Congress

Road ahead: More on the Mueller report; floor action on Paris bill, nominations

Oversight matters will get most attention post-Mueller but House and Senate proceeding with normal business too

Attorney General William Barr appears on a television in the Capitol subway on April 18, 2019. He is testifying before the Senate and House Judiciary Committees this week. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Two days of testimony from Attorney General William Barr on the 448-page report from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III will largely define Congress’ return from its two-week recess, with the House and Senate heading in different directions. 

Senate Republicans, who will hear from Barr first on Wednesday, feel Mueller’s report is the appropriate conclusion to years of investigations into allegations that President Donald Trump’s campaign coordinated with the Russians to interfere in the 2016 election and that the president himself attempted to obstruct those investigations.

House Democrats, meanwhile, feel Mueller has given them more leads to follow as they probe Trump and his administration over potential abuses of power spanning the jurisdiction of six different committees. When they hear from Barr on Thursday, they’ll likely grill him about his characterizations of the Mueller report before its release — which they believe were attempts to spin the narrative in the president’s favor. 

Barr’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee will also come one day after the deadline the panel’s chairman, Jerrold Nadler of New York, set in a subpoena demanding DOJ provide Congress with the full, unredacted version of Mueller’s report and investigatory materials used to produce it. Barr is not expected to comply with the subpoena and will certainly face questions about that.

And with lawmakers back together in Washington for the first time since the release of Mueller’s report, they’ll be forced to confront more press questions about what, if anything, comes next from Congress.

For House Democrats, that will include continued discussion of whether Mueller laid out enough evidence for them to begin impeachment proceedings against Trump. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has tried to tamp down impeachment talk, but rank-and-file members who feel passionately about going down that path may not be willing to let it go. 

Climate vote in House

One thing House Democrats do agree on is the need to balance their oversight responsibilities with their legislative agenda. On that front, they plan to hold a vote on a climate change measure, one of their top party priorities.

The bill, HR 9, would bar the administration from using federal funding to pull the United States out of the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

Trump announced in June 2017 his intention to withdraw from the Paris accords, but no nation can formally exit the agreement until at least November 2020. As a result, debate over staying in the agreement will likely persist into the coming presidential election.

Under the Paris agreement, the United States agreed to cut its carbon emissions at least 26 percent from 2005 levels by 2025. House Democrats’ bill would require the president to develop plans to meet those goals. 

On that topic, the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis will hold a hearing Tuesday on drawing down carbon and building up the American economy.

The vote on HR 9, which is expected to show overwhelming if not unanimous Democratic support for staying in the Paris agreement, will largely be a political messaging exercise. Like many other bills the House has passed this year, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has no plans to take it up. The Kentucky Republican has lauded Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris agreement.

McConnell spent much of the recess holding events in his home commonwealth, including an event in Owensboro where he described himself as the “grim reaper” for an assortment of progressive policies.

But progressives have not been deterred by McConnell’s blockage or even obstacles put up by their own leadership. While House Democrats are unlikely to advance priorities like the Green New Deal or “Medicare for All” on the floor, they’re at least willing to debate them in other formats. For example, the House Rules Committee will host a hearing Tuesday on Medicare for All.

More nominations in Senate

The Senate floor schedule this week will look familiar, with McConnell having moved before the recess to limit debate on a full week’s worth of nominations, including a handful of nominees to be district judges.

Also on the list for confirmation is Gordon Hartogensis, the nominee to be the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation director. That could prompt at least some discussion of private-sector pension liabilities.

Under the new precedents now in effect, there are only up to two hours for debate on each of the nominations on McConnell’s agenda once debate has been cut off.

Aside from the nominations, senators will also need to dispense with the president’s veto of the joint resolution that would stop U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen. It is expected to fall far short of the votes needed to override the veto.

The general disinterest of the current Senate majority in the House’s legislative agenda has left plenty of time for considering nominations, but on Tuesday eyes will be on the White House when Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer are expected to huddle with the president about infrastructure.

Pelosi has said she wants any infrastructure package to provide a minimum of a $1 trillion federal investment, although she’d prefer to double that. She’ll have a large financial gap to bridge with Trump. Last year, the president proposed spending only $200 billion in federal funds, believing he could leverage that into a $1.5 trillion plan funded primarily through investments from state, local and private partners.

If House members don’t like the ideas Pelosi and Trump have to offer on infrastructure, they can share their own on Wednesday as the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee holds its member day hearing, when members of Congress come to testify about their own wish lists.

Differences on immigration policy will also be on display as two House panels hold hearings spotlighting the Department of Homeland Security. Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan is scheduled to testify before the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees his agency’s funding on Tuesday. And on Wednesday the Homeland Security Committee will examine whether vacancies at DHS are undermining its mission.

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