Border crisis update
What was once considered must pass legislation - to deal with the crisis on the border with Mexico - is now in disarray in both chambers. In the House, Republican leaders are hoping to take a second whack at passing an emergency border-funding package, after they suddenly backed off a planned vote Thursday afternoon amid discontent within their own ranks.
The legislation had been unlikely to advance in the Senate, and already had been ticketed for a presidential veto. But the decision to pull the $659 million measure represented a major embarrassment for Speaker John Boehner and his leadership team—especially for Rep. Steve Scalise. He does not officially become majority whip until Friday, but he and his new whip team had made this the first bill in which they had become actively engaged in vote-gathering.
After telling members the chamber was finished for the week, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy reversed course and said on the floor that it was still "possible" that there would be votes on the measures. House Republicans had a closed-door meeting at 3:00 p.m. Thursday and plan to have another gathering Friday at 9:00 a.m. to figure out the next steps and discuss legislative changes made by the leadership to lure conservatives.
The decision to pull the bill from consideration came despite a carrot extended to reluctant conservatives to back the spending bill in exchange for a second vote later Thursday on a GOP measure to rein in President Obama's discretionary authority to defer deportations.
That is something hard-liners, including Sen. Ted Cruz, have been insisting should be part of any border-crisis legislation, even though it is not directly related to the crisis.
But conservatives Thursday objected that language in the second bill, to freeze any expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program, wasn't tough enough.
To address the concerns, leaders are considering going back to an original version of the DACA bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. However, Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., said he and others are putting together their own proposed changes.
That bill, as it stood Thursday, would prohibit the administration and any federal agency from issuing any "guidance, memorandums, regulations, policies, or other similar instruments" to "newly authorize deferred action" for undocumented immigrants, or authorize them to work in the country.
If nothing else, the House passage of its own crisis funding bill was seen as giving House Republicans room to claim over the next weeks that they at least did something before their break to address the surge of tens of thousands of undocumented minors from Central America pouring into the U.S.—even if what was accomplished was a one-chamber bill.
But the measure is a far cry from the $3.7 billion request Obama gave to Congress earlier this month.
In the Senate, things are equally dysfunctional. A $2.7 billion bill to deal with the border crisis went down on a 50 to 44 procedural vote that required 60 votes to carry. The failure and the Senate's impending departure for August recess, which leaves no time for Congress to resolve legislative differences, make it appear certain that Obama will not see a dime of the supplemental funding for what both sides agree is a crisis of significant proportions.
Democrats cast the bill's failure as an urgent mistake, and they predicted that without the supplemental funding the administration would have to move money from other government accounts to cover the cost of managing the border crisis.
The bill went down for a number of reasons, including Republican frustration that Majority Leader Harry Reid blocked amendments, but also because the GOP wanted to see significant policy changes in the law, including rolling back the president's 2012 order to defer legal action against immigrant children, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
The failure of the Senate bill means that the Senate will adjourn for the August recess without addressing the border crisis.
House votes to move forward with lawsuit against the President
On Wednesday night, the GOP led House voted to proceed with a lawsuit to sue President Obama over executive actions related to the Affordable Care Act. The vote was split along party lines, with nearly all Republicans voting in favor of pursuing the lawsuit and all Democrats opposed.
This vote marks the first time either the House or Senate as an institution has brought a lawsuit against a president over enforcement of the law.
Now, it's up to Speaker John Boehner and the House counsel for a "designation" of the action, meaning work will then begin with lawyers to finalize the language and legal direction of the lawsuit, deciding which arguments will have the best chances of success in court.
From there, a federal judge has to decide whether the House has legal standing in its case. For the House to be able to act as a plaintiff in the case, it has to prove that it has in some way been harmed by the defendant—in this case, the president. Constitutional experts—several of whom have been called this month to testify at a hearing for each side—gave their own conflicting views of whether Boehner's planned litigation could pass basic legal muster.
Republicans have so far declined Democrats' demands to speculate on the potential monetary costs of the suit.
The suit itself is based on the Obama administration's decision to delay the Affordable Care Act's employer mandate. Although it may seem bizarre for John Boehner to push a lawsuit because of a delay in Obamacare, House Republicans are using this as an example of executive overreach. As they see it, Obama overstepped his authority by delaying the mandate without turning to Congress, and as such is not faithfully executing the law.
Click here to watch the Washington Business Brief video, Congress Acts before August Recess
House and Senate pass VA reform bill
Before leaving for the August recess, the House and Senate finally agreed to compromise legislation aimed at reforming the Veterans Affairs Department in the wake of the VA healthcare scandal.
The compromise legislation is a $17 billion bill that provides funds for veterans to have temporary access to private medical care, for the VA to hire more doctors and nurses and to open more outpatient clinics. The bill will also give the VA additional authority to fire employees who are poor-performers.
The measure passed in the House by a margin of 420 to 5 and in the Senate by a margin of 91 to 3.
U.S. and EU level new sanctions against Russia
This week, tensions between Russia and the West over the conflict in the Ukraine escalated as the U.S. and the European Union (EU) leveled new sanctions against Russia. These new sanctions bar Russian state banks from raising money in Western capital markets and restrict the sales of arms and of equipment for the critical oil industry to Russia. G7 leaders issued a joint statement on Wednesday warning Russia that it would face added economic sanctions if Moscow does not change course on its Ukraine policy.
In addition to the new sanctions, the European Commission announced the addition of eight Russians and three Russian companies who will have their assets frozen as part of the sanctions against the country.
The companies named include Russian National Commercial Bank, which was the first Russian bank to go into Crimea after the region's annexation by Russia. The other two firms are anti-aircraft weapons maker Almaz-Antey and airline Dobrolyot.
Leaders of the G7 – the U.S., Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Britain – also issued a statement warning that Russia could face additional sanctions if they did not change/de-escalate the situation in Ukraine and respect the country’s territorial sovereignty.
Transportation in focus
Highway Trust Fund patch headed to president's desk
A patch to the soon to be broke Highway Trust Fund is finally headed to President Obama's desk, but not before a week of legislative maneuvering. First the Senate acted this week. By a vote of 71 to 26, the Senate voted for the Wyden-Hatch amendment that substitutes the pay-fors, swapping some of the money raised through pension smoothing for tax compliance instead. The Senate also voted 66 to 31 to adopt the Carper-Corker-Boxer amendment to only patch the Trust Fund up until December. This would set up another bite at the apple for proponents of a long-term fix in a potential lame duck session after the mid-term elections.
The House, on Thursday afternoon, voted to reject the Senate's version of the Highway Trust Fund patch. By a vote of 272-150, the House voted to send its $10.8 billion dollar patch, which extends the Trust Fund through May of next year, back to the Senate.
Late Thursday night, before the Senate recessed for August, the upper chamber finally gave-in in the legislative tug-of-war between the two Houses, and by a vote of 81 to13 accepted the House-passed version of the Highway Trust Fund patch.
The bill now moves to President Obama's desk where he is expected to sign it.
Michigan 3rd Congressional District: Club for Growth Action reported spending a combined $138,000 on pro-Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) and anti-Brian Ellis (R-MI) TV advertising ahead of the GOP primary.
Tennessee 4th Congressional District: State Sen. Jim Tracy (R-TN) is airing a TV ad attacking Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-TN) over a 2012 abortion scandal, saying it makes him "ineffective in Washington.”
Alaska: Republican Dan Sullivan (R-AK) reportedly led Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK), 45 to 40, according to a month-old survey from GOP pollster Basswood Research.
Arkansas: Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) edged rival Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR) by two points, 48 percent to 46 percent, in a survey by Democratic pollster Anzalone Liszt Grove Research.
Georgia: In a huge unforced error, Democratic nominee Michelle Nunn (D-GA) accidentally posted a copy of her campaign plan online. The plan said she “can come across as a 'lightweight,' 'too liberal,' not a 'real Georgian.' While she served as CEO for the Points of Light Foundation, the organization gave grants to 'inmates' and 'terrorists.' And her Senate campaign must feature images of her and her family 'in rural settings with rural-oriented imagery' because the Atlanta-based candidate will struggle to connect with rural voters.”
Kansas: Physician Milton Wolf (R-KS) tried again Wednesday to debate Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) in advance of Tuesday's primary election, this time confronting the three-term incumbent on a public sidewalk. But Roberts again declined the challenge.
Tennessee: Sen. Lamar Alexander’s (R-TN) internal polling continues to show him leading primary challenger Joe Carr (R-TN) by a wide margin, 53 percent to 24 percent.
West Virginia: Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) is running a 30-second tv ad attacking Secretary of State Natalie Tennant (D-WV) for supporting Obama.
Illinois: A new poll from the Democratic firm Harstad Strategic Research shows Republican Bruce Rauner (R-IL) narrowly ahead of Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D-IL), 46 percent to 42 percent among likely voters.
Ohio: Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) leads Ed FitzGerald (D-OH) by 12 points, 48 percent to 36 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University poll.
A look ahead
The House and Senate are not in session next week
Washington by the numbers
They said what?
“Stop being mad all the time. Stop. Stop just hating all the time. C'mon … I know they're not happy that I'm president but that's OK. I got a couple of years left. C'mon … then you can be mad at the next president.” – President Obama, on Republicans (The Hill)
"Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced plans to send 1,000 National Guard troops to increase security. If you really want to slow down the flow of illegal immigrants, send the TSA." –Seth Meyers
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