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Congress In Recess After A Notably Unproductive Session


It's always a bit ragged in the final days before Congress leaves town for summer break. But this year, the tatters are showing more than most. The House majority leader resigned from Congress on the last day of business yesterday. And his replacement had a tough time handling a party line vote. While in the Senate, work almost ground to a halt in large part because the leaders don't talk to each other. In the 11th hour, though, did pass an overhaul of the Veterans Administration and a highway funding bill. But that leaves a long list of issues they did not deal with.

Joining us to talk about the issues is NPR's senior Washington correspondent, Ron Elving. Ron, welcome to the program.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Eric.

WESTERVELT: Ron, this is been called one of the most divided and least productive congressional sessions in recent history. What did lawmakers leave undone in their messy dash to the airport?

ELVING: Yes, there are a number of statistical indications that they are setting all-time lows for accomplishment. But right now, I think people were expecting them to do something about the tens of thousands of children coming to the border unaccompanied. The Congress essentially failed to do that. The Senate couldn't get enough Republican support to get to 60 votes and pass its version. The House passed a bill with a fraction of the requested amount of money, and with a lot of new restrictions and restraints on the president, that would never get through the Senate and would be vetoed if it were passed. So in essence, that crisis goes unaddressed.

WESTERVELT: Ron, how much of this public and ongoing dysfunction has to do with Congressional leadership?

ELVING: That's a key factor here. There is surely a lot of pure opposition to the president and there's lots of partisan difference and ideological difference. But often those kind of things can be bridged or compromised by gifted and skilled leaders who work together. We just don't happen to have a set of leaders like that right now.

WESTERVELT: What about the House in particular, Ron? Speaker Boehner had a lot of trouble keeping Republicans in line.

ELVING: Yes, he did. And his House majority leader - who has been his number two person as long as he's been speaker - was defeated for re-nomination in his primary, just resigned from Congress this week. And his replacement is a very able man but very new in the job. And then, the number three leader whose job it is to round up the votes, was actually on his maiden voyage in trying to handle this border issue. So it didn't go very well. And there have been a lot of tensions in the House between the leaders and uncertainty as to who really spoke, for the most conservative members and particularly those from the reddist states and the states of the South.

WESTERVELT: And in the Senate it's no secret that the Democratic leader Harry Reid, and Mitch McConnell on the Republican side, have a very difficult relationship. I mean, does a lot of this come down to personalities, Ron? Or, are there other factors?

ELVING: It does, indeed. Mitch McConnell is a highly skilled maneuverer and debater and awfully good at being the minority leader. He is also very interested in becoming the majority leader. And he has a tough re-election himself in November. But if he wins, he hopes to be the leader of a new Republican majority next year. So his interest lies largely on the political side. And he has said that his top priority was making sure that President Obama was a one term president. Having failed in that, he's moved on to being as difficult as possible in the president's second term. Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader now, the Democrat, is a truly cantankerous character who has not got the best relationships even with members of his own party and has chosen a very hard-nosed strategy in running the Senate.

WESTERVELT: NPR senior Washington correspondent, Ron Elving.

Ron, thank you.

ELVING: Thank you, Eric. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.