Congress

Road ahead: HR 1 vote, Cohen returns, senators seek info on Khashoggi, North Korea

House Democrats to vote on top priority, while Senate Republicans continue to confirm judges

Travelers exit Union Station as the Capitol Dome reflects in the glass door on Friday, March 1, 2019. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The House this week will vote on its marquee bill, HR 1, and haul Michael Cohen back in for more questioning, while senators seek information on the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the latest North Korea summit.

HR 1, formally titled the For the People Act after Democrats’ 2018 campaign slogan, is a government overhaul package featuring changes to voting, campaign finance and ethics laws

Democrats campaigned on a platform of increasing transparency and reducing the influence of special interests, and they say HR 1 shows their commitment to that promise. Provisions include automatic voter registration, independent redistricting commissions, super PAC restrictions and forced release of presidential tax returns.

The Congressional Budget Office on Friday released a report saying that while HR 1 has no direct cost, Congress would need to appropriate $2.6 billion over the next six years to fund its authorizing provisions. 

The legislation has 236 Democratic co-sponsors — more than enough votes needed to pass the House — but it’s unlikely any Republicans will support it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been especially critical, calling it a “power grab” and saying his chamber will not take it up.

Still, HR 1 is significant to House Democrats for several reasons. One is that it finally provides the party an opportunity to pass legislation on issues, like overhauling campaign finance laws, that Republicans often ignored. The package includes dozens of Democratic bills that have gone nowhere in previous Congresses when Republicans controlled the House.

The vote will also allow Democrats to show unity at a time they desperately need it. Democratic defections on normally party-line procedural votes this year have allowed the GOP to claim messaging wins, causing heartburn for the new Democratic majority and highlighting differences among members from swing districts and those in safer partisan territory.

Also watch: What you missed from Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony

Off the floor, the House Judiciary Committee will hold two hearings on matters the House will likely act on in the coming months.

On Wednesday, the panel will examine protections for so-called Dreamers, undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, as Democrats prepare to introduce legislation on March 12. And on Thursday the committee will discuss reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, which lapsed in February when an extension was not included in the fiscal 2019 government funding package

The Ways and Means Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday on infrastructure, another top legislative priority for Democrats. The tax-writing panel has jurisdiction over financing for infrastructure funding authorizations set by the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. 

Also on Wednesday, the Homeland Security Committee will bring Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in to testify as lawmakers debate the way forward on border security. And in the Budget Committee and the Appropriations State-Foreign Operations Subcommittee, it’s “members’ day,” when the panels take testimony from members across the House on priorities the panels should consider this session.

Cohen back as investigations continue

While it’s a big legislative week for the new Democratic majority, the House is also not slowing down on its investigative efforts.

Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney who is set to go to jail soon for lying to Congress, will return to the Hill on Wednesday for a private follow-up meeting with the House Intelligence Committee. The panel grilled Cohen behind closed doors last Thursday, after the Oversight Committee held a  full-day public hearing to obtain testimony from the president’s former fixer.

In the second round of Intelligence Committee questioning, Cohen is expected to elaborate on claims that Trump and his sons Donald Jr. and Eric were co-conspirators in a criminal scheme to buy the silence of the president’s former paramour, pornography star Stormy Daniels.

And next week, the Intelligence panel will pursue a lead from Cohen about those involved in failed Trump Tower Moscow negotiations by hauling in former Trump business associate Felix Sater, who worked on the project, for testimony.

The House will continue to follow up on investigative leads as the Judiciary Committee seeks to determine whether former Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker committed perjury when testifying before the panel last month.

Judiciary Democrats believe they have evidence Whitaker lied when he told them Trump never lashed out at him over an ongoing investigation in the Southern District of New York into the president’s business and campaign affairs. 

Senate seeks Khashoggi, North Korea updates

The most notable Senate activity of the week, meanwhile, might be taking place behind closed doors.

The Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to meet privately ahead of Monday’s floor votes for an update on the inquiry into the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi under the Magnitsky Act.

Chairman Jim Risch of Idaho told Roll Call last week that the State Department was complying with the law regarding the investigation and congressional notification, but other lawmakers have disagreed.

The same committee has a closed briefing scheduled for Tuesday on the aftermath of the summit between Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un last week in Vietnam.

Elsewhere, the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has scheduled a hearing on the importance of vaccines, a significant topic given recent outbreaks of preventable medical conditions like the measles. And the Armed Services Committee has a full slate of open and closed meetings, including one focused on concerns about military housing.

The House floor debate is likely to be much more interesting than what’s going on over on the Senate floor, where Majority Leader McConnell is continuing to prioritize confirmation of Trump’s nominees to be federal appeals court judges. He filed a cloture motion seeking to limit debate on three more nominees before the Senate adjourned Thursday.

Allison Jones Rushing of North Carolina will be up first, for a seat on the 4th Circuit. She’s currently a partner at Williams & Connolly.

Even though her confirmation hearing was held in mid-October while senators were largely absent ahead of the 2018 elections, Sen. John Kennedy did have some questions about her experience level.

“I can see your résumé. You’re a rock star, but I think to be a really good federal judge you’ve got to have some life experience,” the Republican from Louisiana said. “Williams & Connolly is a great law firm, a lot of great lawyers there. Tell me why you’re more qualified to be on the 4th Circuit than some of the Williams & Connolly [lawyers] that have been there for 20 years, 25, 30 years in the trenches.”

Griffin Connolly contributed to this report.

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