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Road ahead: State of the Union, plus Cohen, Barr, Whitaker and Trump tax returns

Legislating will not be the focus of the week for the House or Senate

House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., has announced his panel will be hearing from Michael Cohen this week. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., has announced his panel will be hearing from Michael Cohen this week. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Normally, the State of the Union address would dominate this week’s headlines on Capitol Hill — but it just might be overshadowed by what’s scheduled to happen at the end of the week.

On Friday, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a public hearing with acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker and the Intelligence Committee will conduct a closed-door deposition of Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer.

Whitaker will likely face questions about any involvement he has had in overseeing the special counsel investigation, including his decision last week to announce that the probe was coming to a close.

Cohen will also get grilled about the special counsel inquiry but more about his role in and knowledge of interactions between the Trump campaign and Russia.

House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff announced the Cohen appearance last week.

“Mr. Cohen has relayed to the Committee his legitimate concerns for his own safety as well as that of his family, which have been fueled by improper comments made by the President and his lawyer,” the California Democrat said in a statement. “As I’ve previously stated with my colleagues, Chairmen Elijah Cummings and Jerrold Nadler, efforts to intimidate witnesses, scare their family members, or prevent them from testifying before Congress are tactics we expect from organized crime, not the White House.”

Flashback: Trump says he doesn’t know Matt Whitaker

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Those two big news events will follow the Senate Judiciary Committee’s move to advance Whitaker’s replacement.

The panel is set to meet Thursday to line up what could be the next priority for the Senate, with members expected to advance the president’s nomination of William Barr to be the next attorney general.

And a House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee hearing Thursday will look at proposals and procedures for obtaining presidential tax returns.

Other House hearings in which administration officials may not be present but their decisions will most certainly be questioned include a Wednesday hearing of Cummings’ Oversight and Reform Committee on strengthening ethics rules of the executive branch, part of House Democrats’ government overhaul bill — plus an Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing Thursday on the Department of Health and Human Services’ role in separating immigrant families trying to illegally cross the border.

The Senate, meanwhile, will continue to finish up business that was left over from the 115th Congress.

Debate continues on a package of Middle East policy bills, highlighted by a new round of sanctions against Syria, as well as authorizations of assistance for Jordan and Israel. The bill is finally working its way through the legislative process, after facing a Democrat-led blockade during the partial government shutdown.

But it hasn’t been a very robust debate on foreign policy, and amendments have been few and far between, with the exception of an amendment from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky expressing the sense of the Senate against a hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan and Syria.

Whenever the underlying bill gets passed, probably around the middle of the week, McConnell has lined up a vote to limit debate on proceeding to a big package of public lands management measures, including a reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Sen. Richard M. Burr is renewing his push for a permanent authorization of the fund.

“Without this program, every state in the country would lose out on valuable outdoor recreation projects, beautiful natural landscapes, and easy access to state and national parks,” the North Carolina Republican said in a statement. “It’s been four months since LWCF was allowed to expire despite its proven track record of success and overwhelming bipartisan support. It is long past time for Congress do the right thing by renewing America’s most successful conservation program.”

The House has an abbreviated floor schedule, with first votes not occurring until Wednesday after the State of the Union address.

The bills on the schedule all appear noncontroversial and likely won’t get much attention compared to the oversight work happening in House committees.

On the floor, the bulk of the legislative items scheduled are suspensions — typically noncontroversial measures that have broad bipartisan support because the suspension of the rules process requires two-thirds support for passage.

Often suspension measures are brought to the floor in thematic or jurisdictional groups. On Wednesday, the House will vote on five bills under the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s jurisdiction, and on Thursday, they will take up four Judiciary Committee measures.

The only bill the House will bring to the floor under a rule next week is a measure, sponsored by California Democrat Julia Brownley, to require the Veterans Affairs Department to provide child care assistance to veterans while they obtain health care services from the VA. The assistance can come in the form of an on-site child care facility or a stipend.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the day the Senate Judiciary Committee would vote on the Barr nomination. 

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