Skip to content

Editor’s Note: Amid Congress’ dysfunction, some significant votes

TikTok, Ukraine aid and Haiti were part of the story, too

Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., is seen in the U.S. Capitol after the House passed the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, which could ban TikTok in the U.S., on Wednesday, March 13.
Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., is seen in the U.S. Capitol after the House passed the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, which could ban TikTok in the U.S., on Wednesday, March 13. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

It would be easy to focus on Congress’ almost comical level of dysfunction, but to do so would miss some meaningful actions in each chamber this past week.

True, it is difficult not to rubberneck, particularly in the House, where yet another Republican, Ken Buck of Colorado, abruptly announced on March 12 he was quitting before the end of his term, and provided this kiss-off: “It is the worst year of the nine years and three months that I’ve been in Congress, and having talked to former members it’s the worst year in 40 or 50 years to be in Congress,” he told CNN.

Speaker Mike Johnson, watching his majority about to imminently shrink yet again, told reporters he was blindsided by the announcement.

The next day, House Republicans went to West Virginia for their annual issues retreat, but then dozens of their conference skipped it, with one member telling reporters that he would prefer the company of a serial killer and to engage in self-cannibalization. “I’d rather sit down with Hannibal Lecter and eat my own liver,” this lawmaker told Axios and Politico.

Still: Before the House left on March 13, the chamber voted overwhelmingly, 352-65, to pass legislation that would force TikTok’s Chinese owner ByteDance to divest the company or lose access to more than 170 million U.S. users. Good policy or bad policy, this is absolutely what we at CQ Roll Call will categorize as a “key vote” for purposes of our 2024 vote studies. The Senate might go slower with the legislation than the House, but the bill has many supporters in that chamber and President Joe Biden has said he supports it and would sign it into law.

Johnson and his leadership team did need to bring the measure to the floor under suspension of the rules, knowing that any attempts to craft a rule solely by his majority tend to be fraught with peril. But the 352 “aye” votes show that when something that substantive has that much bipartisan support in a divided government, it behooves GOP leaders to not allow a minority of their majority to derail things.

We are also witnessing a long-shot but not-dead-yet effort to circumvent House GOP leaders entirely with not one, but two discharge petitions that aim to bring supplemental foreign aid packages for Ukraine directly to the floor. One led by House Rules ranking member Jim McGovern, D-Mass., had 177 signatures as of March 13. The other, by Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., had 14. The odds are always against amassing the requisite 218, but stranger things have happened in this Congress.

The Senate, with its familiar march of confirming executive and judicial nominees, took some significant votes as well this past week.

Ambassadorial confirmations usually are just part of the normal housekeeping of the chamber. But the March 14 confirmation of Dennis B. Hankins to be ambassador to Haiti, a nomination that had languished on the Executive Calendar for almost six months, took on added resonance as the Caribbean nation has devolved into absolute chaos recently. Senators snapped out of their torpor to confirm Hankins, 89-1. Too little, too late? Perhaps. But in a situation like this, the least that can be done is to have our own representative there. It is a low bar, certainly, to do the minimum, but at least that got done.

The bar does remain low for Congress, particularly this one. Appropriations for the current fiscal year that we are six months into are just now starting to get resolved. There are serious health, tax and defense and foreign affairs issue to address for a legislative branch that is on pace to be historically unproductive.

But it is always worth noting significant actions by Congress. Everyone will see the dumpster fires, and they too are significant. But they are not the whole story.

Jason Dick is editor-in-chief of CQ Roll Call.

Recent Stories

Case highlights debate over ‘life of the mother’ exception

Supreme Court split on Idaho abortion ban in emergency rooms

Donald Payne Jr., who filled father’s seat in the House, dies at 65

Biden signs foreign aid bill, says weapons to be sent to allies within hours

Airlines must report fees, issue prompt refunds, new rules say

Capitol Ink | B Movie