Susan Davis | KERA News

Susan Davis

Susan Davis is a congressional reporter for NPR. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal, and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's "Washington Week" with Gwen Ifill. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C. and a Philadelphia native.

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The Senate is negotiating its own legislation to repeal and replace much of the Affordable Care Act in secret talks with senators hand-picked by party leaders and with no plans for committee hearings to publicly vet the bill.

"I am encouraged by what we are seeing in the Senate. We're seeing senators leading," said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, one of the 13 Republicans involved in the private talks. "We're seeing senators working together in good faith. We're not seeing senators throwing rocks at each other, either in private or in the press."

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And the news surprised lawmakers on both sides of the aisle today. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis is at the Capitol, and she has been talking to some of them. And she is with us now. Hi there, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Kelly.

The House of Representatives is debating the GOP bill to repeal and replace the key pillars of President Obama's health care law. This is the same bill that was pulled from the House floor just over a month ago when it was clear Republicans didn't have the votes to pass it. Now, they think they do, and the House is on track to vote on the bill early Thursday afternoon.

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It's prom season at Eagle High School in suburban Boise, where seniors are plotting for their futures and grown ups are dispensing life advice. Today's lesson in Jeff Clifford's American government class is courtesy of their congressman, Republican Raul Labrador.

"The relationships that really matter in life — whether you're a teacher, whether you're a professional, whether you're a politician — are those people that are with you before you become somebody," he says.

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This is how the Senate changes — not with a bang, but with a motion to overturn the ruling of the chair.

By a simple majority vote, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., set a new precedent in the Senate that will ease the confirmation for President Trump's Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch on Friday, after 30 more hours of debate on the floor.

"This will be the first, and last, partisan filibuster of a Supreme Court justice," said McConnell in a closing floor speech.

The U.S. Senate could make history this week, but no one is feeling particularly good about it.

"It is depressing; I'm very depressed," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. "We're all arguing against it, but we don't know any other option."

The nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and the GOP blockade against Merrick Garland before him are forcing another showdown over whether to invoke the "nuclear option" and change the rules of the Senate to make it easier for a president to get all of his nominations approved.

President Trump escalated a Twitter war with lawmakers in his own party on Thursday evening, calling out three members of the Freedom Caucus by name.

"If @RepMarkMeadows, @Jim_Jordan and @Raul_Labrador would get on board we would have both great healthcare and massive tax cuts & reform," he tweeted.

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Republicans will be tested today on the strength of party unity in the Trump era and their party's ability to deliver on the promises they've made to the voters that sent them here.

"This is our chance and this is our moment. It's a big moment," House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters earlier this week. "And I think our members are beginning to appreciate just what kind of a 'rendezvous with destiny' we have right here."

President Trump made the trip up Pennsylvania Avenue to close the deal with members of his own party on a bill that, on the face of it, does what Republicans have been promising to do for years: Repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

He came with a tough love message for members of his own party.

"Looks like you'd be ripe for a primary if you don't keep your promise," the president told the group of lawmakers in a closed-door meeting, according to Rep. Blake Farenthold. "He did say that," the Texas Republican adds.

The Republican Party's most passionate pitch man for its health care bill was at it again Wednesday morning with the same message: Everything is going according to plan.

"This is the plan we ran on all of last year. This is the plan that we've been working — House, Senate, White House — together on," House Speaker Paul Ryan told FOX Business News. "Now as we get closer to finish, going through the committee process, you inevitably make those refinements and improvements as you go through that process. That's exactly where we are right now."

Republicans are looking to President Trump to use his address to Congress Tuesday evening to define the party's path forward on how to deliver on the long-promised pledge to repeal and replace Obamacare.

The White House has, so far, ceded the decision-making to congressional leaders who are trying to unify competing moderate and conservative lawmaker demands behind a plan that can pass with narrow majorities in both chambers.

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Senate Republicans and conservative groups quickly rallied behind President Trump's nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, as Democrats focused on lingering anger over another jurist: Merrick Garland.

"I had hoped that President Trump would work in a bipartisan way to pick a mainstream nominee like Merrick Garland and bring the country together," Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., a top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement in which he pledged a "thorough and unsparing" confirmation process for Gorsuch.

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Republicans have a plan to replace Obamacare. In fact, they have several.

What they don't have is consensus on which one will guide the party's effort to reshape an insurance system that provides coverage for some 20 million Americans.

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.

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:

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