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Road ahead: Public impeachment hearings begin

Senate set to confirm new Homeland Security secretary

The first open impeachment hearings in over 20 years begin on Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
The first open impeachment hearings in over 20 years begin on Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The public phase of the House impeachment inquiry begins this week, with three witnesses set to air concerns Wednesday and Friday that President Donald Trump attempted to tie Ukrainian military aid to an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden, a potential Democratic rival in 2020.

Much of the attention on Capitol Hill will be focused on the House Intelligence Committee as it opens up to televised questioning and testimony an investigation that so far had been conducted in a secure closed-door facility in the basement of the Capitol.

On Wednesday, lawmakers are scheduled to hear from William Taylor, the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, and George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs. On Friday, they will hear from Marie Yovanovitch, the former American ambassador to Ukraine, who was abruptly removed this spring as a campaign to discredit her emerged.

[Taylor testimony: 5 key points expected to make a comeback at public hearings]

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All three witnesses have testified in the closed setting under subpoena, defying the White House’s instructions not to comply. Taylor’s closed-door testimony included detailed accounts of events around the temporary withholding of military aid to Ukraine and the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Kent testified that there was a “campaign of lies” against Yovanovitch, and all three raised concerns that Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was manipulating U.S. policy in Ukraine.

House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff and ranking Republican Devin Nunes or their designated staff will conduct multiple rounds of 90-minute questioning, split evenly between the majority and the minority. 

After they have concluded, committee members will get five minutes of questioning time each, with speakers alternating between the parties.

Last week, Republicans shuffled their Intelligence panel roster, adding Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, who has led the GOP defense of Trump in recent weeks.

[McCarthy temporarily puts Jordan on Intelligence Committee for impeachment hearings]

Export financing vote

The full House will vote this week on a bill that would reauthorize the Export-Import Bank for seven years. The measure, which advanced out of the Financial Services Committee on a party-line vote, would increase the bank’s lending authority to $175 billion from $135 billion, and rename it the United States Export Finance Agency. The authorization is set to expire Nov. 21. 

The House will also take up under suspension of the rules more than a dozen bills focused on benefits for veterans and veteran-owned small businesses with floor action scheduled to closely follow the Veterans Day holiday.

Budget talks continue

Also set to expire Nov. 21 is the continuing resolution that is currently funding the government.

Talks will continue this week, with a Tuesday meeting scheduled between Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby and House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey.

The two will be negotiating how to keep the government funded past the upcoming deadline and what a spending deal, likely another CR, would look like.

While the House is currently scheduled to begin its holiday recess on Dec. 13, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer told his fellow Democrats in a call last week that they should be prepared to stay on Capitol Hill an extra week.

That timeline suggests congressional leaders are aiming to wrap up a final spending deal by Dec. 20, giving lawmakers about 20 more days with both chambers in session to finish up the fiscal 2020 bills.

Homeland nominee up

The Senate’s first order of business for the week is confirming the president’s choice to lead the Department of Homeland Security.

But senators will not be confirming Chad Wolf as secretary. Rather, he has been nominated to be undersecretary for Strategy, Policy and Plans at DHS.

The White House has already announced the president plans to make Wolf the next acting secretary, meaning the Senate will effectively serve as an enabler for Trump’s stated preference for acting senior officials. Wolf’s previous roles include working as chief of staff to former Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

Ironically, the confirmation vote for Wolf will likely take place on Wednesday, which is the same day that administration officials, including acting Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli and acting Customs and Border Protection chief Mark Morgan, are scheduled to appear before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Neither is legally eligible to be acting secretary, and Cuccinelli is perhaps uniquely unpopular among many Senate Republicans for his past political work against them.

Questions on court pick

The other headline item on the Senate floor schedule is the potential confirmation of Steven J. Menashi to be a judge on the powerful New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Menashi has attracted considerably more scrutiny than many of the judicial nominees brought to the floor by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Menashi has not answered questions about the specifics of his work as a Trump administration lawyer, including work on immigration policy.

Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, delivering a weekly Democratic address, focused on Menashi’s nomination.

“He refused to tell the Senate what advice he’d given — like whether he’d backed [Trump adviser Stephen] Miller’s infamous policy separating little children from their families,” Whitehouse said, also listing other concerns with the nominee over gun policy and his work at the Department of Education.

The Homeland Security hearing is not the only big piece of Senate committee business for the truncated week.

Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette, the nominee to head the department, will face a confirmation hearing at the Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Thursday.

The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will be busy as well. As the Trump administration prepares to issue new rules regarding vaping, the panel will hold a Wednesday oversight hearing on the increased use of electronic cigarettes among young people.

Jim Saksa, David Lerman and Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

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