Congress’ agenda: Push for spending deal looms
Congress has until Feb. 8 to come to terms on a spending deal that includes both Republican-approved border security enhancements and a solution for the expiring Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that will please Democrats.
Time is of the essence to pass a bill that will fund the government long-term, as lawmakers will be occupied preparing for the president’s State of the Union address on Tuesday and a GOP retreat in West Virginia on Wednesday through Friday.
The negotiations follow a White House proposal that would give 1.8 million undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship in exchange for stricter immigration reform and border wall funding.
Democrats have made it clear that the White House’s proposal goes too far for them in the way of limiting legal immigration programs like family unification and the visa lottery system, and that any immigration deal must be more limited.
DACA recipients “should not be held hostage to President Donald Trump’s crusade to tear families apart,” Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, said in a statement last week. Durbin and Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, are their respective party’s lead negotiators on the hill on immigration.
Republican leaders have suggested that any path to citizenship for DACA recipients would have to include a massive overhaul of legal immigration programs.
“I think there are a lot of our members who support legal status, but citizenship would entail I think chain migration and a bunch of other things coming into the conversation,” said South Dakota Sen. John Thune, a member of GOP leadership, referencing the rules that govern which family members immigrants can sponsor to also come to the US. “If you start talking about a path to citizenship, you’ll start losing Republicans unless there’s something else on the table.”
The House Intelligence Committee is expected to vote this week to make public a classified memo spearheaded by House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes that alleges FBI surveillance law abuses tied to the opposition research dossier on Trump and Russia.
If the committee votes in favor of releasing the four-page memo, and possibly some of the supporting intelligence, it would go to the President, who would have five days either to object to making it public or to allow the release to move forward.
But Democrats on the committee, who say Nunes’ memo is a collection of Republican talking points that skew the intelligence, are preparing their own dueling memo. The committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, says he will make a motion when the committee meets Monday to grant the whole House access to the Democratic memo, too, a step Republicans took for Nunes’ memo earlier this month ahead of the potential release.
The House of Representatives will consider updated legislation on Monday to protect young victims of sexual abuse, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s office announced Friday. Among the reforms include improvements to mandatory training and increased requirements for reporting abuse.
Additionally, the House Administration Committee is expected to mark up legislation reforming the system for reporting sexual harassment and workplace claims, and a vote on the bipartisan bill is expected next month.
But CNN revealed last week that the legislation, which promises more transparency, actually cuts out the Office of Congressional Ethics, from any role in investigating any claim filed with the Office of Compliance, the office where aides are directed to report any inappropriate activity. It’s unclear whether bipartisan members who drafted the bill will change it at the markup.
There is a major push to demonstrate that both parties are serious about reforming a process that has been revealed to protect lawmakers for using taxpayer money to settle claims of harassment.
Earlier this month, The New York Times reported that Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Patrick Meehan paid a former aide with taxpayer funds after she reported inappropriate behavior. He insisted in interviews that the payment was “severance” and that he wished to avoid litigation with the aide because he cared about her future. Meehan announced late last week that he will not run for re-election in 2018.
Republican members of the House and Senate head to The Greenbrier in West Virginia this week following the President’s State of the Union Address to map out the 2018 GOP legislative agenda.
Closed sessions will focus on policy areas including tax reform, workforce development, government and congressional reform, and infrastructure.
Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump will speak at the retreat on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. Other notable speakers include Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley.
House GOP leaders are also making good on their promise to conservatives and defense hawks to vote on a full-year defense appropriations bill — a bill they agreed to schedule on the floor for a second time in order to get support for the stopgap funding bill the avoid a shutdown. However, it’s unlikely the Senate will take up the measure.
Other key Senate hearings
On Tuesday, the Senate Banking Committee will hear from Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin for the Financial Stability Oversight Council Annual Report to Congress.
Also on Tuesday, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt will testify in an oversight hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.