FACT CHECK: Has Joe Donnelly Never Had A Single Bill Passed Into Law?

Emily Larsen | Fact Check Reporter

President Donald Trump said at his Indiana campaign rally Thursday that Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly has “never sponsored a bill that has become a law.”

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) also said in a statement Thursday that he has “never had a single bill passed into law” and has “no accomplishments.”

Verdict: False

Although Donnelly has been rated one of the least effective Democrats in the Senate, he has had a number of legislative accomplishments during his time in Congress.

Fact Check:

Trump criticized Donnelly with the NRSC’s talking points and showed support for his Republican challenger, Mike Braun, at the rally.

Looking at only the Congress.gov archive of legislative actions shows that Donnelly has not technically been the primary sponsor of a bill that was passed in both houses and then signed by the president. That count, however, ignores several Donnelly-sponsored measures.

Lawmakers often submit near-identical companion bills, one introduced in the House and one in the Senate, so that the two chambers can consider the measure at the same time. Donnelly’s Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act passed the Senate, but its companion in the House sponsored by Indiana Rep. Susan Brooks was the one that ultimately got approved by both chambers and signed into law.

By GovTrack‘s count, that bill means that Donnelly has been the primary sponsor of one bill that was enacted. GovTrack counts a bill as enacted if its companion becomes law or if around half of its provisions become law in other legislation. Many law enforcement officials also gave Donnelly credit for the bill.

Donnelly, widely considered one of the most vulnerable incumbent Democratic senators in the 2018 midterm elections, was in the House of Representatives from 2007 to 2012 and has served in the Senate since 2013. He has sponsored 77 bills during his time in Congress.

Trump noted that the Center for Effective Lawmaking named Donnelly as “the least effective Democrat lawmaker in the United States Senate,” and he dubbed him “Sleeping Joe.” In the 114th Congress from 2015 to 2016, Donnelly had the lowest effectiveness score of all 44 Democrats in the Senate.

The center, run by professors from the University of Virginia and Vanderbilt University, calculates the effectiveness of lawmakers compared to their peers in each two-year term of Congress by measuring how far their bills get in the legislative process (for example, whether a measure made it through committee or received a floor vote).

Donnelly also had a low effectiveness score in the 113th Congress, but the center found that he was moderately effective at pushing his legislation compared to his peers as a member of the House of Representatives from 2007 to 2012.

The Donnelly campaign disputes the notion that he has not been an effective lawmaker. His Senate office says that 35 of Donnelly’s provisions have become law since he joined the Senate in 2013.

“Anyone who tries to claim that Joe is ineffective should talk to Indiana’s service members and military families about the Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act or with families affected by opioid abuse about the provisions he offered that were included in last year’s Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act,” Peter Hanscom, Donnelly’s campaign manager, said in a statement in October.

Major provisions from Donnelly’s Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act, which requires annual mental health assessments for all service members, were signed into law as a part of the fiscal year (FY) 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Donnelly also introduced three other bills to address mental health for service members and veterans, and measures from one those bills became law in the FY 2016 NDAA.

Donnelly also sponsored an amendment that became law in 2016 as part of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. That provision further defined what type of state and local government activities intended to combat addiction could be eligible for grant money, and Donnelly said that it enabled an Indianapolis-based program to receive a $376,274 federal grant.

In December, a Donnelly-sponsored amendment requiring the Trump administration to bring Congress a strategy to address the North Korea threat became law as a part of the FY 2018 NDAA.

Donnelly, considered one of the most conservative Democrats in the Senate, highlights his achievements in areas like opioid abuse and veteran’s issues. He helped write legislation that permanently designated March 29 as National Vietnam War Veterans Day. Because Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey was listed as the primary sponsor on that bill, the NRSC doesn’t count it toward Donnelly’s accomplishments.

Members of Congress also cosponsor bills to show their support, but the primary sponsor is traditionally the chief advocate for the legislation. Bills often have dozens or hundreds of cosponsors before they become law. Donnelly has cosponsored 749 bills.

Josh Tauberer, creator of GovTrack, pointed out that several other lawmakers have not sponsored any bills that were signed into law – Republican Sen. Rand Paul, for instance. Vice President Mike Pence also did not sponsor any bills that became law while he served in Congress.

“Counting laws is rarely a good measurement of anything,” he told The Daily Caller News Foundation in an email. “And there are other important activities that Members of Congress do – few enacted laws doesn’t mean they weren’t being effective in other ways.”

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Emily Larsen

Fact Check Reporter