Daily: July 26, 2017

Despite Win, Obamacare-Repeal Effort Faces Cloudy Future

Republicans succeeded in beginning debate, but it's difficult to see anything other than a "skinny" measure passing.

By alex-rogers

Republican senators voted to begin debate on a health care bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act on Tuesday, despite acknowledging that they woke up that morning not knowing the way forward.

While the vote revived a mission that appeared near-dead at times, it’s still far from certain that Republicans in Congress can pass a bill to deliver on their seven-year process, even as a possible fallback plan emerged to repeal a few crucial ACA taxes and mandates later this week.

The tally was 51-50, with Vice President Mike Pence required to cast a rare vote to win a tie on the slimmest of margins, as GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska joined all of their Democratic colleagues voting no.

On Tuesday evening, the Senate began considering amendments, including a revised version of the GOP leadership’s Obamacare-replacement plan, known as the Better Care Reconciliation Act. That effort failed by a wide margin, and the Senate was then slated to take up another repeal bill that would give Republicans two years to come up with a replacement. That was also expected to fail. The latest scores by the Congressional Budget Office found that the BCRA would increase the number of uninsured by 22 million people over 10 years, while the repeal-only bill would increase the number of uninsured by 32 million.

On Tuesday, another option surfaced: a less-ambitious bill repealing unpopular mandates and taxes under Obamacare that doesn’t make dramatic changes to other regulations and Medicaid. The bill would eliminate the ACA’s individual mandate, employer mandate, and tax on medical devices, according to a lobbyist and a senior Senate GOP aide, who cautioned that there was still work to be done on it at press time. If successful, that option would at least keep the issue alive and set up negotiations with the House.

While the vote was a victory for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the outcome is still uncertain. McConnell was, as usual, subdued in a press conference on Tuesday.

“This is just the beginning,” he said. “We’re not out here to spike the football.”

McConnell dropped norms in consolidating power over the drafting process, averting committee hearings and other measures that allow for public debate. Even rank-and-file Republican senators grew frustrated with McConnell, but few dared to cross him.

Just days after finding out he has brain cancer, GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona returned to the Senate on Tuesday to cast a deciding vote in favor of opening debate, before urging his colleagues to “trust each other” and “return to regular order.” He said he wouldn’t ultimately support the “shell of a bill” unless changes are made to it.

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin publicly criticized the process as overly secretive and rushed, repeating at one point that he needed more time so he could evaluate the information. On Tuesday, he echoed other colleagues in the Senate, saying, “I don’t know what I’m voting on yet.”

McConnell explained the plan during a lunch in the Capitol. GOP Sen. Bob Corker said McConnell’s pitch “wasn’t impassioned,” but simple. “He said, ‘This is the moment we've been talking about for seven years,’” Corker said.

That argument wasn’t new. But after a heated discussion on the Senate floor with McConnell, Johnson voted yes, saying, “I was happy to join Senator McCain."

In the first six months of the Trump administration, McConnell has had many doubters. The top priority in Congress has been to repeal and replace Obamacare, and it’s taken months longer than initially expected, delaying progress on any other major legislative goal.

“We’re getting nothing done,” McCain said on Tuesday. “All we’ve really done this year is confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.”

Without much experience leading the passage of such a major piece of legislation, McConnell has had to navigate a number of very difficult political and policy problems in crafting a health care bill. Cutting government benefits is always hard, and the Affordable Care Act is the most popular it has ever been, finally cracking the 50 percent approval threshold this year. The Republican alternatives have polled about half of that.

McConnell also has a math problem: With 52 Republican senators, only three could kill a bill—and enough did to sink their leadership’s past proposals. A group of senators representing states that expanded Medicaid fought with conservatives like Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who has succeeded in including a proposal in the Senate GOP ACA-replacement bill to rein in the entitlement program for low-income Americans. Yet McConnell got a key vote on Tuesday—from Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio—in part by agreeing to add an additional $100 billion to a stability fund to help those on Medicaid transition to private insurance.

But even as McConnell succeeded in getting the debate started, the odds of a major overhaul of Obamacare passing Congress were perceived to be low.

“I’m hard-pressed to figure out, without Democratic votes, how you create this magical unicorn that passes the House and passes the Senate,” said a second health care lobbyist, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the discussion. “Unless it’s this skinny little thing that’s much more symbolic than it is substantive.”

Democrats’ Health-Debate Strategy: Embarrass Republicans

The minority hopes to use amendments to make the majority take uncomfortable votes.

By andrea-drusch and Erin Durkin

Senate Democrats who lost an important health care battle along partisan lines Tuesday hope a lengthy amendment process will help reignite the intraparty tensions that have long hamstrung the GOP’s plans to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Speaking to reporters just hours after Republicans passed a razor-thin motion to proceed, Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said his members would use their last bit of leverage as the minority to introduce amendments they hoped could drive a wedge between factions of the GOP, and potentially stall proposals they say would rip health care away from millions.

“These votes, frankly, are a lot tougher for them than they are for us,” Schumer said of the amendments, which have already started coming in from both parties. “They are squeezed in both directions; that’s why we have some degree of hope that they’re not going to get this done.”

Noting that the reconciliation process, which requires only a simple majority, leaves few options for the party out of power, Schumer said Democrats’ leverage now lies in “a whole lot of amendments,” which his caucus is eager to roll out and has his blessing to do so.

Before Tuesday’s motion to proceed had even passed, some Democrats were already discussing their ideas for changes to the Republican measures, some of which have garnered support from some moderate Republicans in the past.

“I would really love to get my reinsurance in there because I think that would stabilize the market and bring down premiums for folks,” Sen. Tim Kaine said Tuesday afternoon. “I know a lot of my colleagues have other amendments too, and we have to figure out how to prioritize.”

Kaine’s proposal is one example of the type of amendment that could place some moderate Republicans in a tough position. He introduced legislation that would create a permanent reinsurance program with the aim of bringing stability to the individual market, something Republicans have included temporary funds for in both the House and Senate bills.

Other proposals Democrats could offer may be more symbolic, such as restoring funding for children or people with disabilities, designed to put Republicans on record with tough votes ahead of reelection. By Tuesday evening, Democrats were already up with online ads targeting Sens. Dean Heller and Jeff Flake, the two most vulnerable GOP senators up in 2018, over the motion-to-proceed vote. Sen. Chris Murphy told Politico he’s already drafted more than 100 amendments he could introduce in a vote-a-rama.

Sarah Binder, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, said Democrats would likely use the vote-a-rama to show cracks within the Republican Party. “I think that will be the strategy of the Democrats, to try to make clear to voters who is on what side,” she said.

In a nod to the challenge Republicans face keeping their caucus together, Sen. John McCain acknowledged in a floor speech Tuesday that his party had yet to find an adequate replacement for Obamacare, and that he didn’t plan to support the current legislation as it stands.

“I voted for the motion to proceed to allow debate to continue and amendments to be offered,” McCain said on the floor. “I will not vote for the bill as it is today. … I have changes urged by my state’s governor that will have to be included to earn my support for final passage of any bill.”

By Tuesday evening, McCain had already filed an amendment to adjust the proposed caps on Medicaid, according to Roll Call. For weeks, his party has been split between lawmakers who want to substantially slow down spending on the program and those who are concerned about steep cuts.

And McCain is far from alone among Republicans in rejecting the proposed repeal-and-replace legislation. Sen. Susan Collins, who voted against the motion to proceed with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, had opposed the bill due to concerns around the Medicaid cuts. On the other side of the GOP debate, Sen. Rand Paul opposed the legislation because it did not lower premiums enough.

In those divisions, Democrats see their last hope of picking off a third Republican from the final proposal.

After praising Murkowski and Collins for their votes against the motion to proceed, Democratic Whip Dick Durbin said Tuesday, “There were others during the course of this conversation and deliberation who suggested they might have joined their ranks and didn’t.

“Each of us has our own mental checklist of which ones were just fooling with it and which ones truly might end up voting no on final passage,” Durbin said.

Summer Is Selling Season for Tax Reform

August recess will be key for lawmakers and business groups eager to build momentum for the effort.

By Casey Wooten

Lawmakers, businesses, and conservative groups backing the GOP tax-reform effort have a big challenge: to avoid the pitfalls that have stymied the effort to repeal Obamacare.

Repealing the health care law and passing tax reform are key pillars of the Republican agenda for 2017, but intraparty battles have dragged out the repeal process far longer than expected. It’s unclear when Congress will settle the health care issue, but as the August recess approaches, some lawmakers and policy groups are ready to pivot to the next item on the agenda: rewriting the tax code.

Congressional leaders say they’ll move to a tax-reform bill in the fall, but to avoid some of the challenges that have beset the Obamacare-repeal effort, tax writers are looking to set the narrative early with an August push to sell their plan to the public—and perhaps some in their own caucus.

“What you want is an environment where members come back from August saying, ‘I heard we’ve got to get a tax bill done’,” said Sage Eastman, a former Ways and Means staffer and now a principal at lobbying firm Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady said August will be key to rolling out the GOP’s messaging campaign on tax reform.

“Members of Congress will be back home, engaging their small businesses, their families, their job creators on this opportunity to fix this broken tax code and get the economy going,” Brady told reporters last week.

Lawmakers won’t have legislative language to show constituents, but Brady said that isn’t needed to roll out a broad tax-reform effort. The committee is likely to unveil messaging materials for members this week that will focus on advancing tax reform to boost the economy, a staff member close to the process said.

House Speaker Paul Ryan kicked off his messaging effort Thursday with a speech at a New Balance shoe factory in Lawrence, Massachusetts, calling the GOP effort a “once-in-a-generation” moment to rewrite the code for the first time since 1986. Ryan stressed the need for a simplified code, one that would allow most Americans to fill out their tax returns on a postcard-sized form.

Business and conservative groups are kicking their messaging into gear as well.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce will launch a “multifaceted effort” with its member companies and local chambers in the coming weeks to push its position on tax reform, said Neil Bradley, senior vice president and chief policy officer.

For Bradley, the campaign is about getting the public on board with a reform bill, but also avoiding the difficult politics that plagued the health care effort, in which the conservative and centrist wings of the GOP struggled to find common ground on details such as Medicare funding.

“What we’re trying to do is remind folks it’s OK to compromise to achieve the end goal of fundamental tax reform that grows the economy,” he said.

U.S. Chamber President Thomas Donohue penned a letter last week spelling out the message to lawmakers: “Failure is not an option” on tax reform.

“In the upcoming cycle, in addition to looking for candidates who support free enterprise, we will be focusing on individuals with a demonstrated willingness to govern, which means reaching consensus so that legislation can be passed and enacted into law,” Donohue said. “Promises were made; promises must be kept.”

Conservative groups backed by the Koch brothers are planning an August pivot to tax reform. Americans for Prosperity is set to kick off its messaging campaign Aug. 2 with a Washington event featuring House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, said Sean Lansing, chief operating officer at AFP.

Meadows has been a vocal supporter of tax reform, but has criticized Brady and Ryan’s proposed border-adjustment tax, a levy on imports but not exports.

Lansing said that AFP and its network of state-level groups will hold about 50 events throughout August, focusing on pressing lawmakers to simplify the tax code, lower rates and abandon the proposed border tax.

“We are really ramping up our grassroots effort here as the calendar turns to August,” Lansing said.

Top GOP House, Senate, and administration officials, known as the “Big Six,” have been meeting behind closed doors for months to hammer out a broad outline before sending directions to the tax-writing committees. That should produce more consensus on how to press forward with a reform bill compared to the Obamacare-repeal effort, Eastman said.

“Here, unlike in health care, you have a concerted effort to come to as much agreement as possible before beginning the actual committee and floor action,” Eastman said.

The House, Senate, and administration still need to work out key details before they can move legislation. There’s no public consensus among top officials on whether to keep the border-adjustment tax, what the target corporate and individual tax rates should be, or which deductions to eliminate.

And the cooperation hasn’t extended to Democrats, who say they’ve been largely shut out of the process.

“Majority leadership in the Senate has signaled that they plan to move tax legislation with the same my-way-or-the-highway approach called reconciliation they’re using to force a vote on TrumpCare,” Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron Wyden said during a recent hearing on tax reform. “It’s hard to look at that evidence and find any proof that the majority party wants real Democratic involvement in tax reform.”

Some Finance Committee Democrats have pressed chairman Orrin Hatch on whether the panel will hold hearings or a markup of any tax-reform legislation. So far, Hatch has been noncommittal.

Brady says lawmakers will bring up a tax bill shortly after Congress returns from the August recess, but the Obamacare-repeal effort still looms overhead. Eastman said failure to pass a repeal bill could dampen any hard-fought momentum on tax reform.

“Business groups may still stay focused on taxes, but if you have a failure or lack of resolution on health care, what then are the grassroots saying, what is the topic of talk radio?” Eastman said.

Hotline’s Governor-Race Power Rankings

The initial rankings are top-heavy with Republican open seats.

By Zach C. Cohen and Kyle Trygstad

The combination of vacant seats and Donald Trump’s presidency is creating one of the most turbulent gubernatorial cycles in recent memory. After growing to a near-historic majority in governorships since 2010, Republicans are defending three times as many seats as Democrats. Half of the seats are open, either by retirement or term limits, prompting more than 200 candidates to enter the fray.

With 15 months to go until three dozen governor elections, many more races could become competitive if Trump’s approval rating continues to slide. Incumbents in states that supported the other party for president could face strong challengers. Swing and traditionally Republican-leaning states could prove to be election-night surprises, potentially turning a favorable Democratic map into a landslide. As a result, the makeup and order of this list will change.

Below are National Journal Hotline’s list of 12 governor seats most likely to switch parties this year and next.

1. New Jersey—Open (R—Chris Christie term-limited)

Expect Democrat Phil Murphy to be sworn in come January. The former ambassador to Germany is the clear favorite in polling over Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, largely because both Christie and Trump are disliked. Guadagno and Murphy, a former executive at Goldman Sachs who largely self-funded his primary campaign, promised to limit general-election spending by adhering to the state’s public financing.

2. New Mexico—Open (R—Susana Martinez term-limited)

Martinez’s favorability has faded as the economy stagnates in the Democratic-trending state. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a former state Cabinet official backed by EMILY’s List, is the front-runner for the Democratic nomination and general election next year. She’ll face primary opposition from the son of a former governor, a state senator, and potentially others. Republicans have cleared the field for Rep. Steve Pearce, who starts from behind when it comes to cash on hand.

3. Illinois—Bruce Rauner (R)

In what could break spending records for a state race, Republicans’ most vulnerable incumbent is seeking a second term after overseeing a two-year budget impasse in a state Hillary Clinton won handily. Rauner seeded his campaign with $50 million and has shifted right by hiring conservative think-tankers. Among the Democrats, billionaire J.B. Pritzker has the resources and profile to overcome the initial name ID of millionaire Chris Kennedy, son of Robert F. Kennedy, and small-dollar fundraising by state Sen. Daniel Biss.

4. Nevada—Open (R—Brian Sandoval term-limited)

In a state that was a bright spot for Democrats last year, Clark County Commission Chair Steve Sisolak is a moderate Democrat who can more credibly claim the mantle of heir apparent to Sandoval than conservative state Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who is expected to run. Both campaigns will be stocked—Sisolak posted $3.8 million on hand earlier this year, and the Sheldon Adelson-backed Laxalt reported $1.5 million in the bank.

5. Maine—Open (R—Paul LePage term-limited)

State Attorney General Janet Mills, former state Speaker Mark Eves, and attorney Adam Cote are all credible Democratic candidates against Republican Mary Mayhew, who until recently was a LePage Cabinet official. This race moves toward Republicans if Sen. Susan Collins jumps in and survives the primary, or if independent Terry Hayes mounts a viable campaign.

6. Florida—Open (R—Rick Scott term-limited)

Democrats have been locked out of the governor’s mansion since 1999 and the state just backed Trump, but they see promise in a primary field led by former Rep. Gwen Graham. Republican state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, also a former congressman, has amassed nearly $12 million but will likely face state Speaker Richard Corcoran, state Sen. Jack Latvala, and maybe more for the nomination.

7. Michigan—Open (R—Rick Snyder term-limited)

With Snyder leaving in the wake of the Flint water-poisoning crisis, Democrats hope to retake a seat they controlled seven years ago in a state Trump carried narrowly. If nominated, Gretchen Whitmer, the leading Democrat in fundraising and Lansing support, would likely face either state Attorney General Bill Schuette or Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, neither of whom has announced.

8. Ohio—Open (R—John Kasich term-limited)

Most of Ohio’s statewide officeholders can’t seek reelection, creating a crowded GOP primary among state Attorney General Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Jon Husted, Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, and Rep. Jim Renacci. Democrats’ field is diverse but barely known in the swing state, prompting insiders to promote a possible Richard Cordray candidacy if he’s fired as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

9. Virginia—Open (D—Terry McAuliffe term-limited)

In a state that tends to elect governors opposite of the party in the White House but didn’t in 2013, Democrats hope a popular term-limited governor and unpopular president will propel Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam to the top job this year. Recent polling shows a tight race with Republican Ed Gillespie, a consummate political pro with a $1.5 million cash-on-hand advantage and millions more pouring in from the Republican Governors Association.

10. Connecticut—Open (D—Dannel Malloy retiring)

Malloy’s decision not to seek a third term opens up a Democratic-leaning state with a history of electing Republican governors. Republicans have gained legislative seats as the state faces perpetual fiscal shortfalls, and they have fielded decent fundraisers with limited name ID for governor. Democrats have a deeper bench, including statewide officeholders like Comptroller Kevin Lembo and, potentially, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman.

11. Colorado—Open (D—John Hickenlooper term-limited)

Hickenlooper barely won his campaigns for governor in two GOP-favoring midterms. Democratic Rep. Jared Polis and Republican District Attorney George Brauchler are standouts among the numerous candidates in both parties’ still-growing fields.

12. Minnesota—Open (D—Mark Dayton retiring)

The fact that Trump came within 2 points of ending Minnesota’s record 40 years of choosing Democrats for president, and the fact that the GOP controls both legislative chambers, gives Republicans hope of gaining complete control in St. Paul. But Democrats boast a much larger and stronger field, including Rep. Tim Walz.


A Farm Bill Sooner, Not Later

With farmers struggling, the Senate Agriculture Committee wants a new bill even before the expiration of the five-year program approved in 2014.

By Jerry Hagstrom

A four-hour Senate Agriculture Committee hearing with 17 witnesses on Tuesday signaled that the committee wants to write a new farm bill quickly this fall, but the proceedings also revealed the pitfalls that could drag out the process, perhaps for years.

With commodity prices and farm incomes at their lowest levels in years, farmers are in a “rough patch” and “need the stability and predictability” of a farm bill even before the 2014 farm bill expires on Sept. 30, 2018, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts said.

When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made a rare appearance at the committee hearing to introduce the president of the Kentucky Farm Bureau, and said he was looking forward to rewriting the farm bill in 2018, Roberts told him 2017 “would be better.”

“The sooner the better,” McConnell replied.

The 17 representatives of farm, commodity, crop-insurance, and credit organizations demonstrated the kind of unity that the committee wants the rest of Congress to see. One after the other, the farmers and their bankers said that the most important goal is to continue government-subsidized crop insurance. Then they said farmers should continue to have a choice about whether to sign up for a commodity program that makes payments when their revenues fall or one that makes payments when prices go down. Finally, they said that the budget should be increased for the Agriculture Department’s loan programs that are used mostly by smaller and beginning farmers who have a harder time getting credit.

But the problems that could be looming became apparent when ranking member Debbie Stabenow interjected that the committee and the witnesses should be aware that Sam Clovis, President Trump’s nominee for Agriculture undersecretary for research, education, and economics, had questioned the constitutionality of crop insurance when he was running for the Senate in Iowa in 2014. Stabenow’s office later provided reporters with links to radio interviews in which Clovis, a former Iowa college professor and talk-radio host, had criticized the crop-insurance program.

Although all insurance is based on spreading risk, Clovis questioned in an Iowa Public Radio interview why farmers in one part of the country would want to pay for insurance for farmers in other parts of the country. “Most of the Iowa farmers I talk to would just as soon have the government out of their lives, and that includes the insurance program,” he said.

Stabenow said she was worried that opponents of the crop-insurance program would use Clovis’s statements to cut or eliminate it. A coalition of 22 farm groups has endorsed Clovis, mostly because he seems to have the ear of the president. But as Stabenow told the panel of commodity producers, “It is important we all continue to work together to make sure we have the resources we need for crop insurance.” At her prodding, they said they believed crop insurance is constitutional and must be preserved.

Roberts seemed surprised at her disclosure about Clovis. “If there is some nominee who is coming before the committee who says crop insurance is unconstitutional, they might as well not show up,” he said.

After the hearing, Roberts said it is too early to say whether the Trump administration should withdraw Clovis’s nomination, adding that Clovis should have an opportunity to explain to him and Stabenow “why in the hell he said that.”

Roberts also said he has received assurances from Trump and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney that “we are not going to cut crop insurance.” Even so, an air of uncertainty about the Trump administration remained in the room.

Moving on, Stabenow praised the Senate version of the fiscal 2018 Agriculture appropriations bill for including provisions to help dairy and cotton, the two sectors that have had the most problems in recent years. Farm and dairy felt they got short shrift in the 2014 bill.

The dairy and cotton provisions would cost $1 billion over 10 years and relieve the authorizing committee from coming up with additional budget authority in the farm bill to help those sectors, Stabenow noted.

But that appropriations bill hasn’t moved through the Senate, much less gone to a conference committee with the budget-conscious House.

Those challenges could pale in comparison to determining the future of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as SNAP or food stamps, and finding a way to get the House to go along with a Senate bill.

The fragility of the farm economy, the simplicity of what Roberts has in mind, and the potential for bipartisanship may help him prevail.

Near the end of the hearing, Roberts said the 2014 farm bill needs only “a few tweaks.” Saying he knew he was speaking for Stabenow, Roberts concluded, “This is no time for revolutionary ideas.” Stabenow nodded in agreement.

Wednesday Q+A With Brad Fitch

The congressional management expert talks cybersecurity, member safety, and staff morale.

Brad Fitch is the president and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation, a nonprofit that provides management consulting and employee seminars to congressional offices as well as training for advocates preparing to lobby Congress. Fitch spoke with Alex Clearfield about how the institution has evolved and how constituent interaction has adapted to emerging technologies.

With recurring attacks on government IT infrastructure, what can congressional offices do to protect themselves from hacking and other cyberthreats?

The first thing they need to do is listen to their official, tactical experts in Congress and follow all of the procedures that they lay out for them to protect their data. … Research shows that most hacks happen because of human error, which means bad training.

Is it an issue that, particularly on the House side, system-administrator responsibilities may be delegated to a staff assistant who has to spend the majority of their time on other tasks?

That’s why relying on the institutional staff is so essential. … Congress has an unfortunate challenge in that it is simultaneously expected to be the most transparent institution in the world while it’s the potential victim of one of the most hacked institutions in the world, and you have to do it on a limited budget.

With a recent House Sergeant at Arms report showing that threats against members have doubled over 2016 rates—with 900 reported already this year—what can offices do to protect themselves?

From a management perspective, it’s important for member offices to appreciate that any threat to the member should be taken incredibly seriously and there’s a threat by extension to the broader office family—not just the staff, but their family as well. … After Representative Steve Scalise was shot, we advised members to have a conference call not just with your staff but with the staff’s families to outline the steps you’re taking to protect their loved ones.

How can chiefs of staff and district directors combat some of the common employee-morale complaints like work/life balance and career advancement?

Addressing workplace satisfaction on Capitol Hill is simultaneously easy and hard. It’s easy because the private sector has given us a road map on how to be better managers and create a flexible work environment. It’s hard because this is a pressure cooker of a work environment that does not focus on the process of managing offices but the outcome of legislation or casework. As a manager, to take time away from that and spend 15 minutes every week with your direct reports is hard because you’re making the choice to manage instead of write a press release or set up an event. … When I do retreats with members, I tell the member making the speech at the start of the retreat, “These remarks to your staff will be the most important speech you give this year.” And they usually look at me surprised … but no group of Americans will have more control or influence on your success or failure than your 16 staff members.

Town halls have received increased attention in the 115th Congress, but advocates must deal with being one voice out of hundreds in that setting. How can they effectively lobby in that setting?

What they need to do is be prepared and ask a thoughtful question. They can write down talking points and hand them to the member so they can bring them to Washington and hand them to the legislative assistant. … If there’s high attendance and protesters, the best thing they can do is go to the district staff member there and follow up with them directly. They’ll say, “You’re one of the nice ones.”

What might advocacy groups not understand about Congress when they begin a lobbying effort or fly-in event?

When outside groups plan a fly-in, they don’t include enough time for training their advocates, or their idea of training is having a lobbyist talk to them for 45 minutes about a public-policy issue. … One of the most common mistakes is not enough training on how to interact with lawmakers, whether that’s through role-playing or interactive briefings.

Jason Chaffetz recently suggested a $2,500-per-month housing stipend for members. Is this a better solution than sleeping in the office?

We see the challenge members face financially, especially if they have kids about to go to college. $174,000 is a lot of money, but we know members that are bunking in their office in large part for financial reasons. It can create an awkward dynamic for the staff; they can go to file something in a file cabinet and that’s where the member keeps his laundry.


Here to Stay

It’s almost August, and we are still without a Senate retirement announcement.

By Kyle Trygstad

The Senate appears likely to enter August recess before a single incumbent has announced plans not to seek reelection, which is far later than in any recent cycle.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), 70, crossed himself off the shortlist of possible retirements Monday during an appearance on Meet the Press Daily, saying he has “never been more motivated and energized” in his Senate tenure. That echoed what he said in March to Hotline’s Kimberly Railey, who reported that President Trump could prompt reelection campaigns from some senators who might otherwise have stepped down.

That includes Judiciary ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), 84, who raised $630,000 in the second quarter and appears highly likely to run again. So does Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), who will turn 63 a few days before the election and raised $1.4 million over the past three months.

A couple of remaining question marks are Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), 83, who raised $1 million in the second quarter, and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), 63, who faces a September corruption trial.

Kyle Trygstad

Bull’s Eye: Psychiatrists Set Their Sights on Trump

President Trump ran on reforming the American economy. But he also wants to continue presiding over a bull market. Those two things are increasingly in conflict. Take NAFTA for instance: Manufacturers and trucking companies are already skittish about changing the rules during a market boom. On Wednesday, the House Agriculture Committee hears from farming interests, who will likely express their own reservations.

“He’s so unattractive, it’s unbelievable.”
—Sen. Susan Collins on Rep. Blake Farenthold, who said on Monday that he’d duel Collins were she a man.

“Lol no one likes you.”
—Tweet by model Chrissy Teigen to Donald Trump that got her blocked by the president.

“It’s a real weenie industry.”
—Patagonia founder Yvon Chou­i­nard, telling Outside magazine that the outdoor industry doesn’t sufficiently support green causes.

9 a.m. Heritage Foundation holds discussion on North Korean ballistic-missile threat.

9:30 a.m. House of Cards actor Paul Sparks and children with Type 1 diabetes testify before Senate Aging Committee.

10 a.m. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin testifies before Senate Appropriations Committee.

11 a.m. House Small Business Committee hearing on protecting small business from cyberattacks.

Noon Senate Foreign Relations Committee hear three nominees for ambassador positions.

Psychiatrists. Or at least members of the American Psychoanalytic Association, which confirmed that they can publicly comment on the mental health of public figures, e.g., President Trump.

West Wing staffers, who will need to vacate the White House for three weeks in August. Due to utilities maintenance, the air conditioning will be turned off.

89: Guns recovered by the Transportation Security Administration from July 10-16, a one-week record.

HOTLINE EXTRA: Hardy Announces He Won’t Run in 2018

Former Republican Rep. Cresent Hardy announced Tuesday that he won’t run for office in 2018, according to The Nevada Independent. After being ousted from his Las Vegas-based 4th District seat in 2016 by Democrat Ruben Kihuen, Hardy was considering a run in the neighboring 3rd District that Rep. Jacky Rosen (D) is vacating to run for Senate.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has endorsed Provo Mayor John Curtis ahead of the Aug. 15 GOP special primary to replace former Rep. Jason Chaffetz. Attorney Tanner Ainge and former state Rep. Chris Herrod are also in the race for the district, where Donald Trump won by 18 points.

The Democratic National Committee on Tuesday announced an “initial $1.5 million investment” to help Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and the state party win the governor race in November. The resources will double the number of field organizers and improve data operations. NBC also reported that DNC Chair Tom Perez has dispatched three top aides to the commonwealth for the campaign.

Quick Takes on the News: Down the Memory Hole

In late 2015, President Obama and his daughters paid a visit to Upshur Street Books, one of the District’s only independent bookstores.

So far, the current White House seems to be much less friendly to the shop. According to a tweet string posted by the store, an unnamed White House staffer came in late last week. While browsing, the staffer “noticed this small display of dystopian fiction,” which the store notes is “on a low shelf and perfect for #tinyhands to grab. It’s been selling well.” The aide then protested that the display was “blatantly disrespectful to the president.”

Paul Ruppert, the store’s owner, confirmed the account, but still wouldn’t finger the offending West Winger. He said the books on that shelf “flow on and off” but at the time one would have seen 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale, Matched, and Walkaway, among others.

Referring to Obama’s visit, he added that “we absolutely know how to treat a president. Especially one that cares about books, reading, big ideas, and compassion.”
—Jeff Dufour

John Thompson, who resigned in May as head of the Census Bureau six months before the end of his term, expressed guarded optimism Tuesday about the 2020 Census, which is already contending with funding shortfalls.

Thompson refused to take a stand on current administration policies beyond saying he was confident that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was committed to an accurate count. (The census falls under Commerce’s purview.) He was especially complimentary about the agency’s career staff, saying it was “the right time” for them to take the lead and work with Ross’s team.

The Government Accountability Office placed the Census on its 2017 “High Risk List” of programs with potential deficiencies, and Thompson said it will likely remain on the list until after 2020. He said that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the Census was on the list when he was associate director of the bureau in 2000 and it “drew attention to the fact we needed support to get it done.”

Funding shortfalls have already caused the Census to scale back next year’s “end-to-end” run-through test from three metropolitan areas to one, but Thompson is confident that even in an austere budgetary environment, appropriators will “give them what they need” in 2019.
—Alex Clearfield

Smart Ideas: Sessions in Peril

Scott Greer, writing for The Daily Caller

Firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions would be a major tactical error by President Trump and a setback for the administration’s priorities. Sessions “fought against both recently proposed amnesties that came before the Senate in 2007 and 2013, respectively. The then-senator repeatedly insisted that rewarding illegal immigration was bad for the American people and bad for a nation built on the rule of law. … He also called for restricting legal immigration when no other Republican would touch the subject.” And firing Sessions would strike at the narrative that loyalty matters above all in the West Wing; the first senator to endorse Trump is “loyal to the ideas and principles of Trumpism,” unlike many others in the Cabinet. Perhaps most importantly, it does not solve the Russia quagmire, as Sessions’s recusal “was not the catalyst for President Trump’s present woes” as much as the firing of James Comey, and the Senate would not “confirm an unquestioning loyalist who will squelch the probe into Russian election meddling.”

Casey Burgat, writing for the Brookings Institution

A report from Michael Beckel sheds light on “party dues”—money required by the National Republican Congressional Committee for a position as chairman or even member of a coveted House committee. For an “A”-committee chairmanship, the price is $1.2 million, and $875,000 for a “B.” These dues, not to be confused with funds raised for campaigns, aren’t voluntary. Fundraising has become a most effective way to advance in power. Democrats do it too, and it’s especially problematic because the dues can deter members from serving on some committees. It can encourage members to spend more time raising money than making policy and serving constituents.

Ryan Cooper, writing for The Week

For big pickups in the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats are trying to revive conservative Blue Dogs. However, this group won’t help the party—it will hurt them. First, Blue Dogism “is an odious ideology” which is generally focused on austerity and “bipartisanship for its own sake.” Second, it “is a tremendous strategic liability for the Democrats.” While “their knee-jerk fiscal conservatism during a huge recession was politically catastrophic for the party as a whole,” that “did not dent Blue Dog enthusiasm for more austerity in the slightest.”

Matt Zeller, writing for the Star Tribune

American soldiers have an invaluable partner in foreign interpreters, and it’s high time that the government recognize their contributions. First up: expanding the Special Immigrant Visa program, where there is already a backlog of 10,000 Afghani applicants. “Are we really willing to tell those who fought with our country that it’s OK with us if they die at the hands of the same enemies we asked them to help fight? … Opponents of the Special Immigrant Visa program claim that Afghan and Iraqi combat translators and their families rely heavily on state and federal welfare programs. But spend any time with these immigrants, and you’ll realize that characterization is unfair.” The second step is granting interpreters “honorary veteran” status to open them up to the same opportunities as other veterans; without these federal protections, “you will find them working minimum-wage jobs.”