Chase Serota is a first-year law student at American University Washington College of Law. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2021 with a degree in Political Science and Communication. Prior to attending law school, Chase served as a campaign manager for both local and federal races in New York.

While not an entirely new phenomenon, Congress is currently among the least productive and most unpopular in modern history.[1]

In February, Congress’s approval rating fell to its lowest point in nearly a decade. [2] At 12%, February’s Congressional approval rating was only three points off from the lowest Congressional approval rating ever recorded, which was 9% in November of 2013. [3]

Additionally, in 2023, during the first year of the 118th Congress, the body passed the fewest number of bills of any first-year congressional session in nearly a century since the Great Depression. [4] Congress passed and signed into law 27 bills in 2023.[5] Comparatively, Congressional productivity has not been that low since the 72nd Congress in 1931, when Congress only met for the final three months of the year and passed 21 bills. [6]

Congress’s near-record low February approval rating can likely, at least in part, be attributed to recent significant Congressional failures in addressing border security, which has become a key issue to Americans.[7] According to a recent Gallup poll, Americans now believe immigration is the most important problem facing the country today. [8] That ranks above concerns about the economy, inflation, crime, and foreign policy.[9]

Nevertheless, Congressional action on any immigration compromise has emerged as unlikely since the Senate’s bipartisan border security and foreign aid compromise bill failed in early February.[10] The Senate compromise bill, H.R. 815, proposed $118 billion in foreign aid funding, which included $60 billion in military aid for Ukraine, $14 billion in aid for Israel, and $10 billion for humanitarian assistance in Ukraine, Israel, and Gaza.[11]

Additionally, H.R.815 proposed sweeping changes to U.S. immigration law, such as major changes to asylum laws that would have likely resulted in a majority of asylum seekers’ applications being rejected. [12]

Furthermore, H.R. 815 also created a new emergency border authority that would have allowed the Department of Homeland Security (‘DHS’) to essentially ban all entry of any migrants who were found to have entered the country illegally, regardless of any potential asylum claims.[13]

The inevitable failure of the bipartisan legislation became clear after far-right leaders within the House, as well as former President Donald Trump, expressed both public and private opposition to considering the bill. [14] Republican House leadership opposed the bill, stating it did not go far enough in solving the border security crisis.[15] However, reports have emerged that the effort was mostly the result of intense opposition to the legislation by former President Trump. [16]

Ultimately, Senate Democrats, with the help of 22 Republicans, approved and passed a substantially different variation of the original compromise bill, now H.R. 5673, which exclusively addressed foreign aid for Israel and Ukraine and eliminated any border security reforms. [17] H.R. 5673 would provide $95 billion in aid for Israel and Ukraine.[18]

Currently, any progress on immigration is at a standstill, given that Speaker Johnson has refused to allow any bill to the floor that hinges on border security and foreign aid spending or addresses foreign aid spending whatsoever until the border crisis is fully dealt with as a standalone issue.[19]

The fate of both foreign aid for Ukraine and Israel, as well as a considerably less feasible compromise on immigration, would likely depend on the possible success of discharge petitions, which would allow members to bypass the speaker.[20]

Discharge petitions would require 218 votes to force legislation onto the House floor for a vote without approval from the Speaker. [21]

House Minority Leader Jeffries has said the Senate standalone foreign aid bill, H.R. 5673, would get more than 300 votes in the House if brought to the floor. [22]

The most promising legislative solution regarding foreign aid is currently in the form of a discharge petition, H.R. 1016, a resolution that would force a vote on the $95 billion foreign aid spending bill passed by the Senate, H.R. 5673. [23] As of April 14th, this discharge petition garnered 195 out of the 218 votes needed to force the Senate bill for a vote. [24]

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick is championing another discharge petition to force a vote on his bill, which is based on the Senate’s original bill and merges foreign aid with compromises on border security. However, Fitzpatrick’s petition has only garnered sixteen votes and is unlikely to succeed.[25]

Overall, the prospects of successful action on border security or foreign aid spending in the current Congress are bleak. If House members can secure another 23 votes for the H.R. 1016 discharge petition, at the current juncture, it seems possible that the House could pass the Senate’s foreign aid bill. However, the likelihood of the discharge petition’s succeeding is, nevertheless, low. Additionally, although no current legislative compromise on immigration capable of receiving bipartisan support seems likely, at least in the 118th Congress, Democrats’ recent attempts to establish their priorities on border security offer the best shot at the possibility of compromise in the House.[26]

 

[1] Annie Karni, House Dysfunction by the Numbers: 724 Votes, Only 27 Laws Enacted, N.Y. Times, (Dec. 19, 2023) https://www.nytimes.com/2023/12/19/us/politics/house-republicans-laws-year.html

[2] Tara Suter, Congress hists its lowest approval, N.Y. Times, (Dec. 19, 2023) https://thehill.com/homenews/senate/4491016-congress-hits-its-lowest-approval-rating-in-gallup-since-2015/

[3] Id.

[4] Karni, supra note 1.

[5] Id.

[6] Jonathan Nicholson, The Least Productive Congress Since The Great Depression, HuffPost, (Nov., 15, 2023 8:35AM) https://www.huffpost.com/entry/least-productive-congress-since-great-depression_n_65553d38e4b0e4767012b6df

[7] See Jeffrey Jones, Immigration Surges to Top of Most Important Problems List, Gallup (Feb. 27, 2024) https://news.gallup.com/poll/611135/immigration-surges-top-important-problem-list.aspx#:~:text=The%2028%25%20currently%20naming%20immigration,on%20an%20immigration%20reform%20proposal

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] List Desjardins, What’s in the Senate’s sweeping 118 billion immigration and foreign aid bill, PBS (Feb. 6, 2024 7:19PM) https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/whats-in-the-senates-118-billion-border-and-ukraine-deal

[11] Id.

[12] See Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Burgess Everett, The Senate GOP ends up exactly where it started on foreign aid, Politico (Feb. 8, 2024 5:14PM) https://www.politico.com/live-updates/2024/02/08/congress/senate-gops-foreign-aid-border-circle-reversal-00140557

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Kevin Freking, What’s inside the Senate’s $95 billion bill to aid Ukraine and Israel and counter China, Associated Press (Feb. 13, 2024 8:39AM) https://apnews.com/article/ukraine-aid-congress-senate-china-d7b4846de76a1dfe5d2207b7eb6eeead

[18] Id.

[19]Erik Wasson, US House Speaker Rejects Possible Biden Border Actions as ‘Gimmicks’, Bloomberg (Feb. 22, 2024) https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2024-02-22/speaker-rejects-possible-biden-border-actions-as-gimmicks?embedded-checkout=true

[20]See Id.

[21]Mike Lillis, Jeffries: Senate Ukraine bill is ‘only way forward, The Hill (Mar. 8, 2024) https://thehill.com/homenews/house/4519534-jeffries-senate-ukraine-bill-only-way-forward/

[22] Id.

[23] Motion to Discharge a Committee from Consideration of a Resolution, H.R. 1016 (Mar. 12, 2024).

[24] Id.

[25] See Motion to Discharge a Committee from Consideration of a Resolution, H.R. 1024 (Mar. 12, 2024).

[26] Nick Robertson, House Democrats Launch new Border Security Task Force, The Hill (Mar. 12, 2024) https://thehill.com/homenews/house/4527659-house-democrats-launch-new-border-security-task-force/