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Road Ahead: Michael Cohen returns amid disapproval, gun votes

Senate will also continue work on key presidential nominations, as House takes up gun legislation

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney, accuses the president of “illicit acts” in a copy of his prepared testimony obtained by Roll Call. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney, accuses the president of “illicit acts” in a copy of his prepared testimony obtained by Roll Call. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Three days of congressional testimony by President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney round out what could be a crazy week on Capitol Hill — even by recent standards.

Lawmakers in both the House and Senate will have their chance to grill Michael Cohen this week. The former Trump fixer is scheduled to talk to the Senate Intelligence panel Tuesday behind closed doors for a deposition-style interview, ahead of long-awaited public testimony Wednesday before the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

He will be back Thursday for another closed-door session, this time with the House Intelligence panel. And lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol hope he will be more truthful than he was the last time he spoke with lawmakers — before he pleaded guilty to lying to Congress.

Cohen, who has also pleaded guilty to tax fraud and campaign finance violations, postponed his public testimony in February, saying it was due to “ongoing threats against his family” from Trump and his attorney, Rudy Giuliani.

Fireworks are expected as House Oversight Democrats dig into Cohen’s time with Trump, including a scheme during the 2016 campaign to pay hush money to women claiming to have had affairs with the onetime reality TV star. He’ll face tough questions from Republicans on the panel, who say they plan to challenge Cohen’s past work and his credibility as a witness against the president.

Chairman Elijah E. Cummings has indicated that matters related to Russia, including a proposed Trump Tower project in Moscow, won’t be on the agenda. The committee, in consultation with the Justice Department and House Intelligence panel, excluded discussions of those matters that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation is focused on.

Flashback: Watch Trump blast former fixer Michael Cohen

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Meanwhile, Speaker Nancy Pelosi plans to bring a joint resolution to disapprove of Trump’s border security national emergency declaration to the House floor on Tuesday.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. Joaquin Castro, is on a fast track through the House, after being filed on Friday. The Democrat from Texas said he was hoping to get significant support from House Republicans, even though only Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan was an original co-sponsor.

“This isn’t a situation where we’ve just been courting one side,” said Castro. “My staff has been making calls furiously; I’m going to be making calls between now and then.”

Trump said Friday that he would “100 percent” veto the joint resolution.

Also teed up for floor action are two measures to enhance background checks for purchases of firearms, a Democratic priority near the top of the agenda since they took control of the House.

The first measure would expand required background checks to all firearm sales, aimed at covering sales at gun shows, online or in other private settings. The second would extend the time firearms dealers must wait for a response from the background check system before making a sale.

The House schedule also includes a big bipartisan package of public lands bills that has already passed the Senate. Clearing the bill without amendments would make it ready for Trump to sign into law.

On the other side of the Capitol, senators will start their week with a test vote that’s certain to fail, before getting back to the never-ending push to confirm presidential nominees for both the executive and judicial branches.

Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska is championing that first measure, which supporters argue is needed to protect the rights of newborns who are alive after an abortion attempt. Democrats have opposed the bill.

The nominations set for floor votes are headlined by that of Andrew Wheeler to become the Senate-confirmed administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

First up, though, will be a vote to cut off debate on Eric D. Miller, a nominee for a seat on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals whose nomination process was criticized by his home-state Democratic senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell of Washington.

With Republican senators on the Rules and Administration Committee having reported out a resolution before the President’s Day recess that would reduce to two hours the post-cloture debate time for most Trump nominees, a contentious floor battle could play out as early as this week.

That’s especially true if Senate Democrats object to yielding back time on Michael Desmond, the choice to be general counsel at the Internal Revenue Service, who is the second of Trump’s nominees in the lineup set by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Under the resolution led by Rules and Administration Chairman Roy Blunt of Missouri and Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, the Desmond nomination would have no more than two hours of debate after short-circuiting filibuster threats.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham said during a Friday interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt that Republicans were counting the votes for effectively setting up the new procedure with a simple majority.

“We need 50 votes. I’m ready to vote,” the South Carolina Republican said. “These people have given up their lives to serve the government, and that’s where the problem is. A lot of senior positions in the Trump administration are unfilled, because we cannot process the nominee, a bunch of ambassadorships, and that’s what’s pushing the rules change.”

But before the potential partisan feud over the rules for taking up nominations, Sen. Deb Fischer, a Nebraska Republican, will conduct the annual reading of Washington’s Farewell Address, with senators hearing the founding father’s warning about political parties and the lasting damage partisanship can inflict.

Griffin Connolly, John T. Bennett and Todd Ruger contributed to this report.

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