Congress

Road ahead: Impeachment suspense drowns out government funding debate

There’s a full schedule of open hearings at the House Intelligence Committee

The House Ways and Means Committee hearing room that the Intelligence panel is using for impeachment hearings will again be center stage this week. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Seldom does an imminent deadline to avoid a government shutdown fly under the radar, but that might happen this week with most eyes on impeachment hearings in the House.

Congress will need to pass another continuing resolution to keep the government funded past Thursday, as leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations panels look to finalize subcommittee allocations for the delayed fiscal 2020 bills, in conjunction with top leadership and representatives from the administration.

On Friday, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer formally announced plans for a CR running through Dec. 20.

While the stopgap spending will headline House and Senate floor action, the middle of the week will be jampacked with impeachment hearings at the House Intelligence Committee, as Democrats continue their attempts to convince the American public that President Donald Trump tried to bribe Ukraine to open investigations into his political rivals by withholding U.S. security assistance and a White House meeting with new Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Testimonies galore

Eight witnesses whom the committee previously interviewed in closed-door depositions are scheduled to testify in a series of open sessions Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Three of those witnesses were ones Republicans requested be called for the public hearings.

[Campaigns look to capitalize on first impeachment hearings]

Tuesday’s hearings feature a morning session with Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, director for European affairs at the National Security Council. Democrats want Vindman to testify about why he went to White House lawyers with concerns after listening to Trump’s July 25 call with Zelenskiy. Williams was also on the call.

That afternoon, the committee will hear from two witnesses requested by the Republicans: Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, and Tim Morrison, the former senior NSC director for Europe and Russia policy.

Republicans had requested that Morrison be put on the same panel as Vindman, who had worked under Morrison, but Democrats have them testifying at different times Tuesday.

The GOP wants Morrison to testify because he’s one of the few witnesses who was on Trump’s July 25 call with Zelenskiy and was involved in discussions about the security assistance.

Republicans say Volker has “firsthand knowledge” about Ukraine matters being reviewed in the probe, including discussions with Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union.

According to testimony from William Taylor, the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, the three men operated an irregular channel of diplomacy in the country that was separate from the normal channel run by the embassy he led. Republicans had requested for Volker to be put on the same panel as Taylor, but that did not occur.

Sondland, the witness who’s seemingly had the most direct interactions with Trump, is scheduled to testify at a Wednesday morning hearing. Democrats have questioned whether he misled them in his closed-door deposition and will seek to clarify statements he made about his conversations with Trump and understanding of what the president wanted.

On Wednesday afternoon the committee will hear from Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Russian, Ukrainian and Eurasian affairs, and David Hale, the undersecretary of State for political affairs.

Democrats want Cooper to testify about the hold on security assistance and how she raised concerns to senior officials about the legality of it.

Republicans requested that Hale testify because he has knowledge about the events surrounding the decision to recall former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who testified before the Intelligence panel on Friday.

The marathon hearing schedule will conclude Thursday morning with testimony from Fiona Hill, the former NSC senior director for Europe and Russia. Democrats say Hill can provide details about concerns that senior White House officials raised about efforts before the July 25 Trump-Zelenskiy call.

Floor action

When not debating government funding, senators will continue to confirm Trump’s nominees to the federal bench.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has moved to limit debate on the nominations of Robert Luck and Barbara Lagoa to be federal appeals court judges on the 11th Circuit.

The Kentucky Republican has also lined up consideration of the nomination of Adrian Zuckerman to be the top U.S. diplomat in Romania.

The House agenda also includes a bill that would direct the secretary of Labor to issue an occupational health and safety standard requiring covered employers in the health care and social services industries to develop and implement a comprehensive workplace violence prevention plan.

Beyond impeachment

There will also be committee hearings on Capitol Hill on topics unrelated to impeachment. House Democrats have called Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to testify Tuesday at an Education and Labor hearing on student loan forgiveness, particularly in cases of fraud.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, meanwhile, has scheduled an oversight hearing Tuesday on the Federal Bureau of Prisons. That hearing seems likely to include some discussion of the death in federal custody of sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

The House Homeland Security subcommittee with border security jurisdiction will hold an oversight hearing Tuesday on the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy. On Tuesday afternoon, a separate House Homeland Security subcommittee will hold a session on efforts to thwart interference in the 2020 elections.

Wednesday features a Senate hearing with Stephen Hahn of the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, who is the president’s choice to lead the Food and Drug Administration. The nomination hearing will be held by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

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