As the chief deputy whip for House Republicans, Rep. Patrick McHenry has his hands full counting votes in a sometimes divided conference. The North Carolina lawmaker spoke with Daniel Newhauser on Tuesday about the priorities and challenges of the 115th Congress.
We’ve got a big year ahead, with lots of legislative priorities. What will the order of these big-ticket items will be?
What we do know is the opening act is: repeal Obamacare. That is a more controlled operation, meaning there are time limits in the Senate, there’s a 51-vote margin to vote all those things that enable us to get a repeal budget resolution through, and our process is controlled getting the reconciliation package out of the House and into the Senate. We have, then, January, February mapped out, resulting in a repeal, and perhaps that goes into March. We then have the undoing of a number of regulations that will happen in the first two months. …
Infrastructure is sort of an undetermined time period because you have to have the ability to pay for that, and that leads to its own level of complexity. So all the while that’s happening, you have the form and nature of tax reform working its way through committee and working its way through the process to build some type of broader consensus around our tax-reform plan. That has to happen over a series of months. And the health care reform packages that we want to put together have to take form in committee. So a lot of that stuff will take time to bake. How you fund a wall, how you fund border security, how you fund immigration enforcement and that package around immigration enforcement can happen in the next six months. … Then the culmination of tax reform is between now and September, for us here in the House.
Can you repeal Obamacare outright on Day One, or does there have to be a wind-down period, and if so, how long?
It’s really a question of two or three years, because you have to first admit you’re not going to do it immediately. You’re not going to take away people’s insurance. So how do you ensure you have a structural change? OK, then you’re looking at two or three years, and that decision has not been finalized. It’s going to be a question of, really, the practical realities of implementation.
Infrastructure has not necessarily been a House or Senate Republican priority, but will this get done if President-elect Donald Trump really pushes for it? And how?
To achieve an infrastructure plan, I think we would have to have a way to pay for it. I’ve long supported, and a number of us in the House have supported, a connection between energy sources and the movement of goods and people. … Let’s go to that next generation of revenue, which is our natural resources on public lands, and connect that income to the federal government for utilizing those resources, paying for our infrastructure. Or enable us, for the oil that we export—which we can now export because we lifted the export ban on crude oil—and connect that revenue to funding our highways, roads, and bridges.
Will there be an actual wall along the national border? Are we talking about a fence, or a surveillance wall, like drones?
The president ran on building a big, beautiful wall. He will achieve the first steps of that, I believe, in the first half of this year. … How Congress has previously passed this is we’ve enabled the administration to define what that is. So in certain areas, the infrastructure will be different. But that’s a detail to be worked out. … So the question becomes, how do you have a more immediate down payment for real border security? … We can change the law so the Border Patrol can actually patrol the fullness of our southern border. We can change the law so that those that present themselves at the border are not taken into custody in the United States and released in the United States.
The CIA, FBI, and Homeland Security Department have all said Russia hacked U.S. targets to influence the election in Trump’s favor. With the Benghazi and Planned Parenthood scandals, special committees were empaneled. Why would it not be appropriate to do the same for this?
I’m not a big believer in creating new committees. … We have the Select Committee on Intelligence. We have solid, smart members who are working on this to make sure they are holding the intelligence community to account and making sure there’s a check and balance on what happens in the executive-branch intelligence agencies. I’m confident they’re doing their part to ensure there’s proper oversight. I’m not going to rush to judgment about the next steps that will be taken.
Do you think a Trump victory makes it easier to deal with the Freedom Caucus?
We have a rambling brood, a circus of a family, if you will. Like any good family we can have large disagreements, but when we’re actually trying to achieve something, we can work together and we can achieve results. I actually am extraordinarily hopeful. The Freedom Caucus is smaller going into this Congress and is smaller as a percentage of the House Republican Conference, but those battles of last Congress are so different than what we’ll face going into this Congress.
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"Even if House Republicans manage to get enough members of their party on board with the latest version of their health care bill, they will face another battle in the Senate: whether the bill complies with the chamber’s arcane ... Byrd rule, which stipulates all provisions in a reconciliation bill must affect federal spending and revenues in a way that is not merely incidental." Democrats should have the advantage in that fight, "unless the Senate pulls another 'nuclear option.'”
The House has passed a one-week spending bill that will avert a government shutdown which was set to begin at midnight. Lawmakers now have an extra week to come to a longer agreement which is expected to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year in September. The legislation now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to pass before President Trump signs it.
President Trump’s portrayal of an effort to funnel more Medicaid dollars to Puerto Rico as a "bailout" is complicating negotiations over a continuing resolution on the budget. "House Democrats are now requiring such assistance as a condition for supporting the continuing resolution," a position that the GOP leadership is amenable to. "But Mr. Trump’s apparent skepticism aligns him with conservative House Republicans inclined to view its request as a bailout, leaving the deal a narrow path to passage in Congress."
Democrats in the House are threatening to shut down the government if Republicans expedite a vote on a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, said Democratic House Whip Steny Hoyer Thursday. Lawmakers have introduced a one-week spending bill to give themselves an extra week to reach a long-term funding deal, which seemed poised to pass easily. However, the White House is pressuring House Republicans to take a vote on their Obamacare replacement Friday to give Trump a legislative victory, though it is still not clear that they have the necessary votes to pass the health care bill. This could go down to the wire.