Capitol Attitude

2016 on Capitol Hill: The year of the unexpected

Insight from Republican strategist Brad Blakeman and Democratic strategist Jessica Ehrlich

 

It’s customary for scribes to cobble together “year-ender” or “review” pieces about the news as the final days drip from the calendar. These essays help you recall something which unfolded in August or May. Or, gosh, that one thing back on January 2? Can you even believe that was this year? I thought that was last year for sure.

Here, we won’t dissect those events. We’ll scrutinize the things on Capitol Hill and in politics which many expected to happen…but never did. Perhaps these circumstances did come to pass in a parallel universe somewhere. But they never materialized in the cosmos where we reside.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and several Democratic colleagues commandeered the Senate floor for 14 hours and 50 minutes in mid-June to discuss firearm violence. This emerge after the Orlando nightclub massacre and three-and-a-half-years after the carnage at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. Murphy and his allies called for increased gun control measures.

They never got them.

Same deal a week later when Reps. John Lewis, D-Ga., and John Larson, D-Conn., orchestrated an old-fashioned, 1960s-style “sit-in.” They took over the House chamber for more than a day to protest the lack of additional gun control measures.

That effort proved futile as well.

Then there was chatter from top Republican leaders intent to discipline Democrats for violating House rules with the sit-in, abusing floor staff and even mildly damaging the furniture inside the chamber.

“Bring it on,” dared House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., of rumored sanctions.

The Republican brass hoped to address the issue over the summer – and then before the election. But GOPers worried such a maneuver could poke the sleeping bear and elicit another sit-in. That could invigorate Democrats and harm Republicans. So the GOP didn’t mete out any discipline at all. In the near year, House GOPers now plan to retool their rules to penalize lawmakers for similar transgressions. But those demerits would only apply to future infractions and not address what went down in June. There’s some question about the Constitutionality of the proposal.

So…

Some political observers thought House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., might struggle to continue as Speaker late this year or in a floor vote come January in the new Congress. In July, outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the Wisconsin Republican was “failing spectacularly.”

“If he’s not careful, he’s going to wind up just like (former House Speaker John) Boehner, R-Ohio.,” augured Reid, considering the restless bloc of conservatives which toils in the House Republican Conference ranks.

Some political observers wondered if Ryan would ever support President-elect Trump let alone find a way to work with him. Well, in a bizarre twist of fate, Mr. Trump’s election was the best thing that ever happened to Ryan and his Speakership. Amid a skeptical House Freedom Caucus, vote counters argued Ryan had little margin for error on the floor to return to the Speaker’s suite on the first ballot. But since Mr. Trump won, Ryan finds himself in the most-solid position yet of his Speakership.

Somewhere along another timeline, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio., may have challenged Ryan for the Speaker’s gavel. But in this membrane, it was Pelosi who encountered a challenge for her position – from Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio.

House Democrats were fairly consistent in adopting budgets when they held the majority. Senate Democrats? A mixed record. Naturally, that produced howls of protest from Congressional Republicans. Some of the most-vocal protestations came from the then-chairman of the House Budget Committee, Paul Ryan. But Republicans failed to adopt a budget this year. Ryan tried multiple things. But it never worked out.

Other things which didn’t happen?

There was no fight over raising the debt ceiling in 2016. President Obama and Boehner took care of that in the fall of 2015, just before the Ohio Republican hit the Congressional exit. The debt ceiling is expected to ripen in mid-March. So, the debt limit could be an issue in 2017.

Republicans did not successfully repeal Obamacare this year, the seventh consecutive year they pushed to ditch the law. Congressional Republicans did send the final version of an Obamacare repeal package to the White House for President Obama to sign. But he vetoed that plan.

However, a successful repeal of Obamacare may have its best chances in 2017 – especially with invigorated Congressional Republicans and President Trump in the White House.

There were no threats of a government shutdown in 2016. The Senate came within an hour of a “lapse in funding” for the government just a few weeks ago. It wasn’t a crisis as the government would have been flush with cash at some point. The only question was “when?” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., led a coalition of senators to improve health care packages for coal miners. Manchin & company pushed the issue toward a midnight fiscal deadline. It’s unlikely the government would have technically “shut down.” It may have just lacked specific, Congressional direction as to how to spend its money for a few hours.

There was no fiscal cliff in 2016.

Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Ted Cruz, R-Texas., Rand Paul, R-Ky., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., all ran for President. None secured their party’s nomination.

Senate Democrats did not capture control of that body in this year’s elections. Democrats face a daunting challenge just to hang on to seats in the 2018 midterms.

Some Congressional Republicans implored the GOP to impeach IRS Commissioner John Koskinen this year. Top Republican leaders aren’t friends of Koskinen. But they wondered if a push by members of the House Freedom Caucus to impeach Koskinen was a good idea. Did Koskinen’s alleged transgressions meet the Constitutional bar of “high crimes and misdemeanors” set for impeachment? Did Koskinen get due process from Congress? The House had only ever impeached one executive branch appointee since the beginning of the republic –a Secretary of War in the 1870s. Was this a bridge too far? This is to say nothing of bogging down the Senate in 2017 with a trial to remove Koskinen.

The House sidestepped a guerilla effort to go over the heads of leaders by Reps. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kansas., and John Fleming, R-La., to impeach Koskinen. But Jim Jordan reignited that fuse on short notice this fall. The House finally voted to send the impeachment referral to the Judiciary Committee.

The issue is dead..for now.

A gyrocopter did not land on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol like one did in 2015.

So consider what’s supposed to happen in 2017.

Talk about tax reform. A big infrastructure and spending package. Cutting deficits. More help for the military. Repealing and replacing Obamacare. And remember, Democrats are supposedly at their lowest ebb.

We’ll revisit all of those expectations this time next year.