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Road ahead: Plenty of legislating to be done around Trump impeachment chatter

Disaster relief bill and defense authorization among upcoming priorities

House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., left, blasted House Republicans who objected to the disaster supplemental during the break. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., left, blasted House Republicans who objected to the disaster supplemental during the break. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The increasing talk of the House launching impeachment proceedings is not yet crippling the legislative agenda that does exist, but that could change if President Donald Trump refuses to negotiate.

As lawmakers return to Capitol Hill this week, the first order of business will be for the House to finish the long-stalled emergency spending package for disaster relief. The Senate passed the compromise bill May 16, but the floor votes came after House members had already left town for the Memorial Day break.

What ensued was a series of unanimous consent requests by House Democrats during the pro forma sessions over recess, with GOP lawmakers, starting with Texas Rep. Chip Roy, making the trip to the Capitol to object.

“We were sent to Congress to solve problems, not to make them worse. Yet House Republicans have again delayed desperately needed relief for American families and communities — even as tornadoes and storms continue to hit the Midwest,” House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey of New York said after the third objection, from Tennessee Rep. John W. Rose. “It is beyond comprehension that anyone would think 15 minutes of fame is worth making disaster victims, like those in flood-battered Tennessee, wait even longer for the help they need.”

The measure passed the Senate, 85-8, and it is expected to have enough support in the House to clear under suspension of the rules, an expedited process that requires a two-thirds vote for passage.

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Action possible on spending

Beyond the disaster aid, a substantial amount of legislating could happen before the next recess, set for the week of the Fourth of July. Whether it produces bills that can be signed, however, is unknown.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer’s office said Thursday that fiscal 2020 spending bills will see floor action as early as the week of June 12.

The House Appropriations panel has scheduled full committee markups Tuesday for two spending bills — funding Transportation, Housing and Urban Development; and Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. Subcommittees will also meet to draft other fiscal 2020 spending legislation.

For those measures to mean much, however, it would require an agreement with the White House on fiscal 2020 spending levels. House Democrats are operating under the assumption they will not have to abide by a 2011 law that, left unaltered, would trigger mandatory cuts rather than the spending increases lawmakers seek.

Whether or not Trump is willing to negotiate while House Democrats are increasingly talking about the impeachment process remains to be seen.

That has been all the more true in the aftermath of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s public statement last week, in which he said bringing charges against Trump was not an option for his investigation.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler said May 31 on WNYC that he planned to call Mueller to testify, even though the former special counsel said the report he delivered to the Justice Department speaks for itself.

Nadler said it was “very important that he, to a television audience and the American people, state it, that he answer questions about it, even if there’s no new information.”

Senate plans defense bill action

The Republican-led Senate, meanwhile, is planning to bring the annual defense authorization to the floor this month, and the chamber’s appropriators are eager to start work on their own fiscal 2020 bills, which also would need relief from the mandatory cuts in current law.

Before the recess, Trump abruptly left a meeting with congressional Democratic leadership on infrastructure, walked to the Rose Garden and said that the House could not conduct investigations and pass legislation at the same time.

“We’re going to go down one track at a time,” the president said May 22.

But Speaker Nancy Pelosi indicated last week in San Francisco she thought Trump could change his mind.

“I still feel optimistic about 80 percent of the time that I’ve had a conversation in person or by phone with the president, he has mentioned he wants to do infrastructure and I think he still does,” she said. “Does he want to do it enough to not be in a huff over my saying that he’s involved in a cover-up? Well, we’ll see.”

Tariffs rile Republicans

The Trump administration’s announcement Thursday of planned tariffs on Mexico is not likely to help matters, either. Even members of his own party were riled by it.

“The president’s use of tax hikes on Americans as a tool to affect change in Mexican policy is misguided. It is past time for Congress to step up and reassert its Constitutional responsibility on tariffs,” Pennsylvania GOP Sen. Patrick J. Toomey said in a statement Friday after the administration announced the planned 5-percent tariff on Mexican imports. The tariffs are meant to protest Mexico allowing Central American migrants to pass through the country to the United States.

“Trade policy and border security are separate issues. This is a misuse of presidential tariff authority and counter to congressional intent,” Senate Finance Chairman Charles E. Grassley said in a statement Thursday night.

The Trump administration wants to see congressional action before the August recess on the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, that would replace the North American Free Trade Agreement. Grassley said the tariffs on Mexico would complicate passage.

Pelosi said the timing of the U.S. trade representative transmitting a draft Statement of Administrative Action — a procedural attempt to force action on the USMCA — was a move in the wrong direction.

The move “indicates a lack of knowledge on the part of the Administration on the policy and process to pass a trade agreement,” the California Democrat said in a statement.

In the more immediate term, the House plans to vote this week on an immigration package that includes the newest version of the DREAM Act. The legislation would grant conditional permanent residence and a path to citizenship for an array of immigrants, including those for whom the Trump administration has removed prior protections from deportation.

The bill would provide legal status for past recipients of Temporary Protected Status and the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

The first Senate action of the week will be a procedural vote on a budget blueprint introduced by Sen. Rand Paul, in what has become an annual exercise for the Kentucky Republican to get his colleagues on the record on debt and deficit issues.

As in the past, he is not expected to come close to getting the votes needed to advance his measure.

After that, it will be back to nominations, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell having set up eight cloture votes during what should be a truncated week ahead of observances of the 75th anniversary of D-Day. 

The Senate will lead off with the confirmation process for Andrew M. Saul to be commissioner of Social Security, with a series of executive branch nominees to follow, before it turns to three judicial nominations including Rossie D. Alston Jr. to be a federal judge in the Eastern District of Virginia.

Todd Ruger contributed to this report.

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