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National Govt & Politics
Congress nears a summer break with a lot left undone
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Congress nears a summer break with a lot left undone

Congress nears a summer break with a lot left undone

Congress nears a summer break with a lot left undone

As lawmakers in the House get ready to leave town at the end of this week for a six week summer break, there are all sorts of unfinished legislative issues bubbling around on Capitol Hill, but most of them seem unlikely to get any kind of final resolution before lawmakers go home for an extended recess.

"We're going to devote the whole month of August to our 'For The People agenda,'” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters last week, giving no hint she was ready to shorten the August Recess to deal with issues like the budget or debt limit.

On the other side of the coin, some GOP lawmakers were asking for exactly that.

"Congress should not adjourn for August," said freshmen Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), as GOP lawmakers have demanded action on legislation to end what Republicans argue are loopholes in U.S. immigration law, which they say make it more difficult to deal with the recent surge along the southern border.

Here is a look at what's next in the Congress:

1. A reminder of the legislative schedule. This is not like your work schedule, that's for sure. After this Friday, the House is gone until September 9. That's six work weeks away from Capitol Hill. The Senate will work this week and next week, and then take five weeks away from the Capitol. That means when lawmakers return on September 9, they will have 21 days to come to an agreement to avoid a government shutdown on October 1. As I always tell people about the Congress - you may not want them on the job in the first place - but if they're not having any legislative work days in Washington, D.C., they can't get any work done, period.

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Congress nears a summer break with a lot left undone

2. With no budget deal, government funding bills on hold. While the House has approved 9 of the 12 government spending bills for 2020, the Senate has yet to vote on even one of them, as there's no agreement yet between the White House and Congress how much Uncle Sam should spend in 2020. Talks have been underway involving Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and House Speaker Pelosi, but the magic formula on how much to increase spending next year has not been finalized. Yes - i said, 'on how much to increase spending next year.' There was a report this weekend that the President would seek budget cuts *after* the 2020 elections - but not before. If there's no agreement, it could mean as much as $126 billion in automatic budget cuts, with $71 billion coming from defense, and $55 billion from domestic spending. And yes, those would be 'real' cuts, not reductions in the level of planned increases.

3. In search of a deal on the debt ceiling as well. Along with the budget talks, the White House and Congress are negotiating a deal to raise the nation's debt limit, and avoid a situation where the U.S. defaults on its debts. With the White House now forecasting a deficit in 2019 of more than $1 billion, President Trump turned his fire on the previous administration about the deficit - even though those deficit numbers have increased since the Trump Administration took office. "President Obama, during his eight years, he created - he doubled the debt," Mr. Trump said to reporters in the Oval Office. But what the current President left out about his predecessor is that the yearly deficit has gone up every year since the Trump Administration took over - even with the economy expanding at a more rapid pace. If you look at the White House estimates, President Trump has a chance to end up adding more in deficits than President Obama.

4. House to vote on immigration, but not what Trump wants. On the schedule this week in the House is a bill titled, "Humanitarian Standards for Individuals in Customs and Border Protection Custody Act" - in other words, this is a bill to deal with questions about the care being given to thousands of illegal immigrants who have been taken into custody by the feds in recent months. The 18 page bill deals with medical screening of those detained by the feds, and sets official standards for care when it comes to water, sanitation, hygiene, food, nutrition, and shelter. Not on the floor this week in the House or Senate is a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security, or any GOP immigration bills. One reminder - while the Republicans and the President have talked a lot about immigration, they don't have an overall immigration plan which would get a majority in either the House or Senate, much like the Republican situation with the Obama health law.

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Congress nears a summer break with a lot left undone

5. Mueller and the Russia investigation take center stage. No one is quite sure what the Wednesday hearings involving former Special Counsel Robert Mueller is going to produce on Wednesday, as he testifies before both the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees. Mueller has made clear he's not going beyond the report that he produced earlier this year - but look for both Democrats and Republicans to try to drag a positive quote for their side out of him during the testimony. Behind the scenes, more and more Democrats are telling reporters that they are for the start of an official impeachment inquiry against the President - but Democratic leaders certainly don't seem to be planning for that. Democrats could use August to do nothing but hold hearings about the President - but instead lawmakers will leave town this Friday for six weeks.

6. Democrats pass big bills - which go nowhere in the Senate. The 2019 change in power in the House has given the Capitol a situation in which the House is approving dozens of bills backed by Democrats, which are then disappearing down a GOP black hole in the Senate. The latest example is the approval last week by the House of an increase in the minimum wage to $15 per hour. While 'Schoolhouse Rock' taught many of us that a bill gets acted on in the House, and then goes through the process in the Senate, that's not really how it works - as the Democrats have approved major legislation on election reforms, the future of illegal immigrant "Dreamers," pay equity, minimum wage, climate change, stiffer rules for gun background checks, and more - but none of those bills are expected to get votes in the GOP-led Senate. Democrats can rightly say they have acted on much of their legislative agenda so far - but it's just Dead on Arrival on the other side of the Capitol.  But as you can see from the next two tweets, the two sides portray what's going on much differently.

7. Maybe we get the "Work! Work! Work! Work!" chant. If the House does leave town on Friday for a six week break, it won't surprise me to see Republicans showcase their frustrations by demanding that the August break be cancelled, in order to have lawmakers stay and work out deals on a host of issues like immigration. Over the years, we've seen this from both parties, where the minority will start the chant of "Work! Work! Work! Work!" on the House floor. We had a scene in 2008 where Republicans went to the floor of the House - even though the microphones and lights were off - and kept assembling on the floor through the recess, to demonstrate a call for action to address high gas prices. The Democrats did the 'work' chant in 2012.  Could it be repeated on immigration in 2019? Stay tuned.

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  • The first substantive day of President Donald Trump's Senate impeachment trial turned into a late night, insult-filled battle between House prosecutors and the President's legal team, as Republicans voted down repeated efforts by Democrats to have the Senate subpoena witnesses and documents related to the Ukraine impeachment investigation. 'They will not permit the American people to hear from the witnesses,' Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) said, taking direct aim at the President's lawyers. 'And they lie. And lie and lie and lie.' That prompted an immediate response from White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, who demanded that Nadler apologize, accusing him of making repeated false allegations about President Trump. 'The only one who should be embarrassed, Mr. Nadler, is you,' Cipollone said. Just before 1 am, Chief Justice John Roberts warned both sides to tone it down, his first real foray into the impeachment trial. 'I think it is appropriate at this point for me to admonish both the House managers and the President's counsel, in equal terms, to remember that they are addressing the world's greatest deliberative body,' as the Chief Justice made clear the debate was not following along the lines of civil discourse. 'I do think those addressing the Senate should remember where they are,' Chief Justice Roberts added. Democrats kept the Senate working past midnight in a bid to put Republicans on the record on calling witnesses like former Trump National Security Adviser John Bolton, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and other top officials who defied subpoenas from the House. 'The House calls John Bolton. The House calls Mick Mulvaney,' Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) said at one point. 'Let's get this trial started, shall we?' But with Republicans sticking together, GOP Senators defeated a series of Democratic amendments to an impeachment rules resolution on identical votes of 53-47 - straight along party lines. Democrats said there was only one reason why Republicans were not looking to hear from new witnesses - because they don't want to hear the real Ukraine story. On the other side, Republicans joined the White House legal team in blasting the demands of Democrats. 'The only thing that’s rigged is Democrats’ perpetual effort to undo the results of the 2016 election,' said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). In the end, no Republicans broke ranks, as the GOP defeated 11 different amendments by Democrats to change the GOP rules plan, bringing about a final vote over 12 hours after the Senate convened.
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Washington Insider

  • The first substantive day of President Donald Trump's Senate impeachment trial turned into a late night, insult-filled battle between House prosecutors and the President's legal team, as Republicans voted down repeated efforts by Democrats to have the Senate subpoena witnesses and documents related to the Ukraine impeachment investigation. 'They will not permit the American people to hear from the witnesses,' Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) said, taking direct aim at the President's lawyers. 'And they lie. And lie and lie and lie.' That prompted an immediate response from White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, who demanded that Nadler apologize, accusing him of making repeated false allegations about President Trump. 'The only one who should be embarrassed, Mr. Nadler, is you,' Cipollone said. Just before 1 am, Chief Justice John Roberts warned both sides to tone it down, his first real foray into the impeachment trial. 'I think it is appropriate at this point for me to admonish both the House managers and the President's counsel, in equal terms, to remember that they are addressing the world's greatest deliberative body,' as the Chief Justice made clear the debate was not following along the lines of civil discourse. 'I do think those addressing the Senate should remember where they are,' Chief Justice Roberts added. Democrats kept the Senate working past midnight in a bid to put Republicans on the record on calling witnesses like former Trump National Security Adviser John Bolton, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and other top officials who defied subpoenas from the House. 'The House calls John Bolton. The House calls Mick Mulvaney,' Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) said at one point. 'Let's get this trial started, shall we?' But with Republicans sticking together, GOP Senators defeated a series of Democratic amendments to an impeachment rules resolution on identical votes of 53-47 - straight along party lines. Democrats said there was only one reason why Republicans were not looking to hear from new witnesses - because they don't want to hear the real Ukraine story. On the other side, Republicans joined the White House legal team in blasting the demands of Democrats. 'The only thing that’s rigged is Democrats’ perpetual effort to undo the results of the 2016 election,' said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). In the end, no Republicans broke ranks, as the GOP defeated 11 different amendments by Democrats to change the GOP rules plan, bringing about a final vote over 12 hours after the Senate convened.
  • Facing opposition from within Republican ranks, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell presented an amended rules proposal on Tuesday to govern the start of President Donald Trump's impeachment trial, most significantly giving more time for House prosecutors and the President's lawyers to make their opening arguments. The changes came after a lunch meeting of GOP Senators, where Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and others expressed reservations about the idea of forcing each side to cram 24 hours of opening arguments into just two days. 'She and others raised concerns about the 24 hrs of opening statements in 2 days,' a spokeswoman for Collins told reporters. Along with that change, McConnell backed off a provision which would not allow evidence from the House impeachment investigation to be put in the record without a vote of the Senate. The changes were made as House prosecutors and the President's legal team made their first extended statements of the Trump impeachment trial. 'Why should this trial be any different than any other trial? The short answer is, it shouldn't,' said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), as he made the case that the Senate rules would not pass muster in a regular courtroom. 'This idea that we should ignore what has taken place over the last three years is outrageous,' said Jay Sekulow, the President's personal attorney, who joined White House Counsel Pat Cipollone in arguing against the impeachment charges. 'It's very difficult to sit there and listen to Mr. Schiff tell the tale that he just told,' Cipollone said, in one of the first direct jabs of the impeachment trial. “A partisan impeachment is like stealing an election,” Cipollone added. While there were GOP differences on the rules package offered by Republican leaders, GOP Senators stuck together on the first substantive vote of the impeachment trial, defeating an effort by Democrats to subpoena certain materials from the White House. The first vote was 53-47 to block an amendment offered by the Democratic Leader, Sen. Schumer.  It was straight along party lines. A second vote along party lines blocked a call by Democrats to subpoena documents from the State Department. Opening arguments are expected to begin on Wednesday.
  • A GOP rules plan for the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump unveiled by Senate Republicans on Monday could pave the way for the trial to be finished in as little as two weeks, as the plan envisions squeezing 48 hours of opening arguments into just four days, with the option of voting on the impeachment articles without any additional witnesses or evidence. 'Just because the House proceedings were a circus that doesn’t mean the Senate’s trial needs to be,' said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who fully endorsed the proposal from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. While GOP Senators said the plan would be modeled on a bipartisan rules deal at the start of the Clinton impeachment trial, there were two notable differences from 21 years ago, governing opening arguments, and the submission of evidence. While each side would get 24 hours to make their opening arguments, this GOP plan would force that time to be used in just two days - raising the specter of an impeachment trial which could stretch well into the night because of those time constraints. Another change would require an affirmative vote by the Senate to simply put the investigatory materials from the House into the trial record, something which was done automatically in the Clinton impeachment trial. Also, even if extra witnesses were approved by Senators, it would not guarantee their testimony on the Senate floor, as there would have to be a vote after the depositions on whether the witness would testify publicly. With a Tuesday debate set on the rules, Republicans also made clear they would not support any move to add witnesses until after opening arguments have been completed. 'If attempts are made to vote on witnesses prior to opening arguments, I would oppose those efforts,' said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT). Meanwhile, Democrats roundly denounced the GOP rules details. 'The proposal that Majority Leader McConnell just released looks more like a cover up than a fair trial,' said Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE). 'Mitch McConnell doesn't want a fair trial, he wants a fast trial,' said Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI). 'It's all about the cover up,' said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT). 'These are not the Clinton rules.' 'There’s nothing in this resolution that requires hearing witnesses or admitting evidence — which is unlike any trial I’ve ever seen,' said Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN). 'Under this resolution, Senator McConnell is saying he doesn’t want to hear any of the existing evidence, and he doesn’t want to hear any new evidence,' said Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer, who promised to offer amendments to the plan on Tuesday afternoon. Debate and votes on the rules resolution will start on Tuesday afternoon - and could turn into an extended battle on the floor of the U.S. Senate.
  • In a 171 page submission made to the U.S. Senate on Monday, President Donald Trump's legal team said the impeachment charges submitted by the House do not identify any violations of criminal law and should immediately by dismissed by Senators. 'The articles should be rejected and the President should immediately be acquitted,' the legal brief states, arguing the charge of 'abuse of power' does not state an impeachable offense - even though that charge was drawn up by the House in 1974 against President Richard Nixon. 'House Democrats’ novel conception of “abuse of power” as a supposedly impeachable offense is constitutionally defective,' the Trump brief states. 'It supplants the Framers’ standard of “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” with a made-up theory that the President can be impeached and removed from office under an amorphous and undefined standard of 'abuse of power.'' On the question of whether President Trump held back military aid for Ukraine while pressing the Ukraine government to announce investigations related to Joe Biden and his son, the White House legal team says there is no evidence to support those claims. 'The most important piece of evidence demonstrating the President’s innocence is the transcript of the President’s July 25 telephone call with President Zelenskyy,' the trial brief states, referring to the call which President Trump has repeatedly said was 'perfect.' 'President Trump did not even mention the security assistance on the call, and he certainly did not make any connection between the assistance and any investigation,' the White House legal team states, without mentioning that a hold was put on the aid to Ukraine 90 minutes after that phone call concluded on July 25, 2019. From the White House on Monday, the President tweeted out his familiar opposition to the impeachment trial, continuing to characterize the House impeachment process as unfair. Minutes after the White House filed its trial brief, Democrats in the House responded to his initial 'answer' to the Senate trial summons. 'The House denies each and every allegation and defense in the Preamble to the Answer,' the nine page response began. 'He used Presidential powers to pressure a vulnerable foreign partner to interfere in our elections for his own benefit,' referring to the President's interactions with the leader of Ukraine.  'President Trump maintains that the Senate cannot remove him even if the House proves every claim in the Articles of impeachment,” the House reply added. “That is a chilling assertion. It is also dead wrong,' the House concluded.
  • In the first legal submissions of President Donald Trump's impeachment trial, Democrats on Saturday said the President had violated his oath and should be removed from office, while the White House denounced the impeachment charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress as 'constitutionally invalid.' In their 111 page legal brief, Democrats said the President had abused his power by trying to pressure the government of Ukraine into announcing investigations against Joe Biden, all in an effort to help Mr. Trump's 2020 re-election bid. Democrats said the very public effort by President Trump to block top White House officials from testifying before Congress - as they defied subpoenas for the impeachment investigation - was a violation of the Constitution. 'In exercising its responsibility to investigate and consider the impeachment of a President of the United States, the House is constitutionally entitled to the relevant information from the Executive Branch concerning the President's misconduct,' Democrats wrote. 'The Framers, the courts, and past Presidents have recognized that honoring Congress’s right to information in an impeachment investigation is a critical safeguard in our system of divided powers,' that trial brief added. In their initial answer to the Senate summons for this impeachment trial, the White House delivered a seven page legal rebuke to Democrats. 'The Articles of Impeachment are constitutionally invalid on their face. They fail to allege any crime of violation of law whatsoever,' wrote White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and the President's personal lawyer Jay Sekulow. 'In the end, this entire process is nothing more than a dangerous attack on the American people themselves and their fundamental right to vote,' the President's legal team concluded. 'The notion that President Trump obstructed Congress is absurd,' said sources close to the President's legal team. The White House has until 12 noon on Monday to file a trial brief to the Senate; Democrats would have until 12 noon on Tuesday to file a rebuttal. The Senate will reconvene as a court of impeachment on Tuesday afternoon. Senators must still approve rules to govern the first phase of the trial. Senate Republicans have said they would base that rules plan on one approved by the Senate for the start of the Clinton impeachment trial in 1999. That rules resolution gave each side 24 hours to make their opening arguments - which would likely be split up over three or more days on the Senate floor. Like 1999, it's possible the Senate may also take an early vote to dismiss the case entirely, an outcome preferred by President Trump.