Susan Davis

Producer, The State of Things

As their first major act of the new Congress, Republicans rushed approval of a budget resolution this week that sets up a framework for repealing Obamacare, but what exactly to replace it with is still a puzzle Republicans are piecing together.

And it could take a while.

A group of Republican lawmakers, backed by law enforcement advocates, are engaged in an increasingly aggressive public clash with members of the Congressional Black Caucus over a high school work of art depicting police officers with animal heads.

The latest chapter unfolded on Tuesday when Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Mo., held a rehanging ceremony for a painting that had been taken down last Friday by his GOP colleague, Rep. Duncan Hunter of California.

House Speaker Paul Ryan announced Thursday that Republicans will — once again — vote to cut off federal tax dollars for Planned Parenthood. They are planning to include the measure as part of a bigger upcoming bill to repeal pillars of Obamacare. This isn't the first time that they have tried to pass this type of legislation — President Obama vetoed a similar bill last January.

After a storm of criticism, including from President-elect Donald Trump, House Republicans have reversed themselves and restored the current rules of the Office of Congressional Ethics.

GOP members met Tuesday afternoon and agreed by unanimous consent to withdraw a change to House rules approved late Monday evening, before the new Congress was sworn in, that would have weakened the ethics office, an independent watchdog first established in 2008 under House Democrats.

Updated at 10:15 a.m. ET

The House Republican Conference voted Monday night to approve a change to House rules to weaken the independence of the Office of Congressional Ethics and place it under the oversight of the House Ethics Committee, a panel controlled by party leaders.

It will be part of a broader House Rules package to be voted on by the full body on Tuesday after the 115th Congress officially convenes and the House elects a speaker.

Just before House Republicans re-elected Paul Ryan as their speaker, the Wisconsin Republican made a bold proclamation.

"Welcome to the dawn of a new unified Republican government," Ryan told reporters one week after Election Day. "This will be a government focused on turning President-elect Trump's victory into real progress for the American people."

Ryan continued: "If we are going to put our country back on the right track, we have got to be bold, and we have to go big."

President Obama said Friday he is leaving behind a more prosperous and safe country than the one he inherited from his predecessor.

"Almost every country on Earth sees America as stronger and more respected today than it was eight years ago," the president said at a White House news conference on Friday before the Obama family's departure to Hawaii for its annual holiday vacation.

There's one way Republicans on Capitol Hill say they know becoming the vice president-elect hasn't changed Mike Pence: He hasn't changed his phone number.

Pence recently met with House Republicans in a closed-door session. "He said, 'Most of you have my cellphone,' which he found out after the election," laughed Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., one of Trump's earliest allies in Congress. "He wants to encourage us to continue to reach out to him," Barletta added.

No matter who wins the presidential election on Tuesday, it's nearly certain Congress will be more narrowly divided come January.

And with no clear mandate likely coming out of 2016, there is little reason to be overly optimistic that the next Congress can escape the cycle of unproductivity and polarization that has gripped Washington in recent years.


The 115th Congress: Political Dynamics

With little chance of a Democratic House takeover in the 2016 election, the two likeliest scenarios are:

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Updated at 6:30 p.m.

The Republican National Committee is sticking with embattled GOP nominee Donald Trump even as House Speaker Paul Ryan said Monday he would no longer defend his party's presidential nominee.

Former House Speaker John Boehner has parlayed one of his favorite pastimes into a lucrative new gig. The avid smoker is joining the board of tobacco giant, Reynolds American Inc.

The Ohio Republican was the nation's highest-ranking smoker before he left office last October. Boehner currently smokes Camel brand cigarettes and has never indicated a desire to quit the cancer-causing habit.

That's good news for Reynolds, where Boehner will now serve as a Class 2 director and serve on the board's corporate governance committee.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Lawmakers return to Washington on Tuesday for what GOP party leaders are hoping will be an uneventful September for their party's most vulnerable members.

"We want a clean entry and a clean exit," says one Senate GOP aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity to speak candidly about internal deliberations.

Updated at 8 p.m. ET

A softer-edged Donald Trump huddled with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in a hastily arranged meeting in Mexico City on Wednesday. Both men pledged a commitment to strengthening the U.S.-Mexico relationship.

Trump said he had a "very substantive" conversation with Peña Nieto during which he reaffirmed the right of the U.S. to protect its borders and build a wall, but that his pledge to make Mexico pay for it didn't come up.

"We didn't discuss that," Trump said.

Three big-name political insiders have been targets of the activist, outsider wings of their parties.

And yet all three — Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Marco Rubio of Florida, as well as Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat — appear safe in their primary battles for re-election Tuesday.

At a recent campaign stop in Philadelphia, Senate Democratic candidate Katie McGinty faced a tough crowd: 4-year olds.

"Hi! How's everybody doin'?" McGinty said, as she entered the Western Learning Center, an early childhood program for local families.

McGinty stopped here Tuesday to tout her economic agenda with a small group of local parents, but first, it was story time.

Hillary Clinton's increasingly dominant lead in the presidential race is solidifying many Republicans' worst 2016 fears that Donald Trump will cost the party not only the White House but also control of the Senate.

"The bottom is starting to fall out a little earlier than expected," says a top Senate GOP campaign aide who requested anonymity to speak candidly about the state of the race. "We started off with a very difficult map. No matter what, this was going to be a very difficult year."

NPR was invited to observe two focus groups of swing voters from Ohio and Arizona on Tuesday in Washington, D.C. "Wal-Mart Moms" are identified by pollsters as women predominantly between the ages of 18 and 44, who have kids under 18 living at home and who shop at Wal-Mart stores at least once a month. In these groups, the women were identified only by their first names.

President Obama dismissed GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump's comment this week that the election may be "rigged" this year.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit NPR.

While many pundits and political observers were quick to praise Hillary Clinton's pick of Tim Kaine as her running mate on Friday, the choice wasn't met with universal acclaim.

One important group — progressives and backers of Clinton's former rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — were not as pleased with the selection of the Virginia senator who has cultivated a reputation of working across the aisle over the course of his political career.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Reports of Marco Rubio's eagerness to leave the Senate may be greatly exaggerated.

After weeks of private lobbying, the Florida Republican senator now says he is considering running again. He has until June 24, his state's filing deadline, to make up his mind.

Rubio announced in April 2015 that he would not run for re-election to pursue his presidential bid. But his campaign never caught fire and he bowed out of the primaries after a disappointing finish in the Florida presidential primary.

One of the most famous magic tricks of all time would never have been possible without a certain Washington connection.

House Republicans kick off Tuesday a three-week roll out of a policy agenda that Speaker Paul Ryan says will outline what the party will do if they win the White House this November.

The agenda, dubbed "A Better Way," is Ryan's brainchild, a project that he negotiated as part of the deal that elevated him to House speaker last fall.

Lawmakers: They're just like us!

"Everyone's favorite parlor game right now in D.C. is who will be the vice presidential pick," Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., said at a briefing with reporters.

Every four years, the guessing game around the "veepstakes" reaches fever pitch right around now, when the nominating conventions are just weeks away. Democratic lawmakers are rich in opinions on whom Hillary Clinton should tap as her running mate.

House Speaker Paul Ryan shot down reports Wednesday that he was on the verge of endorsing Donald Trump for president.

Donald Trump arrived in Washington, D.C., on Thursday to meet with his party's congressional leaders to hash out their differences and talk GOP unity ahead of what is likely to be a pitched general-election battle against Hillary Clinton.

First up was a private meeting with House Speaker Paul Ryan. The two arrived around 9 a.m. ET at the Republican National Committee in a session orchestrated by RNC Chairman Reince Priebus.

If Republican Party delegates are looking for an alternative to Donald Trump, Ted Cruz or John Kasich, it won't be Paul Ryan.

"I want to put this to rest once and for all," Ryan said of speculation that he could be chosen as the Republican presidential nominee this summer in a multiballot convention.

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