This week: Clock ticks toward shutdown deadline
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Lawmakers return to Washington on Monday with just 11 days left until the next deadline to avoid a government shutdown.

Fights over immigration and figuring out top-line budget levels are dogging bipartisan negotiators seeking an agreement by the end of next week.

Democrats’ demand to increase defense and nondefense spending equally has emerged as a key sticking point in the talks.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP moves to cut debate time for Trump nominees McConnell hits back at 'ridiculous' Chinaperson remark GOP senator: 'We were there' on immigration before talks got derailed MORE (R-Ky.) said he was “optimistic” lawmakers could reach a two-year deal to increase the budget caps, but it would require Democrats to send aside their demand for parity.

"Any agreement must provide our armed forces with the resources they need to fulfill their missions. That means setting aside the misguided notion that new defense spending needs to be matched dollar for dollar by new nondefense spending," he said.

Republicans argue that years of spending cuts have hollowed out the military, leaving it inadequately equipped to respond to a myriad of international challenges.

But Democrats have shown no signs of backing down from the requirement that domestic and military spending be increased equally.

“We Democrats believe our soldiers abroad should get the funding they need. We also believe there are real domestic needs that cannot be ... neglected,” Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerCan Mueller be more honest than his colleagues? Throwing some cold water on all of the Korean summit optimism House Republicans push Mulvaney, Trump to rescind Gateway funds MORE (D-N.Y.) told reporters during his weekly leadership press conference.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersGillibrand unveils bill to offer banking services at post offices Webb: Bernie Sanders announces his ‘new’ communism jobs, health-care plan A new progressive standard on campaign cash: It can't come from corporations MORE (I-Vt.), who caucuses with Democrats, had a sharper warning, saying that McConnell “is pushing the Senate toward a government shutdown.”

The funding talks are also keeping an $81 billion House-passed disaster relief bill stuck in Senate limbo, with the relief money being folded into the larger negotiations.

The House bill includes help for communities impacted by recent hurricanes in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as wildfires in California.

Republicans are accusing Democrats of holding up the House bill in an effort to gain leverage in the funding talks.

But Democrats also want more help for hurricane-ravaged areas, including Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, as well as western states impacted by a spate of wildfires.

“The administration submitted its proposal three weeks ago. They didn't consult us,” Schumer told reporters.

Texas GOP Sens. John CornynJohn CornynGOP moves to cut debate time for Trump nominees Republicans want Trump’s VA nominee to withdraw Senators to Trump: Let Mueller finish Russia probe MORE and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCruz urges UK to allow British toddler's parents to transfer him for treatment Maxine Waters to Trump: ‘Please resign’ Cruz challenger says ‘no thanks’ to funding from Steyer MORE also want more help for their home state, which was hit in August by Hurricane Harvey.

Cornyn signaled that he was open to keeping the House’s top-line figure, while shuffling around how the money is allocated and increasing the block grant funding.

“We’re visiting with the Appropriations Committee members here in the Senate to talk about what modifications might need to be made, but I think they could all be made within that top line,” he said.

 

DACA

A bipartisan group of senators are heading to the White House as negotiations on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program intensify.

The Tuesday meeting with President TrumpDonald John TrumpFormer Watergate prosecutor: Trump taking the fifth would be political suicide Comey: I’m ‘embarrassed and ashamed’ by Republican party Comey, Anderson Cooper clash over whether memo release violated FBI rules MORE comes as senators have negotiated for months — but struggled to lock down — a deal pairing a fix for DACA with a border security package.

Senators signaled after a Republican-only meeting with Trump last week that they were still far apart on any agreement, which is complicating separate talks on funding the government and avoiding across-the-board budget cuts.

"Unfortunately, our discussions on border security and enforcement with Democrats are much further apart, and that is key to getting a bipartisan deal on DACA. Until that happens, we cannot accomplish the solutions our country needs and many families deserve. More work remains ahead," GOP Sens. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordGOP moves to cut debate time for Trump nominees GOP advances proposal to change Senate rules Senators fume over fight to change rules for Trump's nominees MORE (Okla.) and Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisJackson scrambles to save his nomination to head Veterans Affairs Republicans want Trump’s VA nominee to withdraw Cambridge Analytica whistleblower briefs House Dems MORE (N.C.) said in a joint statement late last week.

The issue was also brought up over the weekend as part of the GOP leadership retreat at Camp David in Maryland.

The Trump administration announced last year that it was ending the DACA program, which allows immigrants brought into the country illegally as children to live and work in the United States if they meet certain conditions.

Unless Congress acts by early March, hundreds of thousands of immigrants will be at risk of being deported.

Trump laid out his demands on any agreement during last week's meeting with GOP members of the Judiciary Committee, saying he wants to end family-based migration that allows citizens and permanent residents to sponsors relatives, scrap the diversity visa lottery program and secure the southern border.

Democrats are under pressure from progressives and activists to take a hard line on the immigration talks after leadership left DACA out of a September government funding deal and kicked the issue into 2018.

They’re also expressing dismay over a Wall Street Journal report that Trump is requesting nearly $18 billion to construct more than 700 miles of new and replacement barriers along the southern border, as part of about $33 billion in new border security spending.

House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiHoyer declines to endorse call for leadership shake-up if Dems lose House Pelosi urges Dems to vote against trucking amendments in FAA bill GOP anxiety grows over Trump’s Iran decision MORE (D-Calif.) distributed the article among fellow Democrats, calling it “alarming.”

Not all Republicans are on board with the idea of a full-scale border wall as envisioned by Trump on the campaign trail. GOP lawmakers who represent parts of the border say that a wall would be ineffective.

McConnell has promised to bring a deal to the Senate floor for a vote if negotiators can finish talks in January. But GOP leadership is increasingly arguing that Democrats are holding the larger spending debates “hostage” as they try to get an immigration deal.

Cornyn appeared open to including a “consensus” immigration deal in an omnibus, but only if it’s ready to go by the Jan. 19 deadline.

 

Surveillance

The House is expected to consider legislation this week to reauthorize an electronic surveillance program known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The program expires with the current stopgap government spending bill on Jan. 19 unless lawmakers act.

The National Security Agency is currently able to collect communications of foreigners abroad without a warrant, even if they are in contact with Americans.

Privacy proponents say that federal investigators’ authority to search those communications, also without a warrant, is unconstitutional.

The House Judiciary Committee approved a bipartisan bill last year to reauthorize the program, but the legislation on the floor this week is a competing version from the House Intelligence Committee that doesn’t set as many new privacy protections.

"This so-called reform bill was written by the intelligence community, for the intelligence community, which is why it fails to accomplish any meaningful reform to Section 702 or ensure our constitutional right to privacy — unlike the bipartisan and overwhelmingly supported bill that passed the House Judiciary Committee,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.

House Freedom Caucus members last month agreed to support the government spending patch that temporarily extends the program in exchange for assurance that they could offer amendments to a long-term reauthorization bill.

 

New House Budget Committee chairman, retirements

The House Republican Steering Committee, which determines members’ panel assignments, will meet on Tuesday to choose a new chairman for the Budget Committee.

Rep. Diane BlackDiane Lynn BlackGOP lawmaker, candidate for governor cancels NFL season tickets over protests Ex-EPA heads urge Pruitt to scrap changes to truck pollution rule Protecting nurses’ conscience: a non-negotiable in the final FY 2018 spending bill MORE (R-Tenn.), the current Budget Committee chairwoman, is relinquishing her post to focus on her campaign for governor this year.

Three Republicans are in the running for the Budget gavel: Reps. Rob WoodallWilliam (Rob) Robert WoodallPath to Dem majority lies in well-educated districts McConnell, Schumer tap colleagues to explore budget reform Ryan, Pelosi name members to new budget and pension committees MORE (Ga.), Steve WomackStephen (Steve) Allen WomackCBO projects booming deficits Armed Services panel sets schedule for consideration of defense policy bill Sales tax battle moves to the Supreme Court MORE (Ark.) and Bill JohnsonWilliam (Bill) Leslie JohnsonHouse votes to delay EPA air pollution rules for brickmakers, wood heaters How SpaceX embodies the importance of the free market Watchdog: Federal utility spent nearly M on private aircraft MORE (Ohio). Woodall is sixth in seniority after the chairwoman on the panel, but is the highest-ranking of the three contenders.

The Steering Committee will also determine which lawmaker will fill the coveted spot on the House Ways and Means Committee to be vacated by outgoing Rep. Pat TiberiPatrick (Pat) Joseph TiberiTiberi endorses would-be successor ahead of GOP primary Loss of Ryan hits hard for House Republicans Dems look to Ohio for another election upset MORE (R-Ohio). He plans to leave the House this month to take a position at the Ohio Business Roundtable.

Black is the seventh House committee leader to decide to leave Congress by the end of this year. With Tiberi’s departure likely to trigger a special election, House Republicans will have to defend at least 29 open seats this year due to resignations, retirements and lawmakers like Black running for other offices.

Democrats, meanwhile, will have only 15 open seats so far.

The House’s first week in session for 2018 could feature more lawmakers announcing their retirements after spending the holidays at home. Two committee leaders, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill ShusterWilliam (Bill) Franklin ShusterDelta apologizes after woman says she was tied to wheelchair by staff Pelosi urges Dems to vote against trucking amendments in FAA bill Provisions in FAA bill could strip endangered species protections MORE (R-Pa.) and House Administration Committee Chairman Gregg HarperGregory (Gregg) Livingston HarperOvernight Health Care: Opioid distributors summoned before Congress | Judge sets trial date in massive opioid lawsuit | Senators press DOJ to stop blocking medical marijuana Opioid distributors to testify before House committee on their role in epidemic Loss of Ryan hits hard for House Republicans MORE (R-Miss.), both said last week that they won’t seek reelection.

 

Nominations

The Senate will work through a slate of nominations as lawmakers continue to negotiate behind closed doors.

McConnell teed up votes on four district court nominees, with debate over the picks expected to eat up the Senate’s floor time.

The Senate will start on Monday with William Campbell’s nomination to be district judge for the Middle District of Tennessee.

They’ll also take up Thomas Parker to serve on the Western District of Tennessee, Michael Brown for the North District of Georgia and Walter Counts for the Western District of Texas.