By Cristina Marcos - 07-16-17 06:00 AM EDT
House Republicans are battling one another over how much work they've done in President Trump's first six-plus months in office.
GOP leaders say the media isn't paying enough attention to a litany of significant bills that have already been passed by the House.
At a GOP leadership press conference on Wednesday, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) touted a chart showing a spike in bills passed by the House since Trump took office.
Conservatives argue that the chart shows how sensitive their leadership is to the truth: that they've been slow to enact promises to bring about major reform to Washington.
"If I see another chart that shows how many bills we've passed in the first seven months, I think I'm gonna scream," said conservative Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.).
"The favorite bad habit of this GOP conference is to conflate activity with progress. They are not the same."
Two hours after the press conference with McCarthy, members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus held an event of their own to argue the House needs to cancel the August recess in order to get more work done.
"Play the two press conferences: The one that the leadership had earlier in the day, and the one we had. And ask the American people, 'Who do you believe?'" said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a Freedom Caucus founding member.
"My guess is they'll probably say, 'Oh, those Freedom Caucus guys, I kinda think they're on the right track.'"
McCarthy noted that the House has passed nearly 300 bills so far this year, which surpassed the average of 176 at this point in a new presidency since the George H.W. Bush administration. The vast majority of those bills have not been taken up by the Senate, however.
In June, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) wrote an op-ed in the conservative Independent Journal Review imploring people to "ignore the cable news bickering" because "this Congress is getting things done."
"The truth is, even while carrying out our oversight responsibilities, we've been delivering on our promises to the American people. We are passing important legislation. We are doing our job," Ryan wrote. "You just may not have heard about it."
The House has passed legislation to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs, unwind the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law, cut off federal funds to sanctuary cities and combat human trafficking. Congress has also sent bills to Trump's desk to eliminate 14 Obama-era regulations.
Ryan suggested that people may have missed that the House passed legislation to undo the Dodd-Frank law because it fell on the day of fired FBI Director James Comey's bombshell congressional testimony - which he referred to as only "a big Senate hearing."
"While the focus in Washington was on a big Senate hearing earlier this month, the House passed this legislation that reins in Obama's costly Dodd-Frank regulation," Ryan wrote.
In May, the House also approved legislation to fund the government through the fiscal year - preventing a government shutdown and showing that Republicans can keep Washington functioning, he argued.
And most importantly, he said, the House approved its version of ObamaCare repeal.
The Senate is struggling to move its own bill, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) late Saturday delaying a vote while Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) recovers from surgery. If they pass that bill, Trump could be on the verge of a major legislative win.
If they don't, congressional Republicans would be in real danger of hitting the 200-day mark of Trump's presidency next month without a single major legislative accomplishment.
"I don't care how many charts you have up there. We're not going to convince the American people that we're being productive until we actually have President Trump signing things into law that he campaigned on," said Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), underlining the importance of the healthcare push.
Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), another Freedom Caucus member, praised the work on measures that have passed the House. But he acknowledged that fulfilling the biggest campaign promises were the most important to prove Republicans can govern.
"We actually have cleared some underbrush, and we've done it with the VA reforms, we've done it with some of the regulatory reforms, we've done it even with the Dodd-Frank repeal," Biggs said. "But the real agenda is what the American people connect with. And what they're connecting with are costs of health insurance or ObamaCare repeal, the tax reform."
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who's served in the House for the last 14 years, said Republicans need to keep perspective in an institution where change is designed to move slowly. He thinks GOP leadership is right to highlight what the party has been able to accomplish.
"Most progress in government is incremental and cumulative," Cole said. "Every now and then, you gotta take credit for what you've done and not always make the perfect the enemy of the good."
Conservatives upped the pressure on GOP leaders to cancel the annual August recess after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced he'd keep senators in Washington for an extra two weeks. House GOP leaders, meanwhile, aren't inclined to keep the chamber in session next month unless the Senate has sent over its healthcare bill.
Demands that lawmakers cancel a recess have typically come from the minority party trying to embarrass the majority party leadership.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), for example, forced a roll call vote in 2012 on a resolution establishing that year's August recess. More than 100 Republicans caught off guard by the move were put on record in favor of leaving for the monthlong break.
And in 2008, after then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had adjourned the chamber for the August break, Republicans gave speeches on the House floor accusing Democrats of inaction on energy legislation to respond to rising gas prices.
But the most conservative members of the House GOP conference have made names for themselves by always pushing leadership to be more aggressive.
"I would challenge anyone to go to any of our districts and ask the question to either Sue or John on Main Street: Do you think that Congress is being productive?" Meadows asked.
"And if that comes back at higher than 30 percent - I mean, and that's really pushing it - I will make a public apology to all my colleagues for asking for us to stay in in August."
--This report was updated at 8:50 a.m.