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McCain Returns, Will Likely Lead Defense Policy Debate

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., returns to the Capitol and will be involved in the defense authorization debate. (Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., returns to the Capitol and will be involved in the defense authorization debate. (Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., recently diagnosed with brain cancer, made the surprise announcement Monday he would return to the Capitol for a procedural vote today on health care legislation, as well as anticipated debate on the chamber’s Pentagon policy bill and sanctions legislation.

Over in the House, lawmakers are preparing to take up a so-called security minibus, which includes the Defense appropriations bill. And that chamber is expected to take up a Russia, Iran and North Korea sanctions bills today.

McCain’s presence could prove critical not only for the vote on the health care legislation, but also for lining up debate on the annual Pentagon policy bill, which McCain will helm.

Meanwhile, when the House debates a security appropriations bill this week, it could enter a political minefield.

House members have filed scores of amendments to the measure (HR3219) with the House Rules Committee.

These include many aimed at highlighting what critics say are President Donald Trump’s conflicts of interest. The amendments also touch on hot-button topics such as immigration and transgender rights. Some amendments, if enacted, could roil relations with other nations.

Many of these charged proposals will not be made in order for the floor debate. The Rules Committee declined to allow some of them to be debated when the House took up its defense authorization bill (HR 2810) earlier this month. The same verdict may be reached this week. Other amendments were defeated in floor votes during the authorization debate.

The committee is expected to decide Tuesday which amendments to permit. House floor votes on the first of these amendments probably will begin Wednesday.

The House is also slated Tuesday to pass a sanctions bill that will represent a significant rebuke by Republican lawmakers of the president’s efforts to improve relations with Russia and his continued insistence that President Vladimir Putin had nothing to do with his surprise election victory.

House and Senate negotiators announced over the weekend they had reached agreement on several changes to Senate-passed legislation (S 722) that resulted in a new bill introduced in the House containing sanctions targeting Russia, Iran and North Korea.

In House floor action on Monday, Democrats united to block the chamber’s annual intelligence policy measure amid protests that leaders sought to circumvent the amendment process. The measure (HR 3180) came up on the suspension calendar, requiring a two-thirds majority to pass. The vote was 241-163.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had urged her colleagues to vote against the noncontroversial legislation to force Republicans to bring the bill up for a vote under regular order, which would allow for debate and at least some amendments.

After the vote, House Rules Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, said he expects the intelligence bill and an extension of the Veterans Affairs Choice program (S114) to go before his panel this week.

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