GOP leaving town with little to crow about

House Republicans are heading back to their districts without much to brag about.

At the beginning of six consecutive weeks of work, many GOP lawmakers had anticipated a productive stretch of legislating that would put a shine on President Trump’s first 100 days in office.

Instead, they return home having to explain to their constituents why they weren’t able to repeal and replace ObamaCare and how they can possibly unite around the rest of their agenda.

ADVERTISEMENT

The biggest accomplishment Republicans can tout is the expected Senate confirmation on Friday of Trump’s Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch. The Senate on Thursday invoked the “nuclear option,” altering the chamber’s rules to prevent filibusters of Supreme Court nominees.

Republicans have also used a little-known law to revoke a number of Obama-era regulations.

But some of these actions have provoked unwelcome headlines.

In the most high-profile example, Trump signed into law a measure approved by the House and Senate repealing an Obama-era rule that prevented telecom and cable companies from sharing or selling their customers’ personal information for targeted ads without first obtaining permission.

The measure was ripped in online forums, and a Huffington Post/YouGov poll found that 83 percent of Americans disapproved of the change.

Republicans have no major legislative accomplishment to show for their efforts in the first quarter of 2017.

On Thursday, as they headed out of town, they learned that Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, had temporarily recused himself from his panel’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election as he faces a House Ethics Committee probe that he improperly handled classified information.

The other big moment of the last six weeks was the healthcare failure.

Plans for a floor vote were shelved in a high-profile embarrassment for House leaders and the Trump administration. An effort to reboot ObamaCare’s repeal stalled this week.

“Our supporters aren’t happy,” Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) acknowledged. 

Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), a member of the GOP whip team, predicted lawmakers would hear from constituents demanding to know why they couldn't fulfill a key campaign promise.

“When members go back home, they’re going to have an earful from everybody as to why they need to get this done," Ross said.

Tensions over the collapse of that effort have trickled out. A Politico report on Thursday citing three sources said White House chief of staff Reince Priebus warned Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAEI names Robert Doar as new president GOP can't excommunicate King and ignore Trump playing to white supremacy and racism House vote fails to quell storm surrounding Steve King MORE (R-Wis.) during a meeting Wednesday night that a failure to approve the ObamaCare repeal bill could hurt his speakership.

GOP lawmakers appear badly divided over how to move forward on healthcare. And they are also divided over other Trump priorities, including tax reform, an infrastructure package and building a wall on the Mexican border.

House GOP leaders made a show of attempting to appear unified and at work on Thursday as lawmakers prepared to leave town. 

Ryan brought members of the three main House factions — the conservative House Freedom Caucus and Republican Study Committee and the centrist Tuesday Group — to his weekly Capitol press conference and declared “we have made some real progress this week.”

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), meanwhile, told GOP lawmakers in a memo that they could be called back from recess early if a deal is reached in the next two weeks.

And the House Rules Committee, which determines how legislation is considered on the floor, hastily scheduled a meeting to add an amendment to the repeal-and-replace legislation that would create a $15 billion program to help insurers cover the costs of the sickest and most expensive patients.

“I think they want to leave, probably, with a sense of optimism and put things back on track,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a leadership ally.

But it’s unclear when the proposal will make it to the floor, if it ever does.

The last roll call vote on Thursday was for the Supporting America's Innovators Act, which alters Securities and Exchange Commission registration requirements for venture capital funds.

The noncontroversial bill was approved in a 417-3 vote that drew scorn from Democrats, who suggested the House had better things to do.

“Maybe you are being inundated with calls about this issue. I don't know. Maybe your town halls are overflowing with people demanding this SEC suspension bill,” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said, mocking Republicans during the debate for bringing up the noncontroversial bill.

“I think it is clear that Speaker Ryan and the majority leader are grasping for filler legislation to keep us busy on the House floor so that the American people really don't see really how dysfunctional this majority really is.”

Trump has only signed 22 bills into law since taking office in January, 11 of which have nullified Obama administration rules.

The other 11 bills Trump has signed into law are mostly noncontroversial measures such as bills naming federal buildings and authorizing programs to encourage women to enter science fields. Congress also had to pass a bill granting Defense Secretary James Mattis an exemption from the law that prevents people from serving in the post until they’ve been out of the military for at least seven years. 

Meanwhile, funding for the government runs out on April 29, giving Congress just three days when they return from recess to avert a government shutdown.

Some Republicans argued the House should stay in session instead of leaving for the recess.

“In what other profession would you take a two-week pause without actually finishing the job? Now, I know I’m new to the House, but someone please tell me how this makes sense,” freshman Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) said on the House floor.

But Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), a leader of the Tuesday Group, said lawmakers might as well go on with scheduled commitments such as town halls and constituent meetings back in their districts during the recess.

“For now, I think people have schedules to keep. We have meetings with constituents and groups back home. I think for now it’s prudent to just keep those commitments,” MacArthur said.

Peter Sullivan contributed.