Congress marked the end of its legislative business this week with the annual Congressional Baseball Game last night, which took on a special importance this year in light of Wednesday’s attack that left House Majority Whip Steve Scalise with serious injuries. The game produced rare images of bipartisanship as the ‘Big Four’ – Speaker Paul Ryan, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer – led a crowd of nearly 25,000 in a standing ovation for Rep. Scalise and the others injured in the attack. Doctors told reporters yesterday that Rep. Scalise remains in critical condition but is improving.
Washington remains on edge after a gunman attacked a baseball practice Republican lawmakers were attending ahead of tonight’s Congressional Baseball Game, severely injuring House Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) along with two Capitol Police officers and two others attending the practice. Rep. Scalise is in critical condition and will reportedly need additional surgeries in order to recover from his gunshot wound to the hip. The shooter, who is thought to have been politically motivated, was shot by Capitol Police and has died from his injuries. Capitol Hill was shaken by the incident, with the House canceling its votes and lawmakers from both sides putting aside political rhetoric to display unity as an institution. Tonight’s Congressional Baseball Game will go on as originally scheduled, with both Congress and Washington at-large hoping to show solidarity in the wake of a tragedy.
News is breaking this morning that House Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) and others have been shot in an apparent attack at a Republican baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia ahead of the annual Congressional Baseball Game tomorrow. Reports suggest that a gunman opened fire at the baseball field, striking several individuals participating in the practice, including Rep. Scalise, but fortunately all injuries appear to be non-life-threatening. The gunman is in custody, and there is likely to be an increased security presence on Capitol Hill today.
Questions continue to swirl around how Congress will be able to address the ever-advancing deadline to raise the debt ceiling. Will they pass a clean extension as Secretary Mnuchin as indicated is his preference? Or, will Freedom Caucus members and OMB Director Mulvaney be able to successfully extract concessions in the negotiations to prevent the full faith and credit of the United States government from being questioned? And, speaking of concessions, what will the Democrats ask for in exchange for their vote – revenue neutral tax reform, dropping efforts to repeal Obamacare, or something else? With all of this uncertainty yet again surrounding the passage of legislation to extend the government’s borrowing authority, perhaps the time is ripe for a grand bargain on the issue. Democrats, whose history under the Gephardt Rule shows they never wanted to make this a public issue, and who are tired of having to supply the votes and the campaign fodder for Republicans, have almost no incentive to bail out the GOP majority. Republicans, in control of all three branches of Government for the first time during one of these crises, know that they can’t escape the blame for any repercussions to the Market for failing to raise the debt limit. While few are publicly talking about it, the stars may be aligning so that this next extension is the final time Congress deals with this issue.
The Senate Intelligence Committee is set to take center stage in Washington again today as Attorney General Jeff Sessions is scheduled to appear in an open hearing this afternoon. Sessions, a former senator from Alabama, elected to forgo the more traditional Cabinet member appearances in front of the Appropriations Committees, making today his first appearance before Congress since he recused himself from the Russia investigation earlier this year. The Attorney General is likely to face sharp questions on his previously undisclosed meetings with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, as well as on his role in the firing of Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey, who testified for the Committee last week. Unlike Comey, however, Sessions will be able to invoke executive privilege – a legal mechanism that allows current members of the Administration to withhold information about their discussions with the President – which may mean that few new details are revealed through the Committee’s questioning. Nonetheless, the hearing is likely to captivate Washington and drown out most other political developments.
In an Inside Health Policy article published last week, Thorn Run Partners Senior Vice President Shea McCarthy noted that he has heard rumblings within the GOP that the Senate could get rid of the community rating waiver in the House's American Health Care Act. “Early reports indicate that the Senate plans to keep the House’s waivers allowing states to opt out of the ACA’s essential health benefits and age-rating band requirements, but that they plan to eliminate the waiver that would allow states to skirt the ACA’s requirement that insurers must offer coverage to people with pre-existing conditions," noted McCarthy. "The waiver from the pre-existing condition protection — the so-called “community rating” policy — has been subject to deep criticism from those who fear costs could skyrocket for many patients in states that seek the waivers. Conservatives would prefer to keep the waiver, and this issue hasn’t necessarily been settled.” McCarthy also mentioned that a tax credit could be available for those making less than 250 percent of the poverty level, and that additional funding may bue dedicatyed for people aged 50-64.
This morning's "Morning Money" piece from Politico featured comments from Thorn Run’s Jason Rosenstock, who offers his take on the current state of play between both parties on the debt limit. “Democrats whose history under the Gephardt Rule shows they never wanted to make this a public issue, and who are tired of having to supply the votes and the campaign fodder for Republicans, have almost no incentive to bail out the GOP majority,” noted Rosenstock. “Republicans, in control of all three branches of Government for the first time during one of these crises, know that they can’t escape the blame for any repercussions from the stock market for failing to raise the debt limit. While few are publicly talking about it, the stars may be aligning so that this next extension is the final time Congress deals with this issue.”
As Washington gets its first heat wave of the year, lawmakers are becoming more cognizant of the clock ticking down towards the August recess. While a debt ceiling hike will also likely be necessary, a health care overhaul remains the biggest priority for Congressional Republicans and the White House before lawmakers’ traditional monthlong break later this summer. Senate negotiators are continuing closed-door negotiations on their version of a health care bill, with the release of draft legislation likely necessary this week if the chamber will meet Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) reported goal of holding a vote before the July 4 holiday. Despite doubtful remarks about the bill from several senators in recent weeks, the suggestion from Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) — a key skeptic — that he is “very encouraged” by the GOP’s emerging plan provides a boost to the bill’s chances.
The Week in Review
Washington was abuzz as Congress returned from the Memorial Day recess with big-ticket items on its schedule. Namely, this included a House floor vote on a bill to revamp the nation’s financial regulations and the highly-anticipated testimony of former FBI Director James Comey in the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Yesterday’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearing featuring testimony from James Comey lived up to its billing as a massive political event, but it is unclear whether any of the former FBI Director’s remarks will have a tangible effect on the progress of the investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russian government. Comey outlined the circumstances around his firing and detailed his belief that President Trump had directed him to end the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. President Trump took to Twitter this morning for a response, writing that “despite so many false statements and lies,” he saw the hearing as a “total and complete vindication.” Lawmakers in Congress have offered a wide array of views on the investigation, but few expect the Russia probe to end, or for the issue to fade from the headlines in the near future.