July 27, 2018
If traffic was a little lighter in D.C. this morning, commuters can thank Congress. After a round of Thursday votes, House leaders turned out the lights and headed back to their districts until Labor Day. For at least one chamber, the summer recess is here. And while today's members are jetting off to campaign, the August break wasn't always about elections. It was about the heat. Before 1928, there wasn't air conditioning in the Capitol. The House chamber was "windowless, airless, and so oppressive" that people collapsed. When the ventilation system was finally installed, the Carrier Air Conditioning Company predicted that "Congress may voluntarily remain in session throughout the summer!" They were wrong.
This summer, though, at least one side of the Capitol will be working overtime. According to Pew Research, it's been decades since the Senate gave up this much of its August holiday. The decision, made by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), means that Congress is scheduled to be in session for more days than the average since 1971. And Republicans are making the most of it.
Spending bills, judges, and dozens of other nominations are on McConnell's plate for August. And while former House Speaker John Garner once said, "No good legislation comes out of Washington after June," this leadership team is trying to prove him wrong. Before the House skipped town, it set up the Senate for the earliest passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) since Jimmy Carter. "I was actually in the first grade the last time we passed a defense authorization bill this fast," House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) joked to reporters this week. Although the NDAA is already in a class of its own -- passing 57 straight years – it hasn't made it through Congress this fast in decades. If the Senate gives the green light to the conference report when it's back in town the first full week of August, House Armed Services Chair Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) says "it will be the quickest the process has finished in 41 years."
To the cheers of everyone at the Defense Department, the military will be on track to get a pay raise -- the largest in nine years -- 15,000 more troops, and new ships, submarines, planes, and weapons. After Barack Obama, who scaled back so much that pilots were scavenging museums for jet parts, this year's budget will begin in earnest the long process of rebuilding America's fighting force.
So far, the provision getting the most attention may be the bill's temporary ban on F-35 fighter sales to Turkey. With Turkey acting like anything but a NATO ally -- obtaining weapon systems from Russia, imprisoning an American pastor, Andrew Brunson -- Congress is doing everything it can to turn up the heat on President Erdogan. According to the conference report, the deal would be on hold until the Pentagon and State Department issue a report on U.S.-Turkish relations. Another part of the bill makes an outright call for Brunson's freedom, demanding that Erdogan "release wrongly detained U.S. citizens."
Meanwhile, the NDAA isn't the only evidence that Congress is plowing through spending proposals faster than normal. Every single appropriations bill has made it through committee in the House, and while some may not pass in time to beat the September 30 deadline, most will. (Of course, both chambers had plenty of motivation after March when President Trump vowed he'd never sign another omnibus.) Two of those spending bills, Homeland Security and Financial Services, also happen to include important pro-life amendments. Before the House adjourned, it wrapped up committee work on the DHS budget, which -- thanks to Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) -- includes a provision that would stop the government (and taxpayers) from facilitating abortions for women in immigration detention centers (in most situations).
After the Jane Doe tragedy, when the ACLU pressured a teenager in custody to get an abortion, there's been a growing concern that extremists would try to turn the U.S. into a sanctuary country for abortion. Republicans did their best to put the brakes on that push, approving Aderholt's amendment 30-20. Just as importantly, it gives conscience protections to Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) employees who object to abortion.
Over in the House's Financial Services-Interior debate, Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Ala.) stepped in to stop another bad idea in the city of D.C. Although Congress repealed the individual mandate in Obamacare, D.C. tried to recreate it at the end of June by ordering residents to buy health insurance -- and not just any insurance, but plans that include abortion on demand. Under the Palmer amendment, which passed, Americans in the District wouldn't be forced to pay for health coverage that takes an innocent life.
For more on what took place this week here in our nation's capital, as well as headlines from across the country, check out my interview with CBN earlier today.
** The Washington Update is taking its regular August break, but we'll keep you informed of important developments in the Senate and elsewhere in our alerts. You can also keep up with what's happening by tuning into "Washington Watch" Monday through Friday at 5:00 p.m. (ET). For station listing, visit TonyPerkins.com -- or, better yet, download FRC's Stand Firm App and listen live from anywhere. The daily Update will return after Labor Day. **
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.