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Road Ahead: Turkey sanctions unite chambers; impeachment ramps up with Congress’ return

After a two-week recess, lawmakers return to a full plate

Speaker Nancy Pelosi is trying to balance work on the impeachment inquiry with other priorities. Above, Pelosi with fellow California Democrat Adam B. Schiff, the House Intelligence chairman, on Oct. 2. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Speaker Nancy Pelosi is trying to balance work on the impeachment inquiry with other priorities. Above, Pelosi with fellow California Democrat Adam B. Schiff, the House Intelligence chairman, on Oct. 2. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

Congress is returning from its two-week recess and although both chambers were expected to take up bipartisan proposals against President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria, a Monday night executive order may change the calculation.

Opposition to the president’s move had united lawmakers despite the ongoing impeachment inquiry that has ratcheted up partisan divisions. Key congressional Republicans have slammed Trump’s decision to remove U.S. forces from northern Syria, where the troops have been a shield for U.S.-allied Kurds in the fight against the Islamic State terrorist group. But the announcement Monday night of an executive order slapping new sanctions on Turkey over its military operations against Kurdish forces in Syria has the support of South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham.

Trump said in a statement released via Twitter that he is also ordering steel tariffs on Ankara returned to 50 percent and suspending trade talks. The president’s move may preempt congressional action.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke with Graham earlier Monday about efforts to reverse the president’s decision to essentially abandon Kurdish allies. But Graham changed course on cooperating with Pelosi after meeting with Trump at the White House.

“The president’s team has a plan and I intend to support them as strongly as possible, and to give them reasonable time and space to achieve our mutual goals,” he said in a statement Monday evening.

But Pelosi was unsatisfied with the executive order and committed to bring a bipartisan resolution to the House floor to reject the president’s decision.

“President Trump has unleashed an escalation of chaos and insecurity in Syria. His announcement of a package of sanctions against Turkey falls very short of reversing that humanitarian disaster,” the California Democrat said in a statement following the executive order.

While Graham is willing to give the president time to take further action on the situation, others in the Senate may not be so patient. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday he was “gravely concerned” by events in Syria and Trump’s response so far.

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Meanwhile, impeachment

The House’s impeachment inquiry did not slow during the recess. The House Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees heard testimonies and issued subpoenas, and there are no signs the investigation is letting up.

Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff told House lawmakers in a “Dear Colleague” letter late last week that despite White House efforts to keep witnesses from testifying, the panels are pressing on.

Testimony is expected from State Department Counselor T. Ulrich Brechbuhl and Ambassador Gordon Sondland, who was blocked last week from meeting with lawmakers at the direction of the State Department.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent, who is still a State Department employee, is scheduled to appear Tuesday under subpoena before House impeachment investigators.

Michael McKinley, former adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, is scheduled to appear for a transcribed interview on Wednesday, according to congressional sources.

“In the upcoming work period, we will continue and accelerate our efforts,” Schiff wrote, including additional testimony and witnesses and the possibility of more subpoenas.

House floor

The House will vote this week on a bill, sponsored by Iowa Democratic freshman Cindy Axne to require public companies to disclose annually the total number of workers employed in each state and foreign country, as well as the percentage change from the previous year.

The measure is meant to make it harder for public companies to outsource jobs without facing public blowback. Republicans complained at the committee level that the bill would be a disincentive to companies from going public and add reporting compliance costs on those that already had.

The House will also vote this week on a financial services bill that would require the Securities and Exchange Commission to test its rules on disclosures by brokers to retail investors.

Senate action

The Senate returns Tuesday to a familiar place: a long list of nominations, consideration and a cloture vote on the nomination of Barbara McConnell Barrett to be Air Force secretary.

But there may also be some excitement, albeit procedural, on the horizon. Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said last week that Senate Democrats plan to force floor votes on climate change policy, along with other issues that they say Republicans, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, are ignoring.

[Schumer says Democrats will force votes on climate policy]

“For months, Senator McConnell and Senate Republicans have shunned vital proposals to improve Americans’ lives, including those to address the climate crisis and gun violence epidemic, save protections for people with pre-existing conditions, secure our elections, get big special interest money out of politics and more,” Schumer said in a statement.

The caucus will trigger votes under the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to overturn a regulation or federal rule within 60 days of it being finalized. Under the CRA, only 30 senators need to demand a vote on a regulation to get on the Senate calendar. Both parties have used the law to chip away at regulations drafted by administrations of rival political parties.

Schumer’s office on Monday said that Democrats could force a vote challenging an EPA emissions rule that weakened an Obama-era policy to address utility emissions as early as Wednesday or Thursday.

Benjamin J. Hulac, John T. Bennett and Jim Saksa contributed to this report.Correction 8:40 a.m. | An earlier version of this story reported the wrong date for McKinley’s testimony.

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