Congress

Road ahead: As Congress digests Mueller conclusions, it has plenty more on its plate

House will attempt to override Trump’s veto, while Senate takes up Green New Deal

A Capitol Visitor Center employee sets up a shade umbrella last Tuesday outside the CVC entrance. The Senate and House minority parties may need an umbrella to block the shade the majorities plan to throw at them this week amid votes on the Green New Deal and overriding a presidential veto. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Capitol Hill spent much of the weekend waiting to find out what special counsel Robert S. Mueller III discovered about Russian efforts to undermine the 2016 election. But as Congress digests the principal conclusions of his report, prepared by Attorney General William P. Barr, leaders will also try to get members to address other priorities.

Barr’s four-page letter sent to Congress on Sunday afternoon stated that Mueller “did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it, conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in these efforts.”

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler reiterated after the letter’s release that he wants full records of the Mueller-led probe to help guide his own panel’s inquiry into any potential obstruction by President Donald Trump. (Barr also concluded that Mueller’s evidence was not “sufficient” to determine that Trump “committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”)

“There must be full transparency in what Special Counsel Mueller uncovered to not exonerate the President from wrongdoing. DOJ owes the public more than just a brief synopsis and decision not to go any further in their work,” the New York Democrat said.

Watch: Lindsey Graham calls for a special counsel investigation on ‘the other side of the story’ following Mueller report

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham was quick to call the release of Barr’s letter a “great day for President Trump and his team.”

“Great job by Mr. Mueller and his team to thoroughly examine all things Russia,” the South Carolina Republican said on Twitter. “Now it is time to move on, govern the country, and get ready to combat Russia and other foreign actors ahead of 2020.”

Bu there’s no chance the Mueller report will be put in the rear-view mirror anytime soon, with Democrats, in particular, seeking the full release of the special counsel’s work.

Congressional briefings on the Mueller report could get scheduled this week, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi is demanding they be unclassified briefings so members can talk about the information publicly. Pelosi told House Democrats during a caucus conference call Saturday that she would reject any classified briefing of the “gang of eight” — top party and Intelligence Committee leaders in both chambers — or any other classified configuration.

 

Controversial votes

Meanwhile, the House and Senate are each teeing up a vote this week that congressional leaders know will fail, with House Democrats wanting to tie Republicans to Trump’s national emergency for a second time and the Senate GOP planning to put Democrats on record on the Green New Deal.

Trump used his first presidential veto to block a resolution that would have terminated his declaration of national emergency at the southern U.S. border. Both the House and Senate votes on the measure fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to override the president’s veto, but the House is proceeding with an override vote nonetheless.

“Whether we can succeed with the number of votes is not the point,” Pelosi told reporters in New York last week. “We are establishing the intent of Congress. … We are Article I, the first branch of government — the legislative branch. The president has decided to be in defiance of the Constitution, to deface it with his actions.”

It is that argument about separation of powers and Congress having the power of the purse that has caused a lot of unease among Republicans about the national emergency declaration, which Trump plans to use to transfer $3.6 billion in military construction funds to a border barrier project.

A dozen Senate Republicans, or 23 percent of their conference, voted for the termination resolution, while only 13 House Republicans, or 7 percent of their conference, supported it.

House Democrats want to use the override vote to put their Republican colleagues on record a second time, hoping to pressure members from states where senators voted to terminate the national emergency declaration.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are looking to take attention away from their own divisions and turn the spotlight on fractures among Democrats by holding a vote on the controversial Green New Deal resolution. 

The ambitious proposal of ideas for combating climate change, which calls for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, has been mocked by Republicans for ideas that include eliminating use of motor vehicles and airplanes.

“Our Democratic colleagues have taken all the debunked philosophies of the last hundred years, rolled them into one giant package, and thrown a little ‘green’ paint on them to make them look new,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. “But there’s nothing remotely ‘new’ about a proposal to centralize control over the economy and raise taxes on the American people to pay for it.”

After weeks of talking up a vote on the Green New Deal resolution, the Kentucky Republican filed a cloture motion shortly before recess to limit debate on proceeding to it upon the Senate’s return, setting up a sure-to-fail vote by the middle of the week.

All 53 Senate Republicans are certain to oppose the resolution, so the focus will be on how Senate Democrats respond to the messaging vote. 

Also watch: Judiciary and oversight subpoena power, explained

Other Senate business

Before getting to the Green New Deal, the Senate is on track to confirm yet another of Trump’s nominees to the federal appeals bench — Bridget S. Bade, currently a federal magistrate in Arizona, for a seat on the 9th Circuit.

McConnell has also gotten the gears turning to set up floor consideration at the end of the week on an emergency supplemental spending package that could address an assortment of recent natural disasters.

Senate appropriators will be busy off the floor as well, with the committee set to hear testimony on fiscal 2020 budget requests from several departments and agencies.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are both scheduled to testify before their respective Appropriations subcommittees, as is the Cabinet secretary most familiar to the Senate: Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

Perry and DeVos will also testify before their respective House Appropriations subcommittees this week, as appropriators in that chamber have a busy schedule of hearings on fiscal 2020 spending requests. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie are among the other administration officials testifying before House appropriators this week.

The hearing that may get the most attention — given where the major fiscal 2019 funding fight occurred — is the one at the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee with U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan. The CBP has generally backed Trump’s request to fund border wall construction, while also advocating other border security measures Democrats favor.

The Senate Budget Committee has scheduled a two-day markup on a fiscal 2020 budget resolution. Chairman Michael B. Enzi on Friday released a draft resolution that would set the discretionary spending toplines at the statutory caps of $576 billion for defense and $542 billion for nondefense.

House actions

After dispensing with the veto override vote, House Democrats will return to their “For the People” agenda. To conclude Women’s History Month, the chamber will vote on one of the Democrats’ top 10 bills, the Paycheck Fairness Act. 

HR 7, sponsored by Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro, aims to provide equal pay for men and women doing the same jobs by amending the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to provide remedies for employees facing gender discrimination. The bill should pass easily, with 238 Democrats already signed on as co-sponsors. New Jersey Rep. Christopher H. Smith is the only Republican co-sponsor.

The House will also vote on a nonbinding resolution that expresses opposition to the Trump administration seeking to bar transgender people from serving in the Armed Forces and that urges the Pentagon not to reinstate the ban.

Beyond the aforementioned Appropriations hearings, House committee action includes an Armed Services hearing on the fiscal 2020 defense authorization request, a Ways and Means hearing on the 2017 tax law and an Intelligence hearing on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s playbook.

The House Financial Services panel on Tuesday will mark up a handful of bills, including one that would allow state-authorized cannabis businesses and their service providers to access banking services.

Paul M. Krawzak contributed to this report. 

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