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Editor’s Note: What passes for normal in Congress

Basic housekeeping measures and a trial that can’t seem to get underway

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, left, and Speaker Mike Johnson pose for a photo before Kishida addressed a joint meeting of Congress on Thursday.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, left, and Speaker Mike Johnson pose for a photo before Kishida addressed a joint meeting of Congress on Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Fresh off a two-week recess, Congress returned to the Capitol the week of April 8 without the imminent threat of spending deadlines, free to conduct legislative business without the specter of a government shutdown looming, at least immediately. How the chambers spent their time speaks to the minimalist approach the legislative branch has slouched into.

At least Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s joint address to Congress on Thursday went off without a hitch.

Senators, confining their floor activity largely to confirming President Joe Biden’s judicial and executive nominees, braced for the House impeachment managers delivering articles of impeachment against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., over the break said those would be delivered on Wednesday, April 10, and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said senators would be sworn in as jurors the following day.

Several Senate Republicans have advocated a full trial and expressed concern that Schumer will move to quickly dismiss the charges. On Tuesday, they prevailed upon Johnson to delay sending the impeachment articles, out of concern the whole affair would be dispensed with by the end of the week.

“I’m very grateful to Speaker Johnson for his bold willingness to delay this,” Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, told reporters. “We don’t want this to come over on the eve of the moment when members might be operating under the influence of jet fume intoxication.” That reference to jet fumes is regarding senators’ truly sacrosanct schedule of leaving town as early as possible on Thursdays. Lee’s jab refers to both sides of the aisle.

And now he and his colleagues will get a fresh week of the spectacle of the trial, which just so happens to concern issues that Republicans regard as a political winner for them: criticism of the administration’s border and immigration policies.

The impeachment ceremonies would then start as jury selection begins in a Manhattan courtroom in the trial of former President Donald Trump on charges he illegally sought to bury stories about extramarital affairs in order to benefit his 2016 presidential campaign — the first criminal trial of a former president ever.

Meanwhile, in the House, members continued to take stock of the mounting vacancies (four currently, with another on the way on April 19, when Wisconsin Republican Mike Gallagher bids adieu) and committee assignments and the housekeeping that typically takes place in the first month of a Congress, not its 16th.

Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, who is retiring at the end of her term, resigned as chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee after Congress wrapped up its most recent fiscal 2024 spending package, opting not to retain the gavel through the end of the 118th Congress. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., the widely respected Rules Committee chair and institutionalist, was quickly installed by the GOP Steering Committee and the conference and promptly commenced the reordering of subcommittee gavels and staffing and so forth.

He also just as quickly set expectations for the new normal of appropriations debate getting extended and extended and extended, as our own Aidan Quigley reported: “Cole also predicted that Congress will end up passing a stopgap spending measure at the end of this fiscal year in September that will continue current spending levels until after the November elections, at which time the party that wins the elections will decide how to proceed.” No one can blame Granger for not wanting to go into extra innings again.

Then the House turned to a familiar pattern on Wednesday, falling short on a vote to set rules for debate on important legislation, this time to reauthorize expiring sections of a key intelligence-gathering tool under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. That vote came on the heels of Trump urging the House to torpedo FISA altogether. Johnson and his leadership team had been whipping support for the FISA extension, but Trump has his own way of exercising sway over the GOP conference, this time on his recently gone-public social media platform, Truth Social.

The chamber returned to the issue on Friday, one week before the Section 702 provisions expire, and voted to pass it, although some last-minute floor shenanigans threatened to gum up the works before it gets sent to the Senate.

Can the Senate both manage an impeachment trial and address the looming deadline on FISA? The odds are good. After all, another recess awaits the following week.

Jason Dick is editor-in-chief of CQ Roll Call.

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