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National Govt & Politics
What to look for while Congress is gone on a summer break
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What to look for while Congress is gone on a summer break

What to look for while Congress is gone on a summer break

What to look for while Congress is gone on a summer break

With the House and Senate now out of town until the week of September 9, there are still some things to watch for as lawmakers will be back home until after Labor Day, setting up a very busy September when it comes to the work needed to fund the operations of the federal government in 2020.

With agreement now between the President and Congress on the overall amount of discretionary spending in 2020 and 2021, that makes it much less likely that there will be a government shutdown when the fiscal year ends of September 30 - but there is still a lot of work today, and not much time because of how the Congressional schedule is set up.

Here are some things to look for in coming weeks:

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What to look for while Congress is gone on a summer break

1. Appropriations staffers will have a busy August on funding bills. There was no photo op, no remarks to reporters, no advance notice, as President Trump signed a two year agreement to set the spending caps for 2020 and 2021, as well as suspending the debt limit for two years. That doesn't end the budget work, as Congress will still have to fill in the details on a dozen bills to fund the operations of the federal government before a September 30 deadline. But it's not lawmakers who will be doing that grunt work - it means a lot of staff will be working while lawmakers are back home for a break that goes until the week after Labor Day. The last time Congress got all of that spending work done on time was in 1996.

2. No recess appointments for President Trump. After the President dropped his choice for Director of National Intelligence, a number of his supporters urged him to use the power to make recess appointments, in order to install his choice, without the involvement of the U.S. Senate. But that power is not available to Mr. Trump. While the House and Senate won't be taking any votes until the week of September 9, Congress is not adjourning, as the House and Senate will meet at least every three days (as required in the Constitution) - and that means there is no opportunity for President Trump to make any recess appointments. President Obama tried to do that, but lost 9-0 at the U.S. Supreme Court.

3. The impeachment numbers grow in the U.S. House. Since the testimony of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller, several dozen Democrats in the U.S. House have announced their support for an impeachment inquiry against President Trump. The numbers are now up to a majority of Democrats in the House, and have been growing almost daily. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi remains publicly against the idea, but has left the door open for such a move. Watch in coming weeks during this August break to see if more and more Democrats come out in favor of impeachment proceedings.

4. Keep an eye out for more retirements. Even before five GOP lawmakers in the House - over an eight day period - announced they would not run for re-election, there had been ample rumors that a number of Republicans would end their Congressional careers. As I write this, 13 House members have decided not to run against for their seat in 2020 - 10 are Republicans, three are Democrats. When you see that kind of tilt, that usually tells us the party with the higher numbers does not feel optimistic about winning back the majority, or they don't feel good about the current political situation in general for their party.

5. Who is holding town hall meetings during the break? Back in August of 2009 and 2010, all of the political momentum was with Republicans and the Tea Party - as Republicans soaked up the grass roots anger back home, and many Democrats stayed away from town hall meetings where they would get an earful about the Obama health law. Now, it's the opposite. You don't see that many Republicans doing town halls - while Democrats are the ones talking about their meetings with constituents.

6. Twitter may not be the best development for Congress. It shouldn't come as a surprise, but one of the disappointing uses for social media now in the Congress is that it allows lawmakers to personally attack each other - from long distance. In the old days, when lawmakers were on their August break, they were not interacting with each other. While Twitter and other platforms allow reporters to see what lawmakers are doing, it also lets Republicans and Democrats take swings at each other from hundreds of miles away. I'd have to say that doesn't bode well for the future. Here's one exchange this weekend which started when Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) was criticized by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who was then taken to task by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR).

It's safe to say, this is not my father's Congress.

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  • A judge has ruled that a three percent assessment levied on hotels of 110 rooms or larger in Tulsa violates state law, but the dispute between hoteliers who support the city's Tourism Improvement District and those who oppose it will likely continue. Tulsa County District Court Judge Linda Morrissey ruled last week that the city ordinance which created Tulsa's TID violated state law. She says the statute specifies TIDs must include all hotels of 50 rooms or larger. Attorney Kyden Creekpaum, who represents Tulsa Hotel Partners, LLC defended the ordinance in court, while the city largely sat mute. He argues that the intent of the statute specifies no such thing. [Hear Part One of the KRMG In Depth Report on the TID, with attorney Kyden Creekpaum] The actual law reads: “Without limiting or expanding the preceding sentence or any other provision of this act, such a district may be comprised of a designated geographical area within the municipality and limited to only those properties within such geographical area on which a hotel or motel having 50 or more rooms available for occupancy is located, if the sole purpose of the district is to provide marketing services for private or public events reasonably calculated to increase occupancy and room rates for such properties as a class.” Lee Levinson is one of the owners of the Aloft Hotel downtown, as well as an attorney who argued against the TID in court. [Hear Part Two of the KRMG In Depth Report on the TID, with attorney Lee Levinson] He tells KRMG that he welcomes the ruling, and accepts the finding of the court regarding the state statute. But the real issue for himself and those who sued the block the ordinance, he said, was transparency. Most of the seats on the board that would spend the TID money belonged to Visit Tulsa, the travel and tourism entity which is a branch of the Tulsa Metro Chamber of Commerce. “Had there been a TID where the hoteliers, including the Aloft, would have had control of the TID, where we had the voting control,  and we could decide where the money was spent, and had transparency - know where it was - that TID probably would have passed,” Levinson said. “They could have got support.” Creekpaum said the issue may well end up back in court. “Well, we're definitely pursuing all of our options, we're planning to continue this fight,” he said. “I mean, it's not over here.”
  • Seventeen more people in central China have been diagnosed with a new form of viral pneumonia that has killed two patients and placed other countries on alert as millions of Chinese travel for Lunar New Year holidays. In total, 62 cases of the novel coronavirus have been identified in the city of Wuhan, where the virus appears to have originated. The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission reported the new cases in a statement Sunday.  Nineteen of those individuals have been discharged from the hospital, while two men in their 60s — one with severe preexisting conditions — have died from the illness. Eight are in critical condition. At least a half-dozen countries in Asia and three U.S. airports have started screening incoming airline passengers from central China. The list includes Thailand and Japan, which have together reported three cases of the disease in people who had come from Wuhan. In the most recently diagnosed group, ages ranged between 30 and 79, Wuhan’s health commission said. Their initial symptoms were fever and cough. The health commission’s statement did not say whether these patients had visited the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, which has been suspended after many infected individuals reported having either worked at or visited the venue.
  • 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.
  • Police in Oklahoma City say that for the second time in a month there was gunfire inside a northwest Oklahoma City mall.  Police said there were no serious injuries, although one person suffered a minor shrapnel wound when gunfire erupted just before 8 p.m. Saturday near the theater inside Penn Square Mall, police said. Police Lt. Michelle Henderson said two off-duty officers working security in the mall chased the male suspect out of the mall and the man escaped. No arrests had been announced Sunday morning. A Dec. 19 shooting near a shoe store in the mall left one man wounded and another man in custody on an assault and battery charge.
  • 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.

Washington Insider

  • 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.
  • With opening arguments in the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump expected to begin in coming days, the White House on Friday unveiled a team of legal experts including former Whitewater prosecutor Ken Starr, and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz to defend the President on Capitol Hill. 'President Trump has done nothing wrong and is confident that this team will defend him, the voters, and our democracy from this baseless, illegitimate impeachment,' White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a written statement. 'The President looks forward to the end of this partisan and unconstitutional impeachment,' Grisham added. The Trump legal team members will join White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and the President's personal lawyer Jay Sekulow in defending Mr. Trump. Here is the list provided by the White House: + Ken Starr, Former Independent Counsel, Whitewater investigation + Alan Dershowitz, Professor of Law, Emeritus, Harvard Law School + Pam Bondi, Former Attorney General of Florida + Jane Serene Raskin, Private Counsel to President Donald J. Trump + Eric D. Herschmann, Kasowitz, Benson, Torres LLP + Robert Ray, Former Independent Counsel. While Dershowitz is a famous legal mind, Starr is the more political figure, given that his Whitewater investigation launched the impeachment of President Bill Clinton in 1999. And his appearance immediately drew the evil eye from allies of the former President. Democrats mocked the choices. 'If President Trump is looking to turn the impeachment trial into a reality TV show, he chose the right team with Alan Dershowitz, Ken Starr, and Robert Ray,' said Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA). But this is the U.S. Senate, not the People's Court.  'Well, that's their choice,' Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said of Starr during a Friday interview on MSNBC. 'But it's a weird choice.' The choice of Starr also drew a profane response from Monica Lewinsky, who was the focus of Starr's investigation. The Senate impeachment trial resumes on Tuesday with votes expected on the rules to govern the initial phase of the Trump impeachment trial.
  • President Donald Trump said Thursday that he did not know Lev Parnas, an indicted business associate of Rudy Giuliani who claims the President knew all about Giuliani's efforts to oust the U.S. Ambassador in Ukraine, as well as behind the scenes work to get Ukraine to announce investigations related to Joe Biden, in order to help Mr. Trump's 2020 re-election bid. 'I don't know him. I don't know Parnas,' the President said a number of times to reporters at the White House. 'I don't know him at all. Don't know what he's about,' Mr. Trump added. But in interviews with MSNBC, CNN, and the New York Times, Parnas has said the President is not telling the truth about his efforts to put pressure on the leader of Ukraine. Documents and electronic messages provided by Parnas to the House Intelligence Committee in recent days included a letter that Rudy Giuliani wrote in May 2019, asking for a meeting with the newly-elected Ukraine President, in which Giuliani said he was 'private counsel to President Donald J. Trump.' 'I don't know anything about the letter,' President Trump said, praising Giuliani's time as mayor but not addressing what he did for Trump in Ukraine with Parnas and others. Also denying any knowledge of Parnas's claims was Vice President Mike Pence. 'I don’t know the guy,' Pence told reporters during a visit to Florida on Thursday, as the Vice President said the claim by Parnas that Pence knew about pressure being put on the Ukraine leader was 'completely false.' Democrats used those denials to question why Pence's office has refused to declassify further impeachment answers from a State Department official detailed to his office. Some Democrats have raised the possibility of asking to hear testimony from Parnas in the Trump impeachment trial, though any request for witness testimony must get a majority of Senators. As of now, most Republicans remain hotly opposed to any new witnesses, arguing the Senate should not have to find evidence which the House did not uncover. 'That's not our job,' said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA). 'Our job is to look at what they brought us and decide if that rises to the level of impeachment.' Perdue was part of the ceremonial first day of the Senate impeachment trial - just the third time a President has faced such a challenge in U.S. history. Opening arguments will take place next Tuesday.
  • Just before the official start of the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, the Government Accountability Office said Thursday that the White House had broken federal law by withholding over $200 million in military aid for Ukraine, as Democrats said the new findings should be aired before the Senate in coming days. 'Faithful executive of the law does not permit the President to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law,' wrote Thomas Armstrong, the General Counsel of the GAO. Democrats immediately latched on to the government watchdog opinion to reinforce their impeachment arguments. 'This is an important ruling that deserves a thorough hearing in the impeachment trial,' said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) on the floor of the Senate. 'GAO confirmed the President broke the law,' said Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer. 'When President Trump froze congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine, he did so in violation of the law and the Constitution,' said Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT). 'The GAO has confirmed what we’ve always known: President Trump abused his power,' said Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME). 'Another fact for the Senate to consider.' 'The hold Trump ordered was illegal,' said Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA). The law in question is known as the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974,' which was passed after President Nixon had refused to release money approved by Congress.