Posts Tagged ‘House Republicans’

House Republicans Break Into Open Warfare With Rosenstein, Demanding Files

June 29, 2018

For months, their sparring had been indirect, stern letters exchanged, pointed threats traded through the news media. But on Thursday, the ever-intensifying skirmishes between Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein and conservative House Republicans broke into an ugly public fight.

On the House floor, Republicans voted in lock step to give the Justice Department seven days to produce sensitive documents related to the Russia inquiry and the F.B.I.’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email use. Though nonbinding, the measure was intended to put Mr. Rosenstein on notice that House lawmakers were willing to take punitive action — potentially including impeachment — if their demands were not met.

In the House Judiciary Committee, conservative Republicans hauled Mr. Rosenstein and the F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray, before television cameras to accuse them of hiding information from Congress to protect their own interests. In Mr. Rosenstein’s case, some Republicans charged outright misconduct related to the investigation into Russian election interference.

Rod J. Rosenstein, right, the deputy attorney general, and Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director, defended the Russia investigation before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday. Credit Erin Schaff for The New York Times

The two leaders, both appointed by President Trump, defended the special counsel investigation and their response to congressional investigators, even as they said they had been deeply troubled by the findings of a Justice Department inspector general’s report released this month on the F.B.I.’s handling of the Clinton email case.

“There are mechanisms to resolve this without threatening to hold people in contempt,” Mr. Rosenstein said, urging lawmakers to work with him rather than threaten him. “We are not in contempt of this Congress. We are not going to be.”

Democrats accused Republicans of concocting a political distraction to further bloody the reputation of the Justice Department as it investigates President Trump and his campaign’s ties to Russia. Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, the top Judiciary Committee Democrat, called the floor vote “clearly a pretext for a move against Mr. Rosenstein that the majority already has planned.”

Representative Luis V. Gutiérrez, Democrat of Illinois, drove the point home to Mr. Rosenstein: “They want to impeach you; they want to indict you; they want to get rid of you. Mr. Rosenstein, good luck. We’re in the minority.”

In the year since he appointed Robert S. Mueller III as special counsel, Mr. Rosenstein has emerged as one of the chief targets of House Republicans critical of the ongoing investigation. Thursday’s resolution passed along party lines, 226 to 183, as he and other department officials were working furiously to meet the requests of the Judiciary Committee and the House Intelligence Committee.

Read the rest:




Donald Trump’s Reputation Has Nothing to Lose

June 22, 2018

Jonathan Bernstein’s morning links.

Dark times.

Photographer: Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images

Presidents — normal presidents — care deeply about their professional reputations. Donald Trump showed again this week that he’s different, and it’s quite possible it was costly to him on policies he seems to care about.

I’m not really talking here about the communications fiasco surrounding the administration’s family separation policy. A lot of congressional Republicans would like to have talking points they can actually use rather than constantly changing and internally inconsistent explanations of that policy (or even if there was a policy). But it’s one thing to spin to the public, even badly. It’s another thing to lie to them. And to lie about them.

In a month in which a lot of very important things were going on, then, I still think that what Trump did to defeated House Republican Mark Sanford and his colleagues shouldn’t be overlooked. When he was meeting with House Republicans on Tuesday, Trump mocked Sanford, remarks that by all accounts did not go over well. And after Trump then claimed on Twitter that Republicans had “applauded and laughed loudly,” three of them publicly called Trump, essentially, a liar.

Does it matter? Yes, I think so. Assuming that Michigan’s Justin Amash, Pennsylvania’s Ryan Costello and Tennessee’s Scott DesJarlais (and other unnamed members of the House who had leaked the story to the media earlier) are telling the truth, it means that Trump was saying something that every single House Republican witnessed as untrue — and he had to know that they all witnessed it as untrue. Not only that, but Trump was lying about their own conduct, something very few politicians take lightly.

With Trump, this isn’t new. But I suspect this one hit close to home, not only for House Republicans, but for everyone who has to deal with the president, too. It was a stark reminder that he insists on being unbound to the facts in his dealings with those he bargains with, not just voters. And there’s not much anyone can do with a president whose word is worthless.

Of course, that’s not the only problem with Trump. His habit of backstabbing his allies — as he did to House Republicans on their health-care reform bill and the budget agreement — isn’t forgotten. Nor is his failure to bother to learn the basics of public policy, let alone the details. Or … well, I could go on for some time about all the ways that Trump’s professional reputation stinks.

The thing is that most presidents learn eventually that this stuff really can matter. Trump, now 17 months in, seems if anything worse than ever. That won’t stop congressional Republicans from trying to pass things that they want. But don’t expect them or anyone else to go out of their way for him. He remains about as weak as a president can be.

1. Stacie Goddard and Dan Nexon on the value of what North Korea got from Trump …

2. … while Seo-Hyun Park and Il Hyun Cho at the Monkey Cage talk about what’s next in Korea.

3. Good Matt Yglesias item on Trump’s fundamental lack of competence in presidenting.

4. Fred Kaplan on why Trump’s Space Force is a bad idea and a distraction from the actual challenges the U.S. military faces. I’ll say it one more time: You never know, but I very much doubt that any of the Trump administration’s government reorganization ideas will happen.

5. Amy Walter looks at where Republicans are in better shape than in 2006 in House elections.

6. And Kristen Soltis Anderson breaks down Washington Republicans.

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This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at

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Brooke Sample at

No clear US plan yet on how to reunite children with illegal immigrant parents

June 20, 2018

Trump administration officials say they have no clear plan yet on how to reunite the thousands of children separated from their families at the border since the implementation of a zero-tolerance policy in which anyone caught entering the US illegally is criminally prosecuted.

“This policy is relatively new,” said Steven Wagner, an acting assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services “We’re still working through the experience of reunifying kids with their parents after adjudication.”


More than 2,000 minors have been separated from their families since early May at the border since the implementation of a zero-tolerance policy on those illegally entering the US. (Camden Courier-Post via AP)

Federal officials say there are some methods parents can use to try to find their children: hotlines to call and an email address for those seeking information. But advocates say it’s not that simple.

In a courtroom near the Rio Grande, lawyer Efren Olivares and his team with the Texas Civil Rights Project frantically scribble down children’s names, birthdates and other details from handcuffed men and women waiting for court to begin. There are sometimes 80 of them in the same hearing.

The Texas Civil Rights Project works to document the separations in the hopes of helping them reunite with the children.

They have one hour to collect as much information as they can before the hearing begins. The immigrants plead guilty to illegally entering the US, and they are typically sent either to jail or directly to an immigration detention center. At this point, lawyers with the civil rights group often lose access to the detainees.

“If we don’t get that information, then there’s no way of knowing that child was separated,” Olivares said. “No one else but the government will know that the separation happened if we don’t document it there.”

Olivares has documented more than 300 cases of adults who have been separated from a child. Most are parents, but some are older siblings, aunts, uncles or grandparents. Some are illiterate and don’t know how to spell the children’s names.

More than 2,000 minors have been separated from their families since early May. The children are put into the custody of the US Department of Health and Human Services with the aim of keeping them as close to their parents as possible and reuniting the family after the case goes through the courts, said Wagner.

But it’s not clear that’s working.

According to Olivares, the agency is generally “very willing to help,” often helping to find a child even if there’s a misspelling in the group’s records. But if a child has been transferred out of a government shelter — including if the child has been deported — agency representatives won’t give any information.

“Sometimes the parent gives us contact information for a relative,” Olivares said. “If they have the phone number right and the phone number is working … we call that number and sometimes we’re able to locate that relative and ask them what they know.”

In May, the Department of Justice adopted the zero-tolerance policy in which anyone caught entering the US illegally is criminally prosecuted. Children can’t be jailed with their parents. Instead, after the adult is charged, children are held briefly by Homeland Security officials before being transferred to Health and Human Services, which operates more than 100 shelters for minors in 17 states.

The department has set up new facilities to manage the influx of children, and Wagner said they were prepared to expand as more children come into custody.

The children are classified as unaccompanied minors, a legal term generally used for children who cross the border alone and have a possible sponsor in the US willing to care for them. Most of the more than 10,000 children in shelters under HHS care came to the US alone and are waiting to be placed with family members living in the US.

But these children are different — they arrived with their families.

“They should just give the kids back to their parents. This isn’t difficult,” said Lee Gelernt of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Gelernt represents a Brazilian asylum seeker in a closely watched lawsuit that seeks a nationwide halt to family separation. The woman, identified as Mrs. C in court documents, was split from her son for nearly a year after entering the country illegally in August near Santa Teresa, New Mexico.

On Tuesday, Olivares’ team had seven people left to interview with five minutes left. They took down just the names, dates of birth, and countries of origin of the children.

“One woman (said), ‘What about me, what about me?’” Olivares said a few hours later. “She wanted to give us information because she realized what we were trying to do.”

Associated Press


  (Wall Street Journal)

Senate Republicans rebuke Trump on immigration

June 20, 2018

President visits Capitol Hill as controversy rages over his family separation policy

Image may contain: 1 person, sitting and outdoor

Activists and members of Congress block a road near the White House entrance as they take part in a protest in Washington on June 13. Donald Trump on Tuesday met House Republicans to discuss two competing bills © AFP

By Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington

Donald Trump visited Capitol Hill in an effort to defuse an immigration controversy on Tuesday, as Senate Republicans rebuked the president by pushing legislation that would prevent his administration from maintaining a policy that separates children from their parents after families have crossed into the US illegally.

As images have emerged of children in tears after being separated from their parents, Republicans have been desperate to limit the fallout from the zero-tolerance immigration policy that Mr Trump has instituted to reduce illegal border crossings.

As Mr Trump met House Republicans to discuss two competing bills, Senate Republicans rallied behind a measure that would keep families together as courts determine their future. In a rare expression of disapproval for the president, Mitch McConnell, Senate majority leader, said all 51 Republican senators backed the measure.

“The system’s been broken for many years. The immigration system, it’s been a really bad, bad system, probably the worst anywhere in the world,” Mr Trump said as he arrived on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

The president can end this crisis with the flick of his pen, and he needs to do so now

Mr Trump, who won the White House partly thanks to his tough immigration stance, has sparked a huge outcry over the separation policy, which has come under attack from Democrats and many Republicans. The president has blamed the Democrats for the policy, even as members of his party have argued that Mr Trump was responsible for the change and could end the controversy by telling immigration officers to stop.

Jeff Sessions, the attorney-general, last week cited a passage from the Bible to justify the policy, which has resulted in more than 2,000 children being separated from their parents. Sarah Sanders, White House press secretary, later added that it was “very biblical to enforce the law”.

Evangelical supporters of Mr Trump have also attacked the policy. Franklin Graham, the son of the late Reverend Billy Graham, called it “disgraceful”. The New York Post, a Rupert Murdoch-owned paper that is friendly to Mr Trump, said it was “not just that this looks terrible in the eyes of the world. It is terrible.”

Even as her husband denied responsibility, Melania Trump, the first lady, said that while it was important to enforce laws, the US should be a nation that “governs with heart”. Laura Bush, the former first lady who rarely comments on controversial issues, said the zero-tolerance policy — which she added had separated more than 100 children under the age of four from their parents — was “cruel” and “immoral”.

Democrats have used the issue to pound Mr Trump and the Republicans — knowing that the images of the distraught children would help their prospects in the November midterm elections. Mr McConnell urged the Democrats to support legislation to end the zero-tolerance policy, but Chuck Schumer, the top Senate Democrat, said there was no need for a new law because Mr Trump could halt the policy.

“Senate Republicans are supposedly eyeing a bill that the president wouldn’t sign even if it made it to his desk and the president continues to try to use these separated families as hostages in the legislative process,” said Mr Schumer. “Anyone who believes this Republican Congress is capable of addressing this issue is kidding themselves. The president can end this crisis with the flick of his pen, and he needs to do so now.”

After Mr Trump left Capitol Hill, Michael McCaul, a top House Republican, said he had expressed support for broad immigration legislation — the more moderate of two bills under consideration — that includes $18bn to build a wall on the US-Mexico border. He said children would not be separated from their parents if the bill became law.

Following the meeting on Capitol Hill, however, the White House said Mr Trump was supportive of both House immigration bills, including the less moderate proposal, which would not provide undocumented immigrants in the US with a path to citizenship.

Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter: @dimi


  (Wall Street Journal)

The GOP’s Immigration Meltdown

June 19, 2018

Restrictionists may cost Republicans their majorities in Congress.

An undated photo showing a U.S. Border Patrol Processing Center in McAllen, Tx.

Are Republicans trying to lose their majorities in Congress this November? We assume not, but you can’t tell from the party’s internal feuding over immigration that is fast becoming an election-year nightmare over separating immigrant children from their parents. This is what happens when restrictionists have a veto over GOP policy.

Democrats fanned out across the U.S. this weekend to highlight the turmoil caused by the Trump Administration’s new “zero-tolerance” policy of detaining all adult aliens crossing the border illegally. That means separating parents from children who arrive together because courts have said migrant children can’t be jailed.

Children are put into tent encampments or other sites while their parents are processed for deportation. That can take several days, which is bad enough, though much longer if the adults challenge their deportation. Trump officials are defending the policy as a deterrent to illegal entry, but surely they understand that separating parents from children is morally unacceptable and politically unsustainable.

The immediate solution should be for the Administration to end “zero-tolerance” until it can be implemented without dividing families. Congress can also act to allow migrants to be detained with children in facilities appropriate for families. Until that is possible, better to release those who have no criminal past rather than continue forced separation.

This episode underscores the larger GOP dysfunction as it debates how to deal with the former immigrant children known as Dreamers. The threat of Dreamer deportation isn’t imminent while the courts consider Barack Obama’s legalization order and Donald Trump’s revocation of that order. But it is sure to return with urgency next year.

A bipartisan majority in Congress wants to solve the problem of these young adults brought to the U.S. illegally as minors. But a minority of House Republicans continues to block a compromise that would solve the Dreamer problem and give Mr. Trump more money for border security.

Last month conservatives sank food-stamp reforms to pressure leadership into holding a vote on immigration legislation by Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte. The bill imposes an e-Verify mandate, a flawed agriculture visa program and sharp cuts to family-based immigration, among other restrictionist priorities. Moderate Republicans who represent large numbers of Hispanics would have to sell out employers to protect Dreamers.

To side-step this trap, moderates threatened a discharge petition to force votes on four immigration bills including the Goodlatte legislation. Whichever bill passed with the most votes would have gone to the Senate.

House leaders thwarted the discharge petition by promising votes this week on the Goodlatte bill and a compromise bill that would fulfill Mr. Trump’s priorities: $25 billion for a border wall, limits on family migration and an end to the diversity visa lottery. The bill would also repurpose 88,000 or so diversity-lottery and other visas for a merit-based green-card program that Dreamers could apply for with a path to citizenship. Another 65,000 visas for family-based preferences would be reallocated to employment-based categories.

This should be acceptable to moderates, and White House aide Stephen Miller has urged conservatives to support the bill. But then former aide Steve Bannon riled up the restrictionists by blasting the compromise as “amnesty.” The restrictionists don’t want anything to pass because they want to use immigration to drive conservative turnout in November.

This is self-destructive politics. This year is the GOP’s best opportunity for immigration reform in a decade. If Republicans lose their House majority, they will have less leverage when the Supreme Court rules on legalization for Dreamers. If the Obama program is upheld, Mr. Trump won’t have obtained money for his border wall or anything else.

As for November, House control will be won or lost in swing districts where legalizing the Dreamers is popular and separating families isn’t. Members like California’s Steve Knight and Florida’s Carlos Curbelo need to show voters that they’re working toward a solution for Dreamers.

Even better would be for Congress to pass the leadership’s compromise that legalizes Dreamers, ends the family separation fiasco, and gives Mr. Trump some of his priorities. Republicans would solve a problem while depriving Democrats of a potent issue.

But that will only happen if Mr. Trump sells it. On immigration he’s been a study in confusion, one day preaching compassion for Dreamers while deploring “amnesty” the next. The smart play is for Republicans to show they can solve at least some immigration problems.

If Mr. Trump wants to lose the House and risk impeachment, he’ll take Mr. Bannon’s bad advice and keep giving Democrats a daily picture of children stripped from their parents.

Appeared in the June 19, 2018, print edition.

Why the Justice Department Is Defiant

May 4, 2018

A House subpoena, another missed deadline. What is the department hiding?

Image result for Rod Rosenstein. photos

The feud that has simmered for months between Congress and the Justice Department erupted this week into a cage match. That’s because the House is homing in on the goods.

Until this week, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and fellow institutionalists at the department had fought Congress’s demands for information with the tools of banal bureaucracy—resist, delay, ignore, negotiate. But Mr. Rosenstein took things to a new level on Tuesday, accusing House Republicans of “threats,” extortion and wanting to “rummage” through department documents. A Wednesday New York Times story then dropped a new slur, claiming “Mr. Rosenstein and top FBI officials have come to suspect that some lawmakers were using their oversight authority to gain intelligence about [Special Counsel Bob Mueller’s ] investigation so that it could be shared with the White House.”

Mr. Rosenstein isn’t worried about rummaging. That’s a diversion from the department’s opposite concern: that it is being asked to comply with very specific—potentially very revealing—demands. Two House sources confirm for me that the Justice Department was recently delivered first a classified House Intelligence Committee letter and then a subpoena (which arrived Monday) demanding documents related to a new line of inquiry about the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Trump investigation. The deadline for complying with the subpoena was Thursday afternoon, and the Justice Department flouted it. As the White House is undoubtedly monitoring any new congressional demands for information, it is likely that President Trump’s tweet Wednesday ripping the department for not turning over documents was in part a reference to this latest demand.

Republicans also demand the FBI drop any objections to declassifying a section of the recently issued House Intelligence Committee report that deals with a briefing former FBI Director James Comey provided about former national security adviser Mike Flynn. House Republicans say Mr. Comey told them his own agents did not believe Mr. Flynn lied to them. On his book tour, Mr. Comey has said that isn’t true. Someone isn’t being honest. Is the FBI more interested in protecting the reputations of two former directors (the other being Mr. Mueller, who dragged Mr. Flynn into court on lying grounds) than in telling the public the truth?

It’s hard to have any faith in the necessity of the more than 300 redactions in the House Intel report, most of which the Republican committee members insist are bogus and should be removed. On every occasion that Justice or the FBI has claimed material must be withheld for the sake of national security or continuing investigations, it has later come out that the only thing at stake were those institutions’ reputations. Think the Comey memos, which showed the former director had little basis for claiming obstruction. Or Sen. Chuck Grassley’s criminal referral of dossier author Christopher Steele, the FBI’s so-called reliable source, whom we now know it had to fire for talking to the press and possibly lying.

The Justice Department is laying all this at the feet of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which technically oversees redactions. But ODNI consults with the agency that “owns” the material, and the FBI is clearly doing the blocking. Again, many pieces of the House Intel report that are being hidden happen to relate to FBI conduct during the 2016 election.

The increasingly poisonous interaction between Congress and the Justice Department also stems from a growing list of questions Republicans have about leading Justice Department officials’ roles in the events Congress seeks to investigate. Mr. Rosenstein’s name was on at least one of the applications for a warrant on Carter Page to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Dana Boente’s name is on another, and he’s now serving as the FBI’s general counsel.

We can’t know the precise motivations behind the Justice Department’s and FBI’s refusal to make key information public. But whether it is out of real concern over declassification or a desire to protect the institutions from embarrassment, the current leadership is about 20 steps behind this narrative. Mr. Comey, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, Andrew McCabe —they have already shattered the FBI’s reputation and public trust. There is nothing to be gained from pretending this is business as usual, or attempting to stem continued fallout by hiding further details.

This week’s events—including more flat-out subpoena defiance—put a luminous spotlight on Speaker Paul Ryan. The credibility of the House’s oversight authority is at stake. Mr. Ryan’s committee chairmen have done remarkable work exposing FBI behavior, and they deserve backup. The quickest way to get Justice and FBI to comply with these legitimate requests is for Mr. Ryan to state strongly and publicly that he has zero qualms about proceeding down the road of contempt or impeachment if House demands are not met. This is the people’s government, not the Justice Department’s.

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Appeared in the May 4, 2018, print edition as ‘Why Justice Is Defiant.’

House Republicans Plan Legislative Hearings As First Step to Fight Opioid Crisis

February 20, 2018

Bills to be considered will focus on law enforcement, public health and prevention, and insurance coverage issues

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) questions witnesses during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing, concerning federal efforts to combat the opioid crisis last year.
Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) questions witnesses during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing, concerning federal efforts to combat the opioid crisis last year. PHOTO: DREW ANGERER/GETTY IMAGES

House Republicans will begin a series of legislative hearings next week as the first step in an effort to pass bipartisan bills tackling the opioid crisis.

The plan from the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which will hold the first hearing on Feb. 28, will likely require additional funding from Congress, lawmakers said. Bills to be considered will focus on law enforcement, public health and prevention, and insurance coverage issues.

“It’s my top priority as chairman of the committee to get rid of this deadly epidemic,” committee Chairman Rep. Greg Walden (R., Ore.) said in an interview. “There’s going to be money—more money than has ever been spent.”

Two additional hearings will be held in March as lawmakers seek to push a measure through the House by the end of May. Republican committee leaders are already talking with Democrats and the Trump administration about the initiative and have received a positive response, Mr. Walden said.

Addiction experts are in wide agreement on the most effective way to help opioid addicts: Medication-assisted treatment. But most inpatient rehab facilities in the U.S. don’t offer this option. WSJ’s Jason Bellini reports on why the medication option is controversial, and in many places, hard to come by. Image: Ryno Eksteen and Thomas Williams

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) has agreed to bring proposals to the floor, Republican staffers said.

The legislative drive could get significant attention in coming months because Congress and the administration have faced criticism for not providing a comprehensive strategy, or enough money, to tackle opioids.

While lawmakers of both parties agree that opioid addiction is a crisis, ongoing disputes over the right approach could hamper the GOP push.

Democrats and some public health experts criticized President Donald Trump’s declaration in October that opioid epidemic is a “public health emergency” because it wasn’t accompanied by additional funding.

Some health care activists say the drug industry, which contributes heavily to lawmakers’ campaigns, has prevented Congress from doing more. And conservatives complain that Democrats haven’t proposed a way to pay for proposals that would spend billions of dollars to fight the opioid crisis.

Republicans hope new sources of funding will ease the path for their efforts. A bipartisan budget deal that passed this month would direct $6 billion over two years for opioid abuse treatment and mental health, although public health experts have said the amount falls short of what’s needed to address the problem.

Republicans have also said there is likely to be more money for the epidemic through the legislative process.

Energy and Commerce Committee members are working with the Department Health and Human Services, including such units as the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health.

“There’s no silver bullet,” said Rep. Gregg Harper (R., Miss.), chair of the House Administration Committee. “This is really a multiyear, multi-Congress review and attack. There is a desire to help people. This is not a bipartisan issue—it’s a nonpartisan issue.”

The first hearing will examine law enforcement, including a bill from Rep. John Katko (R., N.Y.) would make it easier for certain offshoots of synthetic drugs to be categorized as controlled substances. The legislation has been opposed by civil rights groups that say it would result in overly harsh minimum prison sentences.

The committee will also consider a bill from Reps. Tim Walberg (R., Mich.) and Debbie Dingell (D., Mich.) that ensures doctors can get details of a patient’s past substance abuse history if consent is given.

Other possible bills could allow in-home hospice providers to destroy leftover opioids after a patient’s death. There may also be legislation that would lead to increased use of prescription drug monitoring programs and make it easier for states to share data on opioid use and overdose fatalities, congressional staffers said.

“We’ll start off with bills mostly on enforcement,” Rep. Michael Burgess (R., Texas) said in an interview. He added that legislation must ensure rural counties have the tools and information they need to combat the crisis.

At the same time, the committee will continue pursuing investigations into wholesale distributors who have provided oxycodone and other opioid pills in significant amounts, especially in rural areas, that can wind up on the black market. A hearing the week of March 19 will take place before the subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

In January, a bipartisan Heroin Task Force in Congress, comprised of about 100 lawmakers, released a broad legislative agenda for the year. The committee’s work will likely have some areas of overlap with that group.

Still, there is no guarantee the legislative push will go smoothly, since the parties disagree sharply on certain opioid-related matters.

Democrats have called for further expansions of Medicaid to provide treatment, for example, while some Republicans say Medicaid has fueled the crisis by providing coverage for opioids.

Write to Stephanie Armour at and Kristina Peterson at

House GOP Plans Spending Vote to Fund Military

February 6, 2018

Bill meant to extend government funding and avert shutdown is unlikely to pass the Senate; Democrats press for an equal increase for domestic programs

Image result for Carlos Curbelo, photos

WASHINGTON—House GOP leaders on Tuesday are expected to bring up for a vote legislation that would fund the Defense Department for the rest of the fiscal year, but keep the rest of the government running only through March 23, setting up a showdown with the Senate.

With the government’s current funding set to expire at 12:01 a.m. Friday, House Republicans are preparing to approve a bill that stands little chance of passing the Senate.

But House GOP lawmakers said Monday night their strategy was the only way they could secure enough votes to pass another short-term spending bill now—and that they expect the bill to change later in the week.

“Everyone understands that this will probably end up being a ping-pong situation” where a bill is bounced between the House and Senate,” Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R., Fla.) said Monday night as he left the House GOP’s closed-doors meeting. “And we’ll see where the ball lands.”

The House bill would fund the government through March 23, boost spending for the Defense Department for the full fiscal year, which goes through September, and fund community health centers for two years, lawmakers said.

Adding the extra defense money helped win over conservative House Republicans, whose votes will be needed. Most House Democrats are expected to oppose the short-term spending bill until a fight over immigration has been resolved.

“We’re in good shape to be able to pass it with Republican-only votes,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R., N.C.), chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, told reporters Monday night.

Image result for mark meadows, photos

Rep. Mark Meadows (R., N.C.)

Senate Democrats support lifting military spending above limits established in the 2011 debt-limit fight, but they have pushed to secure an equal increase in spending for domestic programs in continuing negotiations over a two-year budget deal.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D, N.Y.) said earlier Monday that Democrats wouldn’t support a stopgap spending bill that only provides long-term funding for the military.

Sending a bill to the Senate “that just funded defense and cut programs crucial to the middle class, would be barreling headfirst into a dead end,” Mr. Schumer said on the Senate floor, warning that it could “jeopardize the positive discussions going on right now about the budget, immigration, disaster aid and more.”

Few lawmakers expect this week’s spending fight to culminate in a repeat of last month’s three-day partial government shutdown. But the week’s trajectory remains uncertain, largely because congressional leaders appear to be closing in on a long-term budget deal that has eluded them for months.

“Serious, bipartisan negotiations continue on long-term spending levels, along with other important issues,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said on the Senate floor Monday. “I am optimistic these talks will bear fruit.”

If congressional leaders do reach an agreement this week to lift both military and domestic spending for two years, that could ease the concerns of many Republicans who want to provide more stable funding to the Defense Department.

And some Senate Democrats, many of whom had hoped to use their leverage on spending bills to secure an agreement on immigration, are starting to view the two issues as separate. As part of the agreement to reopen the government last month, Mr. McConnell agreed to bring an immigration bill to the Senate floor under a process that would be fair and neutral to both parties.

“I’m open to taking a look at a budget deal on its own,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D., Conn.) said Monday.

Lawmakers are negotiating in both chambers over how to address the fate of Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. at a young age. President Donald Trump in September ended the Obama-era program shielding them from deportation, but gave Congress until March 5 to pass a replacement.

It isn’t clear how many House Democrats would support a spending agreement if Congress hasn’t yet passed any legal protections for the Dreamers, which many have said must be done first.

And conservatives are likely to balk at a budget deal that would significantly raise federal spending levels, though Mr. Meadows said it would depend on the specifics.

“If you plus up the size of government substantially, it certainly loses some conservative support,” he said.

If a two-year budget agreement isn’t reached this week, the Senate could vote to strip out the additional defense funding and return the bill back to the House.

The chamber is expected to adjourn for the House Democrats’ annual policy retreat on Wednesday afternoon, but lawmakers said they would expect to remain in town or return to Washington should they need to vote again on a modified spending bill to avoid another shutdown.

Write to Kristina Peterson at

GOP closer to big win with House tax vote; Senate unclear

November 17, 2017

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans have stretched closer to delivering the first big legislative victory for President Donald Trump and their party, whisking a $1.5 trillion overhaul of business and personal income taxes through the House. Thorny problems await in the Senate, though.

The House passage of the bill Thursday on a mostly party-line 227-205 vote also brought nearer the biggest revamp of the U.S. tax system in three decades.

But in the Senate, a similar measure received a politically awkward verdict from nonpartisan congressional analysts showing it would eventually produce higher taxes for low- and middle-income earners but deliver deep reductions for those better off.

The Senate bill was approved late Thursday by the Finance Committee and sent to the full Senate on a party-line 14-12 vote. Like the House measure, it would slash the corporate tax rate and reduce personal income tax rates for many.

But it adds a key feature not in the House version: repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that everyone in the U.S. have health insurance. Elimination of the so-called individual mandate under the Obama health care law would add an estimated $338 billion in revenue over 10 years that the Senate tax-writers used for additional tax cuts.

U.S. President Donald Trump has emerged from a meeting with House Republicans on Capitol Hill, telling reporters on his way out, “the tax is going very well.” (Nov. 16)

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has projected that repeal of the mandate would result in 13 million more uninsured people by 2027, making it a political risk for some lawmakers.

The Senate panel’s vote came at the end of four days of often fierce partisan debate. It turned angrily personal for Chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, as he railed against Democrats’ accusations that the legislation was crafted to favor big corporations and the wealthy.

“I come from the poor people. And I’ve been working my whole stinking career for people who don’t have a chance,” Hatch insisted.

After the panel’s approval, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared, “For the millions of hard-working Americans who need more money in their pockets and the chance of a better future, help is on the way.”

The analysts’ problematic projections for the Senate bill came a day after Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson became the first GOP senator to state opposition to the measure, saying it didn’t cut taxes enough for millions of partnerships and corporations. With at least five other Republican senators yet to declare support, the bill’s fate is far from certain in a chamber the GOP controls by just 52-48.

Even so, Republicans are hoping to send a compromise bill for Trump to sign by Christmas.

“Now the ball is in the Senate’s court,” Vice President Mike Pence said after the House vote. Speaking at a conservative Tax Foundation dinner in Washington, Pence said, “The next few weeks are going to be vitally important and they’re going to be a challenge.”

“We’re going to get it done” before year’s end, he said.

A White House statement that “now is the time to deliver” also underscored the GOP’s effort to maintain momentum and outrace critics. Those include the AARP lobby for older people, major medical organizations, realtors — and, in all likelihood, every Senate Democrat.

Despite controlling both chambers of Congress and the White House, the Republicans are still smarting from this summer’s crash of their effort to dismantle President Barack Obama’s health care law. They see a successful tax effort as the best way to avert major losses in next year’s congressional elections. House Republicans concede they are watching the Senate warily.

“Political survival depends on us doing this,” said Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. “One of the things that scares me a little bit is that they’re going to screw up the bill to the point we can’t pass it.”

The House plan and the Senate Finance bill would deliver the bulk of their tax reductions to businesses.

Each would cut the 35 percent corporate tax rate to 20 percent, while reducing personal rates for many taxpayers and erasing or shrinking deductions. Projected federal deficits would grow by $1.5 trillion over 10 years.

As decades of Republicans have done before them, GOP lawmakers touted their tax cuts as a boon to families across all income lines and a boost for businesses, jobs and the entire country.

“Passing this bill is the single biggest thing we can do to grow the economy, to restore opportunity and help those middle-income families who are struggling,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

Ryan also said he’d seek to add tax breaks to help Puerto Rico recover from recent hurricanes to a House-Senate compromise.

Democrats said the tax measure would give outsized benefits to the wealthy and saddle millions of moderate-income Americans with tax increases. Among other things, the House legislation would reduce and ultimately repeal the tax Americans pay on the largest inheritances, while the Senate would limit that levy to fewer estates.

The bill is “pillaging the middle class to pad the pockets of the wealthiest and hand tax breaks to corporations shipping jobs out of America,” declared House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California.

Thirteen House Republicans — all but one from high-tax California, New York and New Jersey — voted “no” because the plan would erase tax deductions for state and local income and sales taxes and limit property tax deductions to $10,000. Defectors included House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., who said the measure would “hurt New Jersey families.”

Trump traveled to the Capitol before the vote to give House Republicans a pep talk.

Besides Johnson, Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Jeff Flake and John McCain of Arizona, Bob Corker of Tennessee and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have yet to commit to backing the tax measure.

Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation estimated the Senate plan would mean higher taxes beginning in 2021 for many families earning under $30,000 annually. By 2027, families making less than $75,000 would face tax boosts while those making more would enjoy cuts.

Republicans attributed the new figures to two provisions: one ending the measure’s personal tax cuts starting in 2026 and the other abolishing the “Obamacare” requirement that people buy health coverage or pay tax penalties.

Ending the personal tax cuts for individuals in 2026, derided as a gimmick by Democrats, is designed to pare the bill’s long-term costs to the Treasury. Legislation cannot boost budget deficits after 10 years if it is to qualify for Senate procedures that bar bill-killing filibusters.

Other features:

—Both chambers’ bills would nearly double the standard deduction to around $12,000 for individuals and about $24,000 for married couples and dramatically boost the current $1,000 per-child tax credit.

—Both would erase the current $4,050 personal exemption and reduce or cancel other tax breaks. The House would limit interest deductions to future home mortgages of up to $500,000, down from today’s $1 million. The Senate would end deductions for moving expenses and tax preparation.


Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Richard Lardner and Matthew Daly contributed to this report.


House Passes GOP Bill to Overhaul Tax System

November 16, 2017

Measure would reduce corporate rate, cut individual rates for most households

WASHINGTON—The House of Representatives passed a bill that would usher in the most far-reaching overhaul of the U.S. tax system in 31 years, backing a plan that would lower the corporate tax rate to its lowest point since 1939 and cut individual taxes for most households in 2018.

The bill would repeal the alternative minimum tax, increase the child tax credit, abolish the estate tax by 2025 and transform the U.S. system for taxing multinational corporations. The plan would raise taxes on some people by removing personal exemptions.

The plan would raise taxes on some people by removing personal exemptions and deductions for state and local income taxes, medical expenses and student loan interest. On the whole, the bill would reduce federal taxes by $1.4 trillion over the next decade.

The 227-205 House vote was a victory for Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) and President Donald Trump, who rallied with Republicans in the Capitol before the vote. Republicans want to finish the new tax law before the year ends, and they are banking on it as an economic boon and the key to their political futures.

Thirteen Republicans voted against the bill; no Democrats voted for it.

“We are in a generational defining moment for our country,” Mr. Ryan said on the House floor before the vote, declaring that the bill would lead to faster economic growth and higher wages. “It is finally time that we get the general interest of this country to prevail over the special interests in Washington.”

The political imperative for the GOP, along with support from business groups and conservatives, spurred Republicans to move quickly, and Thursday’s vote came exactly two weeks after they revealed the first version of the bill.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.) said he opposes the current tax bill, marking a setback to GOP efforts to quickly pass a bill. WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib explains where things now stand on the tax overhaul effort. Photo: Getty

But there are warning signs ahead as the focus turns to the Senate’s companion bill. Most of the House Republicans who voted no on Thursday were from New York, New Jersey and California. They opposed the new limits on the state and local tax deduction, and the Senate’s changes are even more severe, denying a $10,000 property-tax deduction that the House bill includes. That means Thursday’s margin may get even tighter if and when a final bill emerges.

The Senate’s passage of its own bill is no certainty either, as just three Republicans can block any plan. Sen. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.) already declared his opposition to the treatment of partnerships, S corporations and other so-called pass-through businesses. Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine) has expressed concerns about the Senate GOP’s decision to pair the tax bill with a repeal of the mandate for individuals to have health insurance. And Sens. Jeff Flake (R., Ariz.) and Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) say they are worried about budget deficits.

More on Taxes

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For the moment, though, House Republicans were gleeful. Mr. Ryan hugged Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R. La.), who is responsible for rounding up votes, right after the totals were announced.

Democrats called the House tax plan a giveaway to wealthy business owners and warned that it would drive the country deeper into debt and serve as a prelude to future cuts in Social Security and Medicare. They highlighted what they called budget gimmicks in the bill, including the expiration of a crucial family credit in 2023 that would bring higher taxes in the future.

“They’re trying to sell a bill of goods to the middle class,” said Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), the House Democratic leader. “It preys on the middle class and those who aspire to it. It pillages and loots the middle class.”

The House plan would provide, on average, tax cuts for every income group in 2019, according to the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, which analyzes tax policy for Congress. About 8% of households would pay more in 2019 and that proportion would rise over time, according to JCT.

The House vote leaves Republicans exactly where they were on health policy earlier this year, with a bill passed by one chamber that won’t be accepted as written by the other.

There are some important differences between the House bill and its Senate counterpart, now headed for a floor vote after Thanksgiving. The Senate version features completely different rules on how the U.S. taxes multinational corporations and pass-through businesses.

Rep. David Schweikert (R., Ariz.) said he was “intrigued” by the Senate’s approach on international taxation.

“It might solve one or two of our issues,” he said.

The Senate proposal includes provisions that aren’t in the House bill at all, including temporary changes to alcohol taxation and a new tax credit for employers who provide family leave.

The Senate plan sets all of its individual tax cuts to expire after 2025. That helps their plan comply with a rule under the fast-track procedure they are using to pass the bill without needing Democratic votes. Under that process, the bill can’t increase budget deficits beyond 2027. The corporate tax changes would be permanent.

Senators on Thursday sparred over new analyses of who wins and loses under their plan. In 2021, because some low-income households wouldn’t purchase health insurance, they wouldn’t get subsidies in the form of tax credits. As a result, households earning between $10,000 and $30,000 would see higher tax burdens on average.

“This is absolutely not a tax increase and you guys know that,” Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) said to Democrats at a Finance Committee meeting.

And by 2027, after the individual tax cuts expire, households earning under $75,000 would have tax increases on average under the Senate plan, compared with current law, an element that has prompted fierce opposition from Democrats.

“I don’t know how anybody can go home now to the folks they represent and explain why it’s a good idea to hike taxes on parents who barely stay afloat to pay for a massive corporate handout,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.). “What is happening now is just shameful.”

Write to Richard Rubin at and Siobhan Hughes at