Congress

Road ahead: Border security deadline, celebrating The Dean and a new attorney general

Race against the clock to avoid another shutdown begins

House and Senate negotiators will find their road ahead this week dominated by the deadline to fund the federal government. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Federal workers and lawmakers are already thinking about Friday, the deadline for a spending deal to avert another partial government shutdown. But there’s plenty of other action expected on Capitol Hill before then.

House and Senate negotiators have been working for more than two weeks on a border security funding deal that would clear the way for a final fiscal 2019 spending package.

The conference committee talks on a Homeland Security spending bill picked up the pace last week, with negotiators getting closer on how much funding to provide for border barriers. But over the weekend the negotiations hit a roadblock over the Immigration and Customs and Customs Enforcement agency's detention of undocumented immigrants. 

“The talks are stalled right now,” Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby said on “Fox News Sunday.” “We’ve got some problems with the Democrats dealing with ICE that is detaining criminals that come into the U.S. They want a cap on them. We don’t want a cap on that.”

Democrats argue that the cap won't stop ICE from detaining criminals, it will force them to prioritize detaining them over other undocumented immigrants who have no criminal record. 

“A cap on ICE detention beds will force the Trump administration to prioritize deportation for criminals and people who pose real security threats, not law-abiding immigrants who are contributing to our country,” California Democratic Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard said in a statement. 

The the top four House and Senate appropriators will meet this afternoon to try to salvage the negotiations, according to Shelby spokeswoman. 

Both chambers have until Friday to consider the Homeland Security bill and six other unfinished appropriations measures for fiscal 2019 — Agriculture, Financial Services, Transportation-HUD, State-Foreign Operations, Commerce-Justice-Science, and Interior-Environment — that together amount to about $320 billion in discretionary spending.

If they are not ready to advance the full fiscal 2019 appropriations bills, lawmakers could also pass another short-term continuing resolution to keep those departments operating at fiscal 2018 funding levels. 

Absent action on either, or President Donald Trump refusing to sign whatever Congress sends him, the government will enter another partial government shutdown Saturday. 

“You absolutely cannot rule out” a shutdown, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday.

Also watch: Democrats downplay appearance of disunity on Green New Deal

In the House, the tight timeline could be complicated by schedule changes to accommodate members attending memorial services for former  Democratic Rep. John D. Dingell of Michigan, the longest-serving member of Congress in history, who died Thursday.

The House, which is scheduled to be in session Monday through Friday, will not hold any roll call votes Tuesday — an effort seemingly designed to accommodate members who want to attend Dingell’s funeral in Dearborn, Michigan.

After the services there, Dingell’s body will then be transported to Washington and his casket will be driven on the East Plaza past the Capitol. Another funeral mass will be held Thursday at Washington’s Holy Trinity Catholic Church at 10:30 a.m.

Dingell, a World War II veteran, will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery.

House agenda

The House is expected to act first on any agreement reached by the Homeland Security Appropriations conference committee, which will be the main legislative item of the week if a deal comes together.

Democrats are also using this week to bring up legislation using the War Powers Act to order the Pentagon to end assistance to the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen. When Republicans were in the majority, they declined Democratic requests to hold a vote on the measure.

The first big markup of the 116th Congress will take place Wednesday, as the House Judiciary Committee tries to advance legislation bolstering background checks for gun purchases. 

Democrats will also be busy continuing to hold committee hearings on their priority policies and oversight requests.

On policy, the Natural Resources panel will hold a series of subcommittee hearings Tuesday and Wednesday on climate change; the Financial Services panel on Wednesday will hold a full committee hearing on solutions to end homelessness and a subcommittee hearing on access to baking services for cannabis-related businesses; and the House Administration Committee will hold a hearing on HR 1, the Democrats’ government overhaul package.

The main oversight hearings of the week will occur Tuesday as the Oversight and Reform and Judiciary panels separately examine administration actions that led to migrant children being separated from their parents at the border and their efforts to reunite families.

Senate action

The Senate, meanwhile, will move forward with a bipartisan lands package, which is set for a vote to cut off debate Monday night.

The measure, which nearly tanked a previous spending package, would permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a popular funding source for parks maintenance and the public acquisition of forest land, wildlife refuges, and park lands replenished by revenue from oil and gas extraction on federal lands. Its authorization lapsed Sept. 30 and since then, the money has gone into the Treasury Department’s General Fund.

Once the House acts on any border security and government funding agreement, the Senate will add that to its own calendar. 

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell filed a cloture motion Thursday to limit debate on the nomination of William Barr to be attorney general, and a vote on his confirmation is expected this week.

If confirmed, Barr would replace acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker and return to the top job at the Justice Department, which he led from 1991 to 1993 during the George H.W. Bush administration.

Future nominees could find themselves on a different path through the Senate, under a proposal that the Rules and Administration Committee will take up Wednesday.

Senate Republicans are moving ahead with an effort to effectively change the rules, reducing the amount of debate time allowed on many lower-level nominations by President Donald Trump.

Under the new resolution’s standing order, debate time for district judges and covered executive branch positions would be two hours, equally divided between the two parties — significantly speeding up the process.

Kellie Mejdrich, David Lerman, Todd Ruger, Jacob Holzman and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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