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 McConnellKavanaugh gets questionnaires for confirmation hearing Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick Franken offers Dems a line of questioning for Kavanaugh's 'weirdly specific bit of bulls---' 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 SchumerRed-state Dem tells Schumer to 'kiss my you know what' on Supreme Court vote Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick Trump's latest win: More Americans are saying, 'I quit!' MORE (D-N.Y.) told reporters during his weekly leadership press conference.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersOcasio-Cortez to campaign with Bernie Sanders in Kansas Sanders: Trump should confront Putin over Mueller probe indictments Booker seizes on Kavanaugh confirmation fight 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 CornynSunday shows preview: Trump readies for meeting with Putin GOP moderates hint at smooth confirmation ahead for Kavanaugh GOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE MORE and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzThe Memo: Trump leaves chaos in his wake in UK Beto O'Rourke is dominating Ted Cruz in enthusiasm and fundraising — but he's still headed for defeat GOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE 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 TrumpReporters defend CNN's Acosta after White House says he 'disrespected' Trump with question Security costs of Trump visit to Scotland sparks outrage among Scottish citizens Ex-CIA officer: Prosecution of Russians indicted for DNC hack 'ain't ever going to happen' 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 LankfordSenators seek data on tax law's impact on charitable giving GOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE Hillicon Valley: Hacker tried to sell military docs on dark web | Facebook fined over Cambridge Analytica | US closer to lifting ZTE ban | Trump, Obama lose followers in Twitter purge | DOJ weighs appeal on AT&T merger MORE (Okla.) and Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisGOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE Administration to brief Senate panel on family reunifications 'Paws for Celebration' event brings rescue animals to the Capitol 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 PelosiTop Democrats request meeting with intel chief over sharing of classified info Overnight Defense: Fears rise over Trump-Putin summit | McCain presses Trump to hold Putin 'accountable' for hacking | Pentagon does damage control after NATO meet 'Our Cartoon President' takes on Mueller probe, NATO and Melania in second season 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 introduces legislation labelling first-time illegal border crossing as a felony Scalise throws support behind Black, Blackburn ahead of Tennessee primary GOP lawmaker: Porn partly to blame for school shootings 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 WoodallMay brings key primaries across nation Path to Dem majority lies in well-educated districts McConnell, Schumer tap colleagues to explore budget reform MORE (Ga.), Steve WomackStephen (Steve) Allen WomackSenate chairman urges move to two-year budgetary process On The Money: Senate passes first 2019 spending bill | Trump hits Harley-Davidson in tariffs fight | Mnuchin rips report of investment restrictions | Justices side with American Express in antitrust case Fortenberry named chairman of legislative appropriations subcommittee in House MORE (Ark.) and Bill JohnsonWilliam (Bill) Leslie JohnsonGreens win court case seeking stronger air pollution rules for brick makers Overnight Defense: VA pick breezes through confirmation hearing | House votes to move on defense bill negotiations | Senate bill would set 'stringent' oversight on North Korea talks Arizona men charged with operating scam PACs 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 TiberiElection Countdown: Latest on the 2018 Senate money race | Red-state Dems feeling the heat over Kavanaugh | Dem doubts about Warren | Ocasio-Cortez to visit Capitol Hill | Why Puerto Ricans in Florida could swing Senate race Ohio Dem aims to win over Kasich wing of GOP Ex-lawmakers see tough job market with trade groups 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 ShusterOvernight Defense: VA pick breezes through confirmation hearing | House votes to move on defense bill negotiations | Senate bill would set 'stringent' oversight on North Korea talks House passes bipartisan water infrastructure bill Stakeholder group urges Senate panel to fund Amtrak, Northeast Corridor MORE (R-Pa.) and House Administration Committee Chairman Gregg HarperGregory (Gregg) Livingston HarperLawmakers press Apple, Google on data collection Senate harassment bill runs into opposition from House GOP lawmaker calls on US Olympic Committee chief to resign 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.