This week: Congress reshuffles deck for September
© Getty Images

Congress is regrouping this week after President Trump struck a deal with Democrats to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling, sending shockwaves through Capitol Hill.

The deal — which was linked to aid for Hurricane Harvey recovery — ended the threat of a fiscal showdown at the end of the month.

Lawmakers were expected to be locked down in negotiations through up through the last week of September to avoid a government shutdown and debt default.


Instead, the legislation signed by Trump, which also included a short-term extension of the National Flood Insurance Program, has left Congress with just two end-of-month deadlines: Extending the Children’s Health Insurance Program and reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration.

But Trump's move has split Republicans, who have struggled to score legislative victories and stay on the same page as the White House.

Rank-and-file lawmakers appeared rankled by the president's willingness to leapfrog them and cut an agreement with Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDemocrats slam Trump for considering Putin’s ’absurd’ request to question Americans Judge Kavanaugh confounds the left This week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation MORE (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who Trump referred to as "Chuck and Nancy."

Members of GOP leadership, however, dismiss talk that Trump is pivoting away from Republicans, despite the months of rhetorical warfare between both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

“I read what you guys write, too. I don’t think there’s any basis to reach any particular conclusion other than [Trump] wanted to get that behind him,” Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSenate GOP attempts to wave Trump off second Putin summit Senators push to clear backlog in testing rape kits Senate approves resolution warning Trump not to hand over US officials MORE (R-Texas) told The Hill.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanDems unveil slate of measures to ratchet up pressure on Russia National Dems make play in Ohio special election Trump vows to hold second meeting with Putin MORE (R-Wis.) added the president was aiming for "a bipartisan moment while the country is facing two horrible hurricanes."

White House officials, and some Republican lawmakers, argue the agreement is helping to free up time for tax reform — a key GOP agenda item — during what was expected to be packed September schedule.

On Friday, Trump publicly urged Republicans to drop repealing ObamaCare and get started on tax reform.

“Republicans must start the Tax Reform/Tax Cut legislation ASAP. Don't wait until the end of September. Needed now more than ever. Hurry!” the president wrote on Twitter.

The special budget status for the GOP ObamaCare repeal bill, allowing it to pass by a simple majority instead of 60 votes, expires at the end of September. GOP Sens. Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyGOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE Lawmakers pitch dueling plans for paid family leave New push to break deadlock on paid family leave MORE (La.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamOvernight Defense: Trump inviting Putin to DC | Senate to vote Monday on VA pick | Graham open to US-Russia military coordination in Syria Polling analyst: Changes to legal immigration ‘the real sticking point among Democrats’ Graham would consider US-Russia military coordination in Syria MORE (S.C.) are still pushing for their bill, which they plan to roll out this week.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersSenate to vote Monday on Trump's VA nominee Senate approves resolution warning Trump not to hand over US officials GOP leader blocks resolution backing intelligence community on Russia MORE (I-Vt.), meanwhile, is unveiling his long-awaited “Medicare for All” bill on Wednesday, as the idea of single-payer health care gains widespread traction within the Democratic Party.

Gang violence crackdown

Lawmakers in both parties called for action on immigration reform after the Trump administration announced last week it will end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that shields young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation.

Democrats and Republicans are far from reaching agreement on any long-term fix to address the fate of the young immigrants, who could be in legal limbo starting in March if Congress doesn’t act.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing on Wednesday to discuss DACA and reforms to guest-worker programs.

Many Republicans are wary of granting legal status to immigrants brought to the country as children out of concerns that it could encourage more unauthorized migration. They say that any sort of deal with Democrats would have to include immigration enforcement measures.

The first immigration bill brought to the House floor since the Trump administration announcement is therefore geared toward ensuring deportation of unauthorized immigrants involved in gang activity. Its consideration also comes after Trump visited Long Island in July to highlight violence from the transnational gang MS-13, which was founded in Los Angeles in the 1980s by immigrants who had fled El Salvador.

During his speech to law enforcement, Trump called MS-13 members “animals” who have “transformed peaceful parks and beautiful quiet neighborhoods into bloodstained killing fields.”

The Criminal Alien Gang Member Removal Act is sponsored by Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), one of the most vulnerable GOP incumbents heading into the 2018 elections. The northern Virginia region she represents is home to members of MS-13 and other gangs, which have drawn attention after a series of recent murders.

“MS-13 preys upon and intimidates those who have come to our country to seek a better life,” Comstock said in a statement, adding that the bill would “help get these violent gang members off our streets.”

Defense authorization

With Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainControversial Trump judicial nominee withdraws Trump vows to hold second meeting with Putin Ex-Montenegro leader fires back at Trump: ‘Strangest president' in history MORE, who was diagnosed in July with brain cancer, back in the Senate, the upper chamber is turning its attention to a mammoth annual defense policy bill.

The Arizona Republican, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, will oversee the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on the Senate floor this week.

The Senate is scheduled to take its first vote on proceeding to the legislation on Monday evening, setting up senators to formally start debate on Tuesday.

The legislation normally passes with an overwhelming majority, but its status as a must-pass bill makes it a lightening rod for potentially controversial proposals.

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP leader blocks resolution backing intelligence community on Russia Rand Paul blocks Sanders's Russia resolution, calls it 'crazy hatred' against Trump McCain: Trump plays into 'Putin's hands' by attacking Montenegro, questioning NATO obligations MORE (R-Ky.) wants to use the bill to repeal the 2001 and 2002 war authorizations — an uphill battle given Congress’s years-long inability to pass a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). And Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonBipartisan group introduces retirement savings legislation in Senate Overnight Defense: Fallout from tense NATO summit | Senators push to block ZTE deal in defense bill | Blackwater founder makes new pitch for mercenaries to run Afghan war Hillicon Valley: DOJ appeals AT&T-Time Warner ruling | FBI agent testifies in heated hearing | Uproar after FCC changes rules on consumer complaints | Broadcom makes bid for another US company | Facebook under fire over conspiracy sites MORE (R-Ark.) is offering an amendment to “repeal sequestration.”

So far, more than 300 Senate amendments have been filed to the bill, though most of them are unlikely to get a vote.

Leadership tried to get a deal to take up and pass the National Defense Authorization Act in one day before McCain went back to Arizona for brain cancer treatment.

But Paul, pushing for a vote on two amendments, objected, throwing the timeline for legislation into temporary limbo.


The House will finish consideration of an eight-bill spending package for fiscal 2018 after multiple late nights last week working through amendments.

Congress already sent a three-month funding extension to Trump’s desk last week, but House GOP leaders want to finish work on all of the annual appropriations bills before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

Debate on the hundreds of amendments offered by members of both parties will help set up negotiations for a long-term omnibus spending measure in December.

The House previously approved a national security-themed spending package in July that included $1.6 billion to start building the U.S.-Mexico border wall that is a top Trump priority.

Funding for the remaining agencies in this week’s package would go toward the departments of Interior, Justice, Commerce, Homeland, Agriculture, Labor, Health and Human Services, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, State and Treasury.

More than 140 amendments have not yet been considered and are expected to consume hours of floor time.

The House Rules Committee approved 342 total amendments for floor consideration, but the process for annual appropriations bills this year has not been as free-wheeling as it was when Republicans first gained the majority in 2011. More than 900 amendments were submitted to the committee.

Until last year, members of both parties could offer unlimited numbers of amendments without prior notice. But House GOP leaders decided to restrict which amendments could get votes after Democrats kept offering culture-war amendments that divided Republicans and threatened to derail passage of the underlying spending bills.