes he was still chairman of the Ways and Means Committee,” says Representative Tom Rooney, a Florida Republican who also is not seeking re-election. Rooney guesses that Ryan would not be retiring if he were still Ways and Means chairman. “He made a deal with the devil to become speaker,” Rooney told me.

Republican House members I spoke with give Ryan decent marks for his ability to manage a fractious caucus with a record number of retirements and a Trump-emboldened group of insurgent hard-liners, the House Freedom Caucus, eager to be seen, preferably on Fox News, as noble defenders of an unfairly besieged president. “It’s not so much a Congress as much as it has become a parliament of pundits,” says Jonah Goldberg, the conservative author. “Everyone just wants to secure their position on ‘Morning Joe’ or ‘Fox & Friends.’ ”

Rooney posits the example of his home-state colleague, Representative Ron DeSantis, who is running to be governor of Florida. DeSantis had been trailing the former congressman Adam Putnam, now the state’s agriculture commissioner, in the Republican primary race. DeSantis undertook a strategy of getting on as many Fox News shows as he could and defending Trump as adamantly as possible. “MAGA is the dogma,” Rooney says. DeSantis’s devotion to scripture won the attention and endorsement of the almighty himself; DeSantis now leads Putnam by double digits. He recently unveiled an ad in which he is seen reading a bedtime story to his infant son, who at one point is dressed in a red “Make America Great Again” onesie. “Then Mr. Trump said, ‘You’re fired,’ ” the loving dad reads.

Ryan told me that he has always been motivated by promoting ideas and winning debates. By contrast, today’s party, under Trump, is about pledging allegiance. “I don’t know that Paul knows how to rally around Trumpism,” Rooney says.

Kevin McCarthy, the House majority leader, told me that Trump and Ryan are “just wired differently, like most people are.” McCarthy, a strategic-minded operator with pillowy hair, has forged a genuine bond with Trump — arguably more so than any other lawmaker. Still, like most elected Republicans, McCarthy treads carefully, wary of poking the orange bear. It’s hard to overemphasize the degree to which Trump lives in the heads of elected Republicans. You get a sense of everyone on edge, waiting for the next tweet to drop — as if a tornado siren should accompany its arrival. When I visited McCarthy at the Capitol, the majority leader kept toggling between on and off the record. I asked McCarthy if he thought Ryan wished he could speak out more forcefully on some things the president does that might offend him.
“On the record or off the record?” McCarthy asked me.

On, I would prefer.

McCarthy paused and proceeded with care. “I think history will say that Paul spoke his own mind,” he said.

Sitting in his office in late July, I pressed Ryan again on why he was retiring now, before 50, from a job that places him second in line to the presidency and as the head of a congressional majority. He had spoken before about how he was 16 years old when his own father died at 55. “And his dad died when he was 57, all of heart attacks,” Ryan said. “So I’ve always had a sense that life is real quick — you better grab it.”

One lesser-known part of Ryan’s story is that his father was an alcoholic. The speaker notes this briefly in a book but rarely speaks of it. “He started drinking when I was 12,” Ryan told me. “Those four years were tough years.” When I asked how, Ryan pressed his lips and stared at his lap. “He was an alcoholic,” he said. “He was just an alcoholic.” He mentioned that he became very close with his mother during those years and always sought out mentors. I was wary of slapping some drive-by psychoanalysis on Ryan, but there is a classic notion in psychology that the children of alcoholics learn to accommodate difficult personalities. They tend, in many cases, to be pleasers, avoidant of strife and mindful of not inciting. Whatever combination of factors and mentors formed Paul Ryan, this skill set would seem to suit his current predicament. “I deal with conflict constantly,” he told me. “I have, strangely, developed a great new respect for temperament.”

When people talk about “temperament” in politics, it’s often in connection with presidents. The swap from Obama to Trump offered pretty much the starkest contrast in presidential temperaments imaginable. I asked Ryan if it was an adjustment for him to serve with two presidents of such radically distinct disposition.

“Yeah, yes,” he said. Ryan said he “personally liked” Obama and, yes, appreciated his temperament; it’s similar to Ryan’s in certain respects — serious, disciplined and not terribly emotional. I asked if he preferred one style of presidential temperament over another. “I just did not like Obama’s policies,” he said, answering a different question.

Ryan and Obama have not spoken since the speaker saw the departing president out the back of the Capitol and onto a helicopter. “It was pleasant,” Ryan recalled.

I caught up again with Ryan on a soupy Thursday morning in the Capitol. “You’re going to ask me about Donald Trump 16 times, right?” he asked me as we buckled ourselves into the back of his armored Suburban. He has this practiced-exasperation shtick down pretty well at this point. He was headed to do an onstage interview with Jonah Goldberg on the subject of political leadership in “an age of tribalism and identity politics,” a topic that Ryan says he has given a great deal of thought to. To Ryan’s mind, tribalism and identity politics are twin scourges that contributed to the environment that exists today. “Donald Trump didn’t give us all this,” Ryan told me. “Donald Trump is showing us what it looks like.”

The event was hosted by the American Enterprise Institute, the conservative think tank you could easily imagine Ryan sliding into after he leaves Congress — if not sooner. To wit: “Paul Ryan Would Be ‘Perfect Fit’ to Lead A.E.I., Republicans Say,” read a headline that appeared a few days later in the Capitol Hill newspaper The Hill.

“Well, I know how much you love responding to the president’s tweets in real time,” I said.

“I haven’t seen today’s — what did he do now?” Ryan asked me. This was three days after the president’s fateful news conference in Helsinki, in which Trump steamrollered the conclusion of United States intelligence agencies that Russia meddled in the 2016 election while accepting that Vladimir Putin was “extremely strong and powerful” in his denial. Ryan, who issued a relatively pointed statement after Helsinki (“The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally”) grabbed a printout of the hour-old tweet I had helpfully brought along and read it silently to himself, except for a few phrases that he spat out under his breath (“summit,” “great success,” “fake news media”).

“Uh, yeah, O.K., whatever,” Ryan said, shaking his head and smirking. “Didn’t he do one like that two days ago?” This tweet was just another episode of the same sitcom, in other words.

I mentioned something else Trump had tweeted that morning: that he planned to invite Putin to Washington for “our second meeting.”

“He’s just trolling you guys,” Ryan said, unveiling a new line to explain away Trump. This was a twist on Ryan’s go-to evasion of dismissing the medium of “tweets,” rather than condemning their words or intent. It is also an implicit declaration from the speaker of the House that the president’s words are not to be taken seriously because his goal is to merely troll. Therefore, any reaction by “you guys” reflects a lack of judgment and proportion: He is essentially chiding people for allowing themselves to be distracted.

n his Suburban, I presented Ryan with a possible real-world consequence of something he was trivializing: Even if Trump were “just trolling you guys,” what about the people who take the president’s words seriously and who look to him for guidance? I mentioned to Ryan that according to an online poll released that morning by Axios and SurveyMonkey, 79 percent of Republicans approved of Trump’s news conference in Helsinki.
“Oh, really,” Ryan said, looking startled for a second. It has to be deflating, on some level, to spend years fashioning yourself as one of the Republican Party’s thought leaders, only to see your position routed by a troll with a killer Twitter following. “I thought it was a really bad press conference,” Ryan said. He said again that Trump just loves to troll “you guys.” I asked him if he derived any enjoyment from watching “you guys” being so expertly trolled. Not really, Ryan said. “I don’t think like that, and I don’t act like that,” he said. Trump “just wants to see your heads explode, and he just wants you to spend the next 12 hours talking about this.”

This struck me as Ryan’s best attempt to explain Trumpism, if not one of those “Where we are as a country” moments that seem to occur every day now, or every minute on Twitter. But it’s still useful to lay down a marker sometimes. We have, in this case, a Republican speaker of the House explaining away a president’s intentions as nothing more than an effort to get a rise out of people.

I asked Ryan who the “you guys” being trolled were.
“The country,” he said, chuckling.

“The people who don’t like him,” he clarified. “The non-Trumpers.”

I asked Ryan if he was one of the “you guys.”
“Sometimes,” he said, “yeah.”   Source

July 25, 2018
thehill.com
GOP lawmakers introduce articles of impeachment against Rosenstein
A group of conservative House lawmakers on Wednesday introduced articles of impeachment against Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the top Department of Justice (DOJ) official overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.The introduction of the resolution is the latest sign of escalating efforts among conservatives to oust the DOJ’s No. 2 official.Conservative members led by Reps. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.)  and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), along with nine co-sponsors, introduced the articles shortly after a meeting with DOJ officials concerning document production.“For 9 months we’ve warned them consequences were coming, and for 9 months we’ve heard the same excuses backed up by the same unacceptable conduct. Time is up and the consequences are here. It’s time to find a new Deputy Attorney General who is serious about accountability and transparency,” Meadows, the head of the House Freedom Caucus and ally of President Trump, said in a statement.“The DOJ is keeping information from Congress. Enough is enough. It’s time to hold Mr. Rosenstein accountable for blocking Congress’s constitutional oversight role,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) in a statement.

The articles include a series of allegations against Rosenstein.

They charge that Rosenstein has a conflict of interest in Mueller’s probe, stating that he is a “witness” that could be called in the ongoing investigation into potential abuse since he signed off on an FBI surveillance renewal application to wiretap Carter Page, a former adviser to the Trump campaign.

“As such, his conduct in authorizing the FISA surveillance at issue in the joint congressional investigation makes him a fact witness central to the ongoing investigation of potential FISA abuse,” read the articles of impeachment. “Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein’s failure to recuse himself in light of this inherent conflict of interest and failure to recommend the appointment of a second Special Counsel constitute dereliction of duty. Wherefore, Rod Rosenstein, by such conduct, warrants impeachment and trial, and removal from office.”

“Multiple times we’ve caught DOJ officials hiding information from Congress, withholding relevant documents, or even outright ignoring Congressional subpoenas — and now we have evidence that Mr. Rosenstein signed off on a document using unverified political opposition research as a cornerstone of a FISA application to spy on an American citizen working for the Trump campaign,” Meadows continued, referring to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

They also allege that Rosenstein has “repeatedly failed to produce documents” requested by the House Judiciary Committee and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that are investigating FBI and DOJ decision-making during the 2016 presidential election.

Rosenstein, they allege, has also “attempted to conceal certain facts” by overly redacting documents they requested.

The Justice Department declined to comment on the articles of impeachment, but hours before they were introduced, DOJ officials told a far different story.

Shortly before the 4 p.m. meeting between the DOJ officials and House lawmakers took place, Justice Department officials on Wednesday described in detail the steps they are taking to complete the outstanding document requests as requested by the heads of the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees.

Republicans say the FBI and DOJ have not provided all the documents they are seeking to review as part of the GOP-led investigations into the email server Hillary Clinton used while she was serving as secretary of State, as well as the FBI’s decision to launch the federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The DOJ officials, however, said Wednesday they have largely completed Congress’s document requests, noting they are working with the lawmakers and their staff to give them the information they still want to review.

So far, the DOJ officials say they have given lawmakers access to 880,000 pages they’ve requested, and they continue to accept requests for new information related to House GOP probes.

The officials listed three congressional subpoenas, issued by House Republicans, that they say have either been fulfilled or that they are close to fulfilling.

One DOJ official noted that while the requests are historically high, they are working to respond to the lawmaker’s records requests — and much of the responding is done quietly.   Source

 

July 19, 2018
chicagotribune.com
House GOP votes against renewing election security funding as Democrats fume

House Republicans on Thursday approved a spending bill that excludes new money for election security grants to states, provoking a furious reaction from Democratsamid a national controversy over Russian election interference.

The spending bill passed 217-199. Democrats’ bid to add hundreds of millions more in election spending was rejected 182-232 – as Republicans were unmoved by Democrats floor speeches decrying the funding changes and chanting “USA! USA!”

At issue is a grants program overseen by the federal Election Assistance Commission and aimed at helping states administer their elections and improve voting systems; Democrats want to continue grant funding through 2019, while Republicans say the program already has been fully funded.

Republicans argued strenuously in floor debate Wednesday that states had plenty of money from prior congressional allocations to spend on election improvements. But Democrats accused the Republicans of abetting President Donald Trump in his refusal to take a hard line against Russian President Vladimir Putin at this week’s summit in Helsinki.

July 12, 2018
cnn.com
Insults, fighting, shouting: Strzok hearing boils over

Washington (CNN)Even by the clown show standards of the House of Representatives, this was not democracy’s finest hour.

A hearing starring Peter Strzok, the FBI agent who presided over the start of the Russia probe, degenerated Thursday into a theatrical display of sanctimony, mock outrage, all-out partisan bickering and character assassination as grandstanding members on both sides of the aisle played to the TV cameras.
Republicans, posing as grave prosecutors of a state crime, sought to paint Strzok’s anti-Trump political commentary in texts to a former lover as a symptom of institutionalized bias that should invalidate special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election — from which Strzok has been removed.
Democrats battled to defend him from attack after attack, and to turn the focus back onto alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
And Strzok, who often wore a bemused smirk as lawmakers squabbled and talked over one another, barged into the hearing loaded for bear. He shouted back at his inquisitors as they bellowed at him and drove them to distraction by refusing to answer questions. He also delivered a passionate and angry defense of the FBI from a GOP attack that he said “deeply corrodes” the bureau.
“I understand we are living in a political era in which insults and insinuation often drown out honesty and integrity,” Strzok told members of the House Oversight and Judiciary committees.
“I have the utmost respect for Congress’s oversight role, but I truly believe that today’s hearing is just another victory notch in Putin’s belt,” he said.
Though Strzok expressed “significant regret” for the way his texts to former FBI lawyer Lisa Page had hurt his family and the FBI, no one would describe Strzok as an unapologetic witness. For hours in the hot seat, he gave as good as he got, demanding time to answer Republican attacks, drawing frequent reprimands from the chair with the words “the witness will suspend.”
Strzok drove Republicans on the committee into ostentatious displays of frustration with variations of his line that his counsel had advised him not to answer certain questions.
“I would like to answer your question … but at the direction of the FBI I cannot discuss the content,” Strzok told GOP Rep. Jim Jordan in one example.

Political polarization

If the hearing uncovered any significant revelations about the conduct of the Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump investigations it was not immediately obvious amid the hoopla.
But as an example of the mind-blowing rabbit holes and political polarization spawned by Russia’s election meddling operation it was priceless.
As Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois put it “OK, Kremlin, another good day for you.”
For sure, Strzok’s texts, read aloud by GOP members of the committee were damning and challenged his claim his dislike for the “horrible, disgusting behavior” of Trump did not mean he could not run a fair investigation.
“You have come in here and said ‘I have no bias,'” said Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas. “And you do it with a straight face and I watched you in the private testimony you gave and I told some of the other guys, ‘he’s really good, he’s lying and we know he’s lying and he can probably pass the polygraph.'”
Moments later the hearing threatened to spin completely out of control when Gohmert accused Strzok of embarrassing himself and other FBI agents.
“I can’t help but wonder when I see you looking there with a little smirk, how many times did you look so innocent into your wife’s eye and lie to her about Lisa,” Gohmert said.
“Mr. Chairman, it is outrageous,” one Democrat shouted. Another, Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey asked: “What is wrong with us? You need your medication.”
While Republicans repeatedly accused Strzok of bias, Democrats pointed to his failure to expose alleged Russian collusion before the election as proof that his dislike of Trump did not taint the investigation.
Almost every Democrat tried to divert attention from Strzok’s texts — some used their questions to refer to all the people who have pleaded guilty in the Russia probe so far, or to refer to what they see as the President’s sins.
Gutierrez tried to prove that Strzok could have hurt Trump if he wanted to.
“You did have almost a magical bullet in your hand to derail the Donald Trump investigation and did you use it?”
“No sir,” Strzok said.
Rep. Gowdy grills Strzok over text messages
The committee was repeatedly interrupted by cries of “regular order” as the hearing descended into low comedy and farce.
“Stop badgering him” one Democrat told Jordan as he took aim at Strzok. “Stop interrupting him” shouted another.
Later, when Jordan came back for yet another round of questioning, Strzok greeted him with an amused smile.
At one point, Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte read out one of Strozk’s texts in which he told Page he had just been to a Walmart in southern Virginia and could smell the support for Trump.
“What does Trump support smell like, Mr. Strzok?” asked Goodlatte, drawing a barely credible answer.
“That’s an expression of speech. What I was commenting on living in Northern Virginia — what I mean by that living in Northern Virginia, having traveled 100, 150 miles within the same state I was struck by the extraordinary difference in the expression of political opinion and belief amongst the community there from where I live,” Strzok said.
Watson Coleman sliced through the contentious partisan fervor boiling in the committee room with an attack on Rep. Trey Gowdy.
“If you can’t control yourself, how do you expect this committee to control itself? You’ve been out of control since you’ve been on this committee,” she said.
“Why don’t you leave it alone, this is not Benghazi.”  Source with Videos here

 

May 18, 2018
The Hill
House rejects farm bill as conservatives revolt

House rejects farm bill as conservatives revolt
© Greg Nash

A five-year farm bill went down to defeat in the House on Friday in a stunning blow to GOP leaders brought about by conservative unrest about immigration.

In a 198-213 vote, GOP conservatives essentially joined Democrats in rejecting the measure, which would have introduced new requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [SNAP] that were a priority for Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

Conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus opposed the farm bill after leadership failed to deliver on their demand to hold a vote on a conservative-backed immigration bill crafted by Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) before the farm bill came to the floor.

Despite House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy‘s (R-Calif.) assurances that the Goodlatte bill would receive a vote in June, enough members of the powerful conservative group withheld their votes to ultimately tank the measure.

Ahead of the battle over immigration, GOP leadership heavily whipped the farm bill. A number of centrists also opposed the measure because of the SNAP changes, making the whipping effort more difficult.

But Ryan, McCarthy, Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) huddled with conservatives Freedom Caucus chairman Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). Leadership looked unhappy as they talked on the floor.

Leaders continued to work members while they voted on amendments.  Source

May 17, 2018
No Labels
Five Facts on the ‘Queen of the Hill Rule’

In a piece this week, New York Magazine called the U.S. House, “a graveyard for major immigration legislation.” While the Senate has debated and voted on several bills, House leaders have thus far failed to bring legislation to the floor. But that could change very soon.

A group of Republican lawmakers is working to force House leaders to address immigration and border security, using several obscure procedural tools. One is a discharge petition, which could require leadership to move a bill to a vote. These same lawmakers are also pushing to use a “queen of the hill ” rule, which would allow the House to vote on multiple bills to find a solution. Here’s what you need to know.

HOUSE RULES FOR FLOOR DEBATE ARE MALLEABLE

In the House, the rules for debate can change with each piece of legislation. When a bill leaves a House committee, it generally goes to the Rules Committee, which determines the procedures that will be used on the floor. These rules govern everything from the amendment process to the amount of time that lawmakers can speak. The Rules Committee generally sets terms that favor the legislative strategy set by the speaker of the House. For example, if House leadership is pushing a bill, the rules will generally favor passage.

‘QUEEN OF THE HILL’ IS A RARELY USED OPTION

In a Queen of the Hill rule, multiple bills are brought to the floor for a vote. The legislation that both draws a majority of votes (218 in the 435-member chamber) and that wins more votes than any other carries the day. The rule is rarely used because the outcome can be uncertain, and the debate often exposes the divisions within the House majority.

‘QUEEN OF THE HILL’ IS USED WHEN THERE’S NO CONSENSUS

In the past, House leadership has used the rule as a means to placate the majority when lawmakers are divided on an issue. For example, Speaker John Boehner used the rule to address a budget bill in 2015 when his majority was divided over spending priorities. In the current immigration and border security debate, it is Republican lawmakers pushing for a Queen of the Hill rule, rather than the speaker. Rep. Jeff Denham, a California Republican, has introduced a resolution to use the Queen of the Hill rule, which would require a majority vote to pass. A discharge petition is already underway to bring the resolution to a vote, which would prevent House leaders from blocking it.

 

‘QUEEN OF THE HILL’ STRIPS LEADERSHIP OF SOME CONTROL

One major feature of the Queen of the Hill rule is that it takes control of the outcome out of the hands of the speaker and his or her leadership team. Normally, House leaders offer a bill that they favor. Before a vote is held, negotiations have taken place and the outcome is often assured. Under a Queen of the Hill rule, multiple bills are offered and the outcome can be less certain.

‘QUEEN OF THE HILL’ COULD BREAK THE IMPASSE

With so much to decide on immigration and border security, multiple bills have been written and each offers different solutions. House Republicans are divided in their support of these bills. To date, House leaders have not backed any one piece of legislation, but Speaker Paul Ryan is under increasing pressure to address the issue. The Queen of the Hill rule could allow a House debate, give lawmakers a chance to argue their positions and give each bill a vote.
Source

April 26, 2018
The Hill
House chaplain forced out by Ryan

House Chaplain Patrick Conroy’s sudden resignation has sparked a furor on Capitol Hill, with sources in both parties saying he was pushed out by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

Conroy’s own resignation announcement stated that it was done at Ryan’s request.

“As you have requested, I hereby offer my resignation as the 60th Chaplain of the United States House of Representatives,” the April 15 letter to Ryan, obtained by The Hill, states.Through his office, Conroy, who has served as chaplain since 2011, declined to comment on Thursday. His resignation is effective May 24.

Four different sources — two from each party — say Conroy was told that he must retire or that he would be dismissed.

The message from Ryan was delivered by his chief of staff, Jonathan Burks.

The issue has riled House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who broached the episode during the Democrats’ whip meeting in the Capitol Thursday morning.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers are planning to send a letter to Ryan requesting additional information regarding Conroy’s dismissal; the group is currently circulating the letter among colleagues to collect more signatures.

The thinking among Democrats is that Ryan pushed Conroy out “because Republicans thought he was aligned with Democrats,” according to a senior Democratic aide familiar with the discussion.

House chaplains, who offer an opening prayer each day the House is in session, are supposed to be nonpartisan.

It’s unclear exactly what if any political dispute, however, led to the chaplain’s dismissal.

A Democratic lawmaker said that the Speaker took issue with a prayer on the House floor that could have been perceived as being critical of the GOP tax-cut bill.

On Nov. 6 — the first day of the markup on the GOP’s tax bill — Conroy in a prayer urged lawmakers to ensure the legislation did not exacerbate the nation’s gaping class disparities.

“May all Members be mindful that the institutions and structures of our great Nation guarantee the opportunities that have allowed some to achieve great success, while others continue to struggle,” Conroy said at the time. “May their efforts these days guarantee that there are not winners and losers under new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans.”
A senior GOP aide said Conroy’s exit “was not because of any particular prayer.”
Ryan’s and Pelosi’s offices agree that Pelosi was told in advance that the chaplain was leaving.

AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Ryan, said it was Ryan’s decision, but declined to offer a reason for the move. She added that Pelosi and her office “were fully read in and did not object.”

“The speaker told Leader Pelosi that he would not move forward with the decision if she objected and she chose not to,” Strong said.

In a separate statement to media outlets late Thursday, Strong said, “The speaker consulted with the minority leader, but the decision was his. He remains grateful for Father Conroy’s service.”

Pelosi’s office disputed that the Democrat did not object.

“Leader Pelosi was given advance notice by Speaker Ryan,” said a Pelosi spokesman, but she “also made it clear to Speaker Ryan that she disagreed with this decision.”

A second Democratic aide said Conroy’s ouster was “largely driven by a speech on the tax bill that the Speaker didn’t like.” But the source also offered a second reason.

“Some of the more conservative evangelical Republicans didn’t like that the Father had invited a Muslim person to give the opening prayer,” the source said.

When Pelosi, who is Catholic, informed members of her whip team on Thursday morning that Conroy was pushed out against his will, it “shocked” the members, according to one lawmaker.

Catholic members on both sides of the aisle were furious to learn that Conroy’s retirement was not voluntary, according to multiple sources, including one Republican lawmaker and one Democratic member.

Ryan, who is also Catholic, has appointed Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), an Air Force Reserve chaplain, as well as Reps. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) and Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), both former pastors, to lead the search effort to find a replacement.

Conroy’s arrival on Capitol Hill was also marked with some controversy. The Jesuit priest was nominated by former Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in May 2011, but Pelosi urged additional vetting of the pick after learning that Conroy was then working for a Catholic religious order — the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus — that had agreed just months earlier to pay $166 million to victims of sexual abuse going back decades.

There was no evidence that Conroy was involved in the scandal, nor did Pelosi suggest that was the case. After further questioning, she endorsed his nomination.

– Juliegrace Brufke and Scott Wong contributed to this report, which was updated at 8:23 p.m.
Source

Nov 10, 2017
dailybeast.com
GOP Donors To GOP Lawmakers: Yeah. We Will Cut You Off Absent Tax Reform

Congressional Republicans have warned in recent days that if the party fails to pass a massive package of tax cuts in the next year, their donors will desert them.

Such bluntness is rare in Washington D.C. — an instance of lawmakers saying the quiet part out loud. In this case, it has the added benefit of being true.

Several GOP donors contacted by The Daily Beast said that they would either stop writing checks to the party of divert their money elsewhere should tax cuts end up being stalled.

“If they don’t get tax relief done, as they promised they would, then we will support challengers who will do their jobs for them,” said Doug Deason, a Dallas investor and high-dollar Republican donor. “Donations will still flow, just to different politicians.”

The threat from GOP donors adds to the already massive amount of pressure that congressional Republicans are facing as the calendar year closes. After having failed to repeal and replace Obamacare, the party has few remaining opportunities to score a major legislative win.

Members have openly fretted the possibility that they won’t be able to move a $1.5 trillion tax cut package before Congress convenes for the holidays because of sharp disagreements over the impact it will have on the deficit, the pay-for provisions included within it, and the possibility that it is too beneficial to the rich. Should they end up in legislative paralysis, they warn, it could facilitate an electoral bloodbath.

“My donors are basically saying, ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again,’” Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), said on Tuesday.
Read more

Nov 12, 2017
The Hill
Fight over paid leave heating up in Congress

A bitter fight is looming in Congress over the push for paid family leave despite broad backing for the idea from both parties and the White House.

Republicans and Democrats are divided over the details of a legislative proposal. Meanwhile, Ivanka Trump is pushing an alternative plan, leaving no clear path forward.

Republican Reps. Mimi Walters (Calif.), Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.) offered legislation last week to create a voluntary program for employers to offer full- and part-time employees a guaranteed minimum level of paid leave to use and at least one flexible work arrangement.

But the National Partnership for Women & Families slammed the bill for blocking local sick leave laws — now on the books in eight states and 32 localities — and for allowing employers to deny the use of the paid leave when it disrupts business operations.

Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) praised the bill, known as the Workflex in the 21st Century Act.

“What we’re trying to do is give employers who are operating across state lines a common set of rules, because when you’re having to comply with different laws in different states, it makes it very difficult for an employer to offer anything,” he said.

“I think in order to encourage employers to do this it’s good to have a common set of laws and policies across state lines.”

Democrats were initially excited to hear of the proposal, seeing it as potential breakthrough.

“I’m excited about this tsunami of support for women,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), who offered a bill in February to provide six weeks of guaranteed paid leave for all federal employees following the birth, adoption or fostering of a child.

“I’ve never seen it before in my life … I’m glad to hear Republicans are stepping up.”

But Maloney’s enthusiasm sunk when told the bill would pre-empt state and local sick leave laws.

“I have questions about any legislation that puts a ceiling on the rights of women,” Maloney said. “Most Democrats don’t want to put a ceiling on what a city or state can do, or wants to do, for work-family balance.”

Democrats also object because the bill blocks state and local governments from requiring more paid leave days than the federal government.

“That’s terrible,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.).

“There are certain kinds of pre-emptions Democrats can support, but in general, when you talk about social welfare legislation or minimum wages, or anything helping working people, helping families, to pre-empt it is wrong.”

Sources familiar with the GOP bill, however, said Seattle is the only locality that now offers more sick leave than what would be offered under the bill, and only a small percentage of employees in the city now qualify for it.

Those sources noted the bill does not impact the 12 weeks of unpaid leave time employees can already take under the Family and Medical Leave Act for the birth, fostering or adoption of a child.

“It’s the not the holy grail to paid time off, but it’s a good step we think,” a source familiar with the bill said, adding that the goal was to provide some sort of paid leave without saddling businesses with new burdens.

The bill would require an employer to pay for the leave. The amount of time an employee could take would be determined by a formula that takes into account the size of the employer and the employee’s years of service.

A company with 50 to 249 employees, for example, would have to offer employees who have been with the company for five or more years 15 days, while employees who have worked five or fewer years would get 13 days.

Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) said what he likes most about the bill is that it’s voluntary for both the employer and the employee.

“It basically says, we’re not worried what you use it for, you’re big people. If you need it to take care of your kids, take care of your elderly parents or go fly fishing, you can use it,” he said.

But sources familiar with the bill said only the flexible working arrangement is voluntarily. All employees would get the federal amount of paid time offered under the federal legislation if an employer opted into the program.

Ivanka Trump, meanwhile, is aggressively pushing her own plan, which was included in President Trump’s 2018 budget proposal. She is calling for states to be required to provide new parents and adopted parents six weeks of paid parental leave as part of unemployment benefits.

While a federal paid leave law is something Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) says he could potentially support, he said there are “caveats” for many Republicans.

“I don’t know that I want to litigate it right now in the press, but certainly on how do we make sure it doesn’t become a burdensome event for small businesses that can’t afford it and yet a norm that we all get to practice on a regular basis,” he said when asked what the conditions are.

Meadows said he has talked with Ivanka Trump about family leave at least two or three times and that she’s pushing Congress to pass a plan next year.

“Her family leave policy really has some merit, and we’re trying to show her the conservative pushbacks, as well as some of the other factors that would come into play,” he said.

“She makes a very compelling case and certainly she has been extremely tenacious in her reaching out to members both in the House and in the Senate.”

The White House, meanwhile, has suggested it is open to negotiating.

“We wanted to take the initiative, present a strong proposal in our budget as a stake in the ground,” a White House official said. “We will continue to talk and meet with Congress and leaders from outside the government on the ultimate paid leave proposal that will work for all working families.”

Though Republicans are now focused on tax reform, Byrne said paid leave is an emerging issue.

“I know we’re real focused on tax reform right now, but I think we’re going to be real focused on that as well,” he said.

The White House official said the administration is pleased with the progress it’s made in generating conversations around the issue, but is “realistic” about the congressional calendar.

“We know how hard it is going to be and that for all the talk on the issue, nobody has been able to get it done before, but we are committed to it and the priority now is to continue to build a coalition,” the official said.  Source

Nov 9, 2017
The Hill
Key differences between the Senate and House tax plans

Senate Republicans on Thursday unveiled a tax reform bill that breaks with the House in a variety of significant ways, taking into account various objections from constituents and special interest groups to the House plan.

If the House Republican bill was a first draft of tax reform, the Senate bill is the first rewrite.

“I like it better than what I saw in the House version,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.). “The Senate was able to learn a lot from what the House found it.

The Senate bill attempts to mollify opposition from two important special interest groups, the National Association of Home Builders and the National Federation of Independent Business.

But it will likely draw strong opposition from moderate House Republicans in wealthy suburban districts whose constituents take big deductions for local taxes.

Here are the key differences between the Senate and House bills.

State and local taxes 

The Senate bill will entirely repeal the deduction for state and local taxes, making no exception for property taxes.

The House bill, in a bid to win support from moderate Republicans, would allow deductions up to $10,000 for property taxes.

Senate Republicans see little need to allow property tax deductions as they don’t have members in their conference from high-tax states such as California, New York, New Jersey and Illinois.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) is trying to exploit the difference by calling on House GOP moderates to kill tax reform.

Reps. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), Ed Royce (R-Calif.), Erik Paulsen (R-Min.), Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) and Mimi Walters (R-Calif.) represent districts where a significant percentage of voters take big deductions for local taxes.

Roskam and Paulsen are both members of the House Ways and Means Committee and voted for the House bill. Roskam is also chairman of the panel’s tax-policy subcommittee.

The Senate would keep in place the deduction for newly purchased homes up to $1 million while the House plan would cut the threshold to $500,000.

The House Ways and Means Committee added the lower cap on mortgage interest deductions as a last-minute revenue raiser and it drew strong opposition from the National Association of Home Builders, a powerful special interest group.

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), a member of the Finance Committee, pushed to raise the limit, arguing that homes priced between $500,000 and $1 million are average in high-income areas such as San Francisco, New York and the District of Columbia.

Popular tax credits and deductions

The Senate would keep in place a variety of popular tax credits and deductions that would have been eliminated by the House tax bill released last week.

It preserves tax credits and deductions for adoption, medical expense, teacher expenses, and student loan interest.

“We stayed kind of inside the big structural issues,” said a Senate Finance Committee aide.

The House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday adopted an amendment to restore the adoption tax credit.

The Senate bill would also raise the income limit for the child credit.

Tax brackets

The House bill would condense the number of tax brackets to four: 12 percent for income up to $90,000; 25 percent for income up to $260,000; 35 percent for income up to $1 million; and 39.6 percent for income over $1 million.

The Senate bill would establish seven tax brackets at 10 percent, 12 percent, 22.5 percent, 25 percent, 32.5 percent, 35 percent and 38.5 percent for the nation’s highest income earners.

The top rate kicks in for individuals who earn $500,000 and couples who earn $1 million.

Senate Republicans said they were concerned about the optics of changing the 10 percent bracket to 12 percent while cutting the corporate tax rate, even though low-income earners would be covered by the doubling of the standard deduction in both bills.

Estate tax

The Senate bill would double the estate-tax exemption for wealthy estates from $11 million to $22 million per couple (or from $5.5 million to $11 million per individual) while the House bill would repeal the estate tax entirely.

Moderate Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) last week said she opposed getting rid of the estate tax entirely.

Corporate tax rate

The Senate would cut the corporate tax rate to 20 percent, like the House would, but delay its implementation until 2019 to reduce the projected cost of the bill over ten years.

The House would cut the corporate tax rate next year.

Pass-through businesses

The Senate would establish a 17.4 percent deduction for pass-through businesses based on the Section 199 domestic manufacturing deduction that would lower the effective tax rate for small businesses in the top tax rate to slightly more than 30 percent, according to Senate Finance Committee aide.

It would apply to certain domestic non-service passthrough income, according to the committee.

The House bill, by contrast, would have established a 25 percent rate for pass-through companies but would only make 30 percent of their revenue eligible for that rate and tax the other 70 percent as wages under the individual tax rate. That would result in a blended rate for many small businesses between 35 percent and 38 percent.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) last week called the House formula “completely unacceptable.”

The National Federation of Independent Business, which contributes money overwhelming in favor of GOP candidates, complained the House bill “leaves too many small businesses behind.”

On Thursday the group said, “We are very encouraged by the plan introduced by [Senate Finance Committee] Chairman [Orrin] Hatch [R-Utah.].”

The House on Thursday adopted an amendment to provide additional relief to small businesses and won back the support of NFIB. It would create a new nine-percent tax rate for the first $75,000 of income of a married active owner who has less than $150,000 of pass-through income.

NFIB president Juanita Duggan said her group was “grateful” the House Ways and Means Committee listened to her group’s concerns.  Source

Nov 9, 2017
The Hill
Monopoly critics decry ‘Amazon amendment’

Lawmakers put the finishing touches this week on military funding legislation that contains a provision that stands to significantly benefit Amazon.

The amendment, Section 801 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), would help Amazon establish a tight grip on the lucrative, $53 billion government acquisitions market, experts say.

The provision, dubbed the “Amazon amendment” by experts, according to an article in The Intercept, would allow for the creation of an online portal that government employees could use to purchase everyday items such as office supplies or furniture.

This government-only version of Amazon, which could potentially include a few other websites, would give participating companies direct access to the $53 billion market for government acquisitions of commercial products.

“It hands an enormous amount of power over to Amazon,” said Stacy Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a research group that advocates for local businesses.

Mitchell said that the provision could allow Amazon to gain a monopoly or duopoly on the profitable world of commercial government purchases, leaving smaller businesses behind and further consolidating the behemoth tech firm’s power.

Amazon declined to comment to The Hill on Section 801.

The Seattle-based tech giant spent the second and third quarters of 2017 lobbying on the NDAA and “government procurement,” according to disclosures that the company filed this year.

Amazon has also recruited outside firms to help it influence policymakers on the matter. Disclosure filings made by lobbying firm TwinLogic Strategies, made on behalf of Amazon as its client, do not specify the exact legislation that they tried to influence, but note that they focused on the “modernization of the procurement process.”

The Internet Association, a trade group representing the political interests of major tech firms like Amazon, Google and Facebook, also pushed lawmakers on the matter.

“Dozens of acquisition reform proposals over the years have highlighted the need to inject greater innovation and disruption into federal procurement,” the group’s President Michael Beckerman wrote in an Oct. 12 letter addressed to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) and ranking member Jack Reed (D-R.I.).

In his letter, Beckerman wrote that a government purchasing portal offers “just that opportunity.”

Despite the size of the potential windfall for Amazon, Section 801 has gone unnoticed by some lawmakers on the House and Senate Armed Services committees, which are responsible for drafting and finalizing the NDAA.

Many legislators in the House and Senate whom The Hill asked about the bill were not immediately familiar with the provision, though some expressed interest and commented later after reviewing Section 801.

Those who were familiar with the provision had mixed opinions, but many lawmakers leaned toward supporting it.

“I’m going to seriously scrutinize it and see if we’ll want to revise it in some way,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

The Connecticut senator said he was skeptical of criticisms that the provision would allow Amazon to dominate the government procurement market.

“My concern is that every company have a chance to participate in the procurement process — both online and traditional,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who represents Silicon Valley, told The Hill when questioned about the amendment.

Khanna said it was essential that the final version of the bill ensured “transparency in input pricing and also to make sure they have multiple bids from competitors.”

Another member of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), offered a more pointed defense of Section 801.

“This isn’t about Amazon, although Amazon lobbied for it. It’s about trying to create online space for purchasing so that [the Department of Defense] can get something for value,” Larsen argued.

He explained that the provision was born out of trying to create a specific provision for Defense Department procurement only. But the committee realized that, to do that, “we’d have to set up a mini-[General Services Administration] inside the Defense Department.”

“So then it became more broad,” Larsen said.

In a briefing on Wednesday before the bill’s release, senior House and Senate Armed Services committee staffers explained that, in addition to Amazon and Walmart, Staples and industrial supply company Grainger would be eligible to also provide commercial items.

But Mitchell is skeptical, pointing to language in the current version of the bill that would appear to exclude Staples and Grainger.

“The way the language reads to me, it’s hard to imagine that there are any other companies who would fit the bill besides Amazon and perhaps Walmart,” she said. “Those are the only retailers who are operating online marketplaces who seem to be in a situation to create a government marketplace portal that this provision envisions.”

The House Armed Services Committee contests the idea that Section 801 will only benefit one or two companies, saying that multiple companies will have access to the government procurement market in the final version of the NDAA.

“[Amazon’s dominance of government procurement] is a myth that opponents of the provision have been shopping for a while, that we wrote the language in such a way as to exclude more specialized marketplaces,” a representative from the House Armed Services Committee told The Hill over email, adding that some of Section 801’s language had been changed in the latest version of the provision.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) has made a strong push for online marketplace reform. In addition to advocating for the amendment, he also introduced a standalone bill in May that shares similar goals with Section 801.

Mitchell and other experts believe that Section 801 could have harmful impacts.

“It’s incredibly dangerous,” said Matt Stoller, an economist at the Open Markets Institute, a think tank critical of Amazon’s growing power. “What it’s doing is concentrating the buying power of the country into the hands of Jeff Bezos.”    Source

Oct 23, 2017
Rachel Maddow: “While we are all sidetracked by Trump/Pence and the NFL, Trump vs. PuertoRico, Harvey Weinstein & the Sexual Predation of All Hollywood, the Russian Hacking of the election, or the MLB American League Division Playoffs this week, it’s worth noting that the following bills have been introduced in the House of Representatives”:
1. HR 861 to Terminate the Environmental Protection Agency (Like to breathe? This one is not for you.)
2. HR 610 – Vouchers for Public Education (which may end free public education as we know it)
3. HR 899 to Terminate the Department of Education (which may lead to greater disparity between states but nobody who uses public education ever moves so it’s all good)
4. HR 69 to Repeal the Rule Protecting Wildlife (nobody likes nature anyway, right?)
5. HR 370 to Repeal the Affordable Care Act (didn’t we already try this umpteen times?)
6. HR 354 to De-fund Planned Parenthood (because exactly none of your tax dollars go toward abortion services)
7. HR 785 – National “Right to Work” (this one is actually a ‘Right to fire you whenever your boss feels like it” law, and it would effectively end unions)
8. HR 83 – Mobilizing Against Sanctuary Cities Bill (California should just secede now and take all its money)
9. HR 147 to Criminalize Abortion (“Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act”) (because these private decisions should be made by your legislator and employer)
10. HR 808 to Impose Sanctions Against Iran (even though they are in compliance with the agreement according to those in the know)

Oct 2, 2017

Has your U.S. Congress person received donations from the NRA?

Pennsylvania

The NRA has donated $155,600 to Pennsylvania members of Congress who are currently in office.

  • 1.   Rep. Tim Murphy (R)$33,500
  • 2.   Rep. Bill Shuster (R)$29,400
  • 3.   Rep. Charlie Dent (R)$28,850
  • 4.   Rep. Ryan Costello (R)$9,900
  • 5.   Rep. Glenn Thompson (R)$9,500
  • 6.   Rep. Mike Kelly (R)$9,000
  • 7.   Rep. Scott Perry (R)$8,500
  • 8.   Rep. Tom Marino (R)$8,000
  • 9.   Rep. Lou Barletta (R)$7,500
  • 10.  Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R)$5,950
  • 11.  Rep. Keith J Rothfus (R)$5,500

Source

Oct 2, 2017
Splinter
Every Member of Congress Who Took Money From the NRA and Tweeted ‘Thoughts and Prayers’ to Las Vegas

Americans woke up on Monday morning to learn of yet another horrific act of gun violence in the United States—this time a mass shooting in Las Vegas that left at least 58 people dead and more than 500 injured. But it seems unlikely that the politicians in a position to actually change our gun laws will actually do something about it, because they never do.

So, in lieu of any substantive gun control, what do America’s senators and congresspeople have to offer? That tried and true chestnut of noncommittal national mourning: “Thoughts and prayers.” And just as in the past, those thoughts and prayers seem to have been paid for in part by the National Rifle Association, whose campaign donations and scare-mongering have effectively blocked any life-saving legislation which might prevent a person from getting their hands on a fully automatic machine gun they can then use to pump bullets into dozens of innocent people.

So who is sending their NRA-sponsored well wishes to the victims of the Las Vegas massacre today? Let’s take a look, with a little help from the campaign contribution database at opensecrets.org.  Read more

August 1, 2017
Washington Times
McConnell casts doubt on prospects for bipartisan tax overhaul

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that Republicans are prepared to go it alone on tax reform, saying the GOP and Democrats are too far apart on basic principles to even try for consensus.
He was responding hours after Democrats laid out their red lines, saying they want to cooperate but will work only on plans that don’t benefit the wealthy or increase the deficit.
Those are nonstarters for Republicans, who say that tax rates must be cut across the board to get the economy roaring and that trumps even the growing deficit.
“I don’t think this is going to be 1986, when you had a bipartisan effort to scrub the code,” said Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican.
The White House has set an aggressive timetable for getting a deal done this year, and Senate Republicans said that means turning to the same fast-track budget procedure that they tried to use for their failed Obamacare repeal and replace effort.
The reconciliation process allows bills to pass without facing a Democratic filibuster, but it would constrain the GOP’s ability to write a lasting overhaul that doesn’t deepen the deficit. Source

 

July 27, 2017
Washington Times
House GOP allocates $1.6 billion for Trump border wall in 2018

House Republicans said Tuesday they’ve included $1.6 billion in funding for President Trump’s border wall in their new homeland security spending bill, setting up fight with Democrats who have vowed to block any wall funding — even if it means sending the government into a partial shutdown.
GOP leaders said the $1.6 billion fully meets Mr. Trump’s request to begin wall construction, which includes 32 miles of new border fencing in Texas, 28 miles of levee wall along the Rio Grande Valley, also in Texas, and 14 miles of replacement fence in San Diego.
The bill also adds 500 new Border Patrol agents, 1,000 more agents and officers for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement operations in the interior, and provides enough money to maintain 44,000 detention beds. That’s a massive increase over the Obama years, and Trump officials said it will allow them to detain and deport illegal immigrants faster and with a higher success rate.
The GOP bill also calls for adding more than two dozen new jurisdictions to the 287(g) program which allows local police and sheriff’s deputies to be trained to enforce immigration laws. Read more

June 27, 2017
The Bradford Era
House adds security funding in wake of Scalise shooting

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House has moved to provide lawmakers with a $25,000 allowance to take additional security steps in the wake of the shooting at a congressional baseball practice earlier this month.

The additional funding is intended to be used to beef up security, including at home-district offices and public appearances, and is available through the beginning of next year. Read more

May 24, 2017
The Hill
New CBO score triggers backlash
The Republican healthcare bill would result in 23 million fewer people with insurance over a decade, steep premium increases for older people and price hikes for many people with pre-existing conditions, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said Wednesday.
The long-awaited analysis of the ObamaCare repeal bill found that a controversial amendment from Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) — added at the last minute to secure conservative votes — would have a significant effect despite Republican assurances to the contrary.
The amendment allows states to waive rules governing what an insurance plan must cover and lets insurers charge sick people more based on their health. Read more
April 25, 2017
The Hill
House GOP circulates new changes to health bill
House Republicans are circulating the text of an amendment to their ObamaCare replacement bill that they believe could bring many conservatives on board.
According to legislative text of the amendment obtained by The Hill, the measure would allow states to apply for waivers to repeal one of ObamaCare’s core protections for people with pre-existing conditions.
Conservatives argue the provision drives up premiums for healthy people, but Democrats — and many more moderate Republicans — warn it would spark a return to the days when insurance companies could charge sick people exorbitantly high premiums.
Specifically, the amendment from Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) allows states to apply for a waiver from ObamaCare’s “community rating,” requirement. If that were repealed, insurers would be allowed to charge people with pre-existing conditions much higher premiums due to their illnesses, putting coverage out of reach for some.
The amendment also allows states to apply for a waiver to repeal ObamaCare’s essential health benefits, which mandate that insurance plans cover a range of services, such as mental health and prescription drug benefits. Read more
MilitaryTimes
APril 18,2017
There’s a plan in Congress to start charging troops for their GI BIll benefits
WASHINGTON — A congressional proposal to make service members buy into their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits surprised veterans groups on Tuesday, with advocates divided over whether it amounts to a long-term fix for the benefit or an unfair bill for veterans.
“This new tax on troops is absurd,” said Veterans of Foreign Wars National Commander Brian Duffy in a statement. “Ensuring veterans are able to successfully transition back to civilian life after military service is a cost of war, and not a fee that Congress can just pass along to our troops.
“Congress must stop nickeling and diming America’s service members and veterans.” Read more

 

April 2, 2017
post-gazette.com
Democrats looking to challendge solidly GOP seats
Tom Prigg has climbed Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. He’s scaled Mt. Blanc du Tacul in France. He even scaled a building in Pittsburgh as a stunt for a 2013 film. But the McCandless resident may be facing his steepest climb yet: challenging 12th district Republican Congressman Keith Rothfus in 2018.
“People I talk to are like, ‘This is really daunting.’ And it is,” said Mr. Prigg, a brain researcher at Carnegie Mellon University. But Mr. Prigg said that pundits who write off Democrats in the district “aren’t listening to the people. People want to earn a livable wage, better prospects for their children, equal opportunity for higher education and careers later on.” Read more
March 28, 2017
Resistancereport.com
Here’s how much Comcast paid members of Congress to sell your browser history
Our elected officials in Congress sell out to special interests for remarkably little money, according to campaign finance data.
Just over two months into the Trump administration, Republicans in Congress have undone numerous regulations put in place by former President Barack Obama. On Tuesday, the House of Representatives passed a bill — along party lines — that would allow Americans’ internet histories to be bought and sold by large telecom companies like Comcast (Xfinity), Verizon and AT&T, without their knowledge or consent. The U.S. Senate did the same thing a week ago. Read the list here
March 28, 2017
Ibtimes.com
Internet Privacy Vote: Congress Decides To Kill Rules Preventing ISPs From Collecting, Selling Data
The United States House of Representatives voted Tuesday to approve House Vote 202, a “congressional disapproval” vote of broadband privacy rules that would have prevented internet service providers from collecting sensitive data from subscribers without permission.
The vote against the Broadband Consumer Privacy Rules was approved by a vote of 215-205 that fell primarily on party lines, with the Republican majority—save for 15 representatives—supporting the motion and the Democratic minority in opposition. Nine representatives—three Democrats and seven Republicans—chose not to vote. Read more

March 24, 2017
The Hill

The Memo: Winners and losers from the battle over health care

A week of high drama in Washington reached a stunning climax on Friday: Read more

March 10, 2017
Kaiser Family Foundation

How Tax Credits might shift – read more

Kaiser Family Foundation Interactive map – Tax Credits under TrumpCare vs. ObamaCare here

You will find CC Congressmen in the YES column

March 19, 2017
The Hill’s Whip List: Where Republicans stand on ObamaCare repeal
plan

Republican leaders are aiming to move quickly on legislation to repeal and replace ObamaCare, with a vote by the full House slated for Thursday.

But the plan faces a difficult path. Conservatives were quick to criticize the legislation, saying it falls short of full repeal and would create new entitlements. Centrist Republicans and many from districts won by Hillary Clinton in 2016 have also balked at measures rolling back the Medicaid expansion or defunding Planned Parenthood. Read more

March 18, 2017
The Hill

Most of the Republicans who have called for President Trump to release his tax returns have declined to join efforts to use the power of Congress to make it happen.

Only two Republicans who think Trump should make his finances public have joined in Democratic-led attempts to demand the tax returns from the IRS.

At least 10 other GOP lawmakers have said Trump should release his tax returns during the 2016 campaign and recent interviews or town hall meetings with constituents. But they’ve declined to support measures to compel the release of the returns, including during three House floor votes forced by Democrats.  Read more

 

 

 

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