Frustrated House GOP to begin five-week recess

Frustrated House GOP to begin five-week recess
© Greg Nash

House Republicans departed Washington on Friday in a gloomy mood.

While they are going home for a five-week recess, the Senate’s rejection of a slimmed-down ObamaCare repeal bill ends their summer session on a sour note.

“I’m going to go home to a whole bunch of frustrated Alabama citizens who cannot for the life of them figure out why after six years of promising that we were going to repeal ObamaCare, after actually having done so just a mere two years ago, that the Senate can’t pass the same kind of legislation that we promised we would pass,” said Rep. Mo BrooksMorris (Mo) Jackson BrooksGOP lawmaker says rocks falling into ocean to blame for rising sea levels Republican worries 'assassination risk' prompting lawmaker resignations Republicans express doubts that Ryan can stay on as Speaker MORE (R-Ala.), who is running for the Senate.

House Republicans did pass an ObamaCare repeal-and-replace bill after a lengthy battle earlier this year in a major victory for Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanStudents arrested protesting gun violence outside Paul Ryan’s office Parkland father calls out Trump, McConnell, Ryan after Santa Fe shooting GOP revolts multiply against retiring Ryan MORE (R-Wis.).

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Yet it is a victory that will feel empty after the Senate’s failure, which appeared to end the GOP’s hopes, for now, of winning the repeal battle.

Ryan told rank-and-file members in a closed-door conference meeting Friday morning that the House is the functioning part of the government.

GOP leaders urged members to tout legislation over the recess that the House has passed but still await Senate action. That list of bills includes unwinding the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law, cutting funds for sanctuary cities and combatting human trafficking.

The House also on Thursday passed a national security-themed government-spending package that includes $1.6 billion for the U.S.-Mexico border wall promised by President Trump. 

Ryan’s political operation sent out an email to supporters on Friday insisting that Republicans are “getting the job done,” highlighting that the House has acted to repeal and replace ObamaCare even if the Senate didn’t.

“We've done all this because we were elected to do it. And while the news doesn't cover these wins, I want you to know we are doing our job,” the email reads.

At the same time, after six months of unified Republican power and at nearly the 200-day mark of Trump’s tenure, the GOP has not engineered the change it had hoped to accomplish.

Trump has signed 14 measures to eliminate late-term Obama administration regulations, as well as a bill to establish reforms within the Department of Veterans Affairs. He also won the Senate confirmation battle over Neil Gorsuch, which represents the president’s biggest victory so far.

Bipartisan legislation to impose sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea and limit the administration’s ability to lift them awaits Trump’s signature. But a bill constraining Trump is hardly what Republicans campaigned on.

Republicans expressed disappointment in their lack of progress, but many blamed the Senate.

“I think there is always going to be a demand to do more. But on this side of the Capitol we’ve done a significant amount, and now it sits over there in the Senate,” said Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), a deputy whip. “That will take up most of the conversation in August: Why hasn’t the Senate acted?”

At the same time, they acknowledge voters don’t likely see the difference.

“Listen, we’ll take our responsibility, we’ll take our lumps, but we also need to say, ‘Hey, who’s not doing their job?’ But most people, most Americans, when they think of Congress they put us both together,” said Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker (R-N.C.). 

Walker said the bills the House has passed are “important,” but that he hoped the GOP would put more points on the board this fall when it returns in September facing an end-of-month deadline to avoid a government shutdown. 

“If we come back and get the appropriations, get the budget done, I think that would be a great thing that we can celebrate. But right now, we have very little to go home and talk about,” Walker said.

Some Republicans said the House should stay in session like the Senate, which will remain in Washington for two weeks.

“I don’t think we should rest until we get done what we promised to get done. People got other things to do — go on trips or spend time with family. That’s not the job. You gotta move your family up here for the summer. Let’s stay here and get the job done,” said freshman Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.).

Yet other lawmakers were skeptical that staying in Washington for the sake of it would yield much in the way of results.

“I don’t we should stay just for the optics of staying,” said Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.). “If I thought that we could make some real progress an appropriations, on funding the government, I certainly would be willing and open to staying. Then I would probably would say yes. But I’m not sure we’re there either. So just to stay to make it look good, I think is kind of dumb, too.”

Ryan indicated on Friday that lawmakers will start pivoting to tax reform while back in their districts in August. Republicans are hoping to work on tax reform sometime this fall, which is already filling up with efforts to keep the government open, avoid a debt default and possibly produce a healthcare bill.

“We have so much work still to do, and the House will continue to focus on issues that are important to the American people. At the top of that list is cutting taxes for middle-class families and fixing our broken tax code. I’m glad that members will now take time to hear directly from those they represent and make the case for historic tax reform that we intend to pursue in the fall,” Ryan said in a statement on the failed Senate healthcare vote. 

Despite leadership's messaging to put pressure on the Senate, Republicans say there aren't excuses for not having much to show after more than six months of across-the-board control of the federal government.

“We made promises and we made promises we need to fulfill. That’s what we need to be doing. A deal’s a deal. We need to do more and not blame anybody. It’s great [that our party controls everything]. We need to take advantage of it. People expect a lot. We've got control, let’s make something happen,” said Rep. Roger WilliamsJohn (Roger) Roger WilliamsOvernight Finance: Deal on Dodd-Frank rollback | Trump pulls US out of Iran nuke deal | House votes to repeal auto-loan guidance, setting new precedent Ryan: GOP has deal on bill easing Dodd-Frank May brings key primaries across nation MORE (R-Texas).