Executive Branch

Criminal Justice Bill Could Bring Out Drama in Senate
Tom Cotton threatens Christmas showdown, throws gauntlet at colleagues

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., says the chamber will consider a criminal justice reform measure, but opponents might make it a rough debate. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate is poised to vote on a bipartisan criminal justice bill as soon as this week, the culmination of behind-the-scenes negotiations and a public campaign by lawmakers, the White House and advocates to press Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring it to the floor this year. But that does not mean the debate will be free of drama. 

McConnell announced Tuesday that the revised bill would be put on the floor agenda this month “following improvements to the legislation that [have] been secured by several members.” That ended weeks of uncertainty about whether the Senate would have a chance to vote on prison and sentencing changes that would be the first in a generation and could become a signature accomplishment right before the end of the 115th Congress.

Trump Wants New Chief of Staff Who ‘Believes in What We’re Doing’
Sarah Sanders suggests John Kelly should have hashed out gripes ‘behind closed doors’

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly waits to speak as press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders introduces him during a White House briefing in October 2017. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump’s top spokeswoman suggested her boss grew frustrated with outgoing Chief of Staff John Kelly disagreeing with his policies — and sometimes taking disputes public.

“I think he brought a lot of structure to the White House that was needed at the time he came in,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said of his second chief of staff. “That being said, I think the president is looking for somebody who believes in what we’re doing.”

Mitch McConnell Touting Victory With Hemp Legalization on Farm Bill
Issue is becoming an early plank of the Kentucky Republican’s 2020 re-election bid

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been promoting industrial hemp language in the farm bill. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to put himself on the farm bill conference committee was insurance that one of his policy priorities — and a key issue for his 2020 re-election campaign — would make it to President Donald Trump’s desk this year.

“At a time when farm income is down and growers are struggling, industrial hemp is a bright spot of agriculture’s future,” McConnell said Tuesday morning. “My provision in the farm bill will not only legalize domestic hemp, but it will also allow state departments of agriculture to be responsible for its oversight.”

3 Takeaways From Trump’s Made-For-TV Oval Office Border Brawl
“You get into a tinkle contest with a skunk, you get tinkle all over you,” Pelosi says

President Donald Trump argues about border security with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as Vice President Mike Pence sits nearby, silent, in the Oval Office on Tuesday. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

ANALYSIS | Vice President Mike Pence looked taken aback, barely moving and saying nothing as President Donald Trump and the top Democratic congressional leaders bickered and moved the country — with each insult and barb — closer to a partial holiday season government shutdown.

The former Indiana congressman’s statuesque performance was a contrast to the kinetic scene unfolding around him, another made-for-television moment that allowed the bombastic Republican president to pick a fight with the two Democrats perhaps most reviled by his conservative base on live cable TV.

Nonprofit Head Pleads Guilty in Congressional Travel Plot
Azerbaijan trip has been source of Ethics probe, consternation for years

A former nonprofit head pleaded guilty to charges that he hid the fact that a 2013 congressional delegation trip to Azerbaijan was funded by that country’s government. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call).

The former president of a Houston nonprofit pleaded guilty Monday to charges of concealing that a 2013 congressional delegation trip to Azerbaijan was funded by that country’s government.

The Justice Department indicted Kemal Oksuz, aka Kevin Oksuz, 49, in September, alleging that he lied on disclosure forms filed with the House Ethics Committee prior to and following a privately sponsored congressional trip to Azerbaijan. Oksuz was extradited from Armenia.

Beto O’Rourke Gauging Potential Presidential Support from Obama, Gillum
Texas Democrat is weighing a 2020 bid for the party nomination

Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate from Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke is considering a 2020 presidential bid. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Beto O'Rourke has continued to put out feelers for a possible run for the presidency in 2020 — most recently gauging interest from prominent black Democrats like former president Barack Obama and Florida governor candidate Andrew Gillum.

O'Rourke, the lame-duck Democratic congressman who narrowly lost to GOP Sen. Ted Cruz in the Texas Senate race in November, has spoken with Obama, Gillum, and Rev. Al Sharpton over the last few of weeks.

Border Wall Meeting Spirals as Trump Bickers With Pelosi, Schumer
President stands firm on $5B ask as shutdown possibility nears

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., argued Tuesday with President Donald Trump over his proposed southern border wall. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Updated 12:49 p.m. | President Donald Trump and top congressional Democrats bickered about his proposed southern border in front of reporters Tuesday as they sought to avert a partial government shutdown.

Trump grew angry at one point and threatened to shutter part of the federal government over the holidays unless Congress meets his demands, with the Democrats warning he would take responsibility for what they already are calling a “Trump shutdown.”

Trump Hedges on $5 Billion for Border Wall on Day of Meeting With Schumer, Pelosi
President hints at military construction of barrier, which could be problematic legally

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Just before a scheduled meeting with Democratic leaders on border security funding, President Donald Trump appeared to soften his demand for $5 billion in construction funds for his southern border wall proposal.

in a series of tweets, the president sought to build a case that portions of fencing and levee wall already built or in the works on his watch have successfully increased border security to a degree, even without the money he wants. And in a subsequent tweet, Trump foreshadows “some important announcements” in his administration’s trade talks with China; if true, any positive headlines of those talks could be drowned out by an ugly partial government shutdown that Trump likely would be blamed for.

Kevin Brady Drops Extenders, Adds Health Care Tax Rollbacks
House Ways and Means chairman deleted almost $30 billion in tax provisions

Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, is eyeing two possible lame-duck tax vehicles. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady has refashioned his year-end tax package to try to maximize GOP votes for a stand-alone bill, while dropping provisions the Senate could still pick up and pass this year, possibly as part of a huge wrap-up spending bill.

Brady, R-Texas, deleted $29.9 billion worth of tax provisions, collectively known as “extenders” because they are continually revived for a year or two at a time, that faced GOP opposition in the House. That includes one revenue-raiser disliked by the coal mining industry, which would extend the current tax they pay to support disabled miners with black lung disease; the tax would otherwise be slashed substantially next year.

Top Oversight Democrat Wants Hearing on Trump ‘Wasting’ DHS Funds
Agency paid consulting firm nearly $14 million to hire two border patrol agents

Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly has called for a public hearing on the Trump administration’s reported wasteful spending on border security. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The second-highest ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is calling for a public hearing on the Trump administration’s reported wasteful spending on border security.

The inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security found that a staffing plan green-lighted by the president has been marred by wasted resources and overlapping responsibilities among employees and contractors.