Road ahead: Impeachment to lead headlines, even with House away
Senate returns Tuesday to continue confirming judges
The House is not in session this week, and yet there might still be more attention on that side of the Capitol, with House committees led by the Intelligence panel continuing work on the impeachment inquiry.
The committees are seeking testimony from three officials Monday, but it is not yet clear who, if any, will appear for their scheduled closed-door depositions.
White House lawyer John Eisenberg has been called to testify about his knowledge of President Donald Trump’s call with Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman has already testified that he went to Eisenberg to voice his concerns after the call and that Eisenberg took notes on their conversation and proposed moving the rough transcript of the call to a classified server and restricting access to it.
House investigators are also hoping to hear from Mike Ellis, who works for Eisenberg and serves as deputy legal adviser to the National Security Council.
Lawmakers have called for Robert Blair, an assistant to the president and senior adviser to acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, to testify. Blair was on the line during Trump’s July call with Zelenskiy and previously served as associate director for national security programs in the Office of Management and Budget. But Blair’s lawyer told CNN on Saturday that his client would not be testifying before House investigators.
Brian McCormack is scheduled to testify, although no one else currently working for the OMB has complied with the House committees’ requests for testimony.
McCormack currently serves as associate director for natural resources, energy and science at the OMB but previously was chief of staff to outgoing Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
The committees are seeking testimony later this week from Michael Duffey, OMB associate director for national security programs. He could face questions about his knowledge of or his role in approving orders to hold back nearly $400 million in congressionally approved military aid for Ukraine. The committees also hope to hear from Wells Griffith, an NSC official focused on energy policy. Both Duffey and Griffith are scheduled to appear Tuesday, but it is unlikely they will testify.
The House panels have also scheduled depositions Wednesday with acting OMB Director Russell Vought, Perry and two State Department officials — counselor T. Ulrich Brechbuhl and David Hale, the undersecretary for political affairs.
Some of the witnesses, like Vought and Perry, are unlikely to appear after already refusing to comply with subpoenas for documents.
House members not intimately involved in the depositions and data collection related to the potential Trump impeachment will be back in their home districts, or at least outside the nation’s capital.
Senators, on the other hand, will be back at work Tuesday for a truncated week in which Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will continue the drumbeat of confirming the president’s judicial nominations.
Trump himself will be at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky, on Monday evening for an election eve rally with Gov. Matt Bevin and other Bluegrass State Republicans.
Senate voting for the week will begin late Tuesday with McConnell having filed cloture motions to cut off debate on a handful of federal judicial picks, including two nominees to be circuit judges.
There’s also a full hearing schedule for the week, with FBI Director Christopher Wray and outgoing acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan at the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Tuesday, along with Russell Travers, the acting head of the National Counterterrorism Center.
Late on Friday, the president indicated to reporters that Chad Wolf, a senior Homeland Security official, would replace McAleenan as acting secretary, but the White House later clarified that Wolf is not taking over until after Veterans Day.
Outside the Homeland Security panel, the Senate Judiciary Committee has two of the most notable sessions on the agenda.
The Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee, led by Missouri Republican freshman Josh Hawley, has scheduled a hearing that is likely to be critical of the data security practices of large technology companies. The hearing, set for Tuesday afternoon, is described as “How Corporations and Big Tech Leave Our Data Exposed to Criminals, China, and Other Bad Actors.”
The full committee is set to meet Wednesday for a hearing on reauthorizing provisions of the USA Freedom Act, the 2015 overhaul of surveillance programs. Provisions including roving wiretap authority are set to sunset the middle of next month under existing law, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has been pushing for a permanent reauthorization.
Given that impeachment proceedings and government funding appear set to consume most of the oxygen on Capitol Hill, the intelligence measures are likely to seek a ride on the government funding package that is needed to avert a shutdown before Thanksgiving.
Elsewhere on Wednesday, the Senate Budget Committee will mark up a bill in the latest effort to overhaul the federal budget process. This time, Chairman Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming and Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse are spearheading the legislation. It includes a provision that would switch to a two-year budget cycle.
Camila DeChalus and Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.