This week: Congress races to prevent another shutdown
© Greg Nash

Time is running short for Congress to avoid another shutdown once funding runs out after Thursday.

The vote comes roughly three weeks after the government closed for three days amid a fight over the fate of the participants in an Obama-era immigration program.

But GOP leadership appears confident Democrats won’t risk another shutdown, after they folded last month on their demand to link immigration policy to a must-pass bill.

“I don’t think we’ll see a threat [of a] government shutdown again over this subject. One of my favorite old Kentucky country sayings is 'there’s no education in the second kick of a mule,' and so I think there will be a new level of seriousness here trying to resolve these issues,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDoug Jones walks tightrope on Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh gets questionnaires for confirmation hearing Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick MORE (R-Ky.) told reporters.

A retreat for House Democrats is slated to begin Wednesday, which may help grease the skids for passing another temporary stopgap measure to keep the government open in time.

A vote in the House is expected Tuesday, per a Republican aide.

The continuing resolution is expected to fund the government through March 23, according to two sources, but the date hasn’t been finalized.

Asked about a six-week continuing resolution, an aide for the Senate Appropriations Committee said they are "on board, with a primary interest in accepting any date that makes the most sense in context of getting a deal and final resolution of the [fiscal] 2018 appropriations."

Lawmakers are hoping a longer continuing resolution will allow them to clinch a budget deal, which has been hamstrung by the immigration fight and demands of equal increases in defense and nondefense spending, as well as write a larger omnibus bill that could take weeks.

Democrats secured a pledge from McConnell upon ending the three-day shutdown to take up immigration legislation after Thursday. The GOP leader said late last week that he is “perfectly happy, provided the government is still open on Feb. 8, to go to the subject and to treat it in a fair way.”

House Democrats are scheduled to depart for Cambridge, Md., for their retreat on Wednesday.

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenBiden: I’m ‘ashamed’ of Trump’s border policies Biden to ramp up campaigning for Dem candidates after Labor Day: report California Dems endorse progressive challenger over Feinstein MORE is slated to speak before Democratic lawmakers, and will talk about how the party can appeal to middle-class voters ahead of the midterm elections this November. Democrats must net at least 24 seats to win the House majority.

But Democrats say they will stay in Washington until a deal is reached on the continuing resolution.

There are early signs of trouble in the House, where GOP leadership could need to pass a fifth stopgap bill since September with GOP-only votes. Defense and fiscal hawks have become increasingly frustrated about supporting the stopgap measures without a long-term budget deal in sight.

And Freedom Caucus members appear to be itching for a fight and might make demands about immigration or military spending in exchange for their votes.

“I don’t see the probability of the Freedom Caucus supporting a fifth continuing resolution without substantial changes by Feb. 8,” Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsFive GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus Former FBI lawyer Lisa Page gets closed-door grilling from House Republicans Conservatives moving to impeach Rosenstein soon: report MORE (R-N.C.), the Freedom Caucus leader, told reporters at the GOP retreat.

 

Sexual harassment bill

Bipartisan legislation to overhaul Capitol Hill’s sexual harassment policies is expected to move forward this week.

The House Administration Committee is scheduled to meet Monday to consider the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 Reform Act, which overhauls a 1995 law that set up current policies for staffers to report harassment.

The legislation would provide staffers with additional resources and rights when filing a complaint, streamline the dispute resolution and reporting process, and enhance transparency when it comes to harassment settlements.

It would also end the practice of taxpayer-funded settlements for lawmakers accused of harassment. Any lawmaker who agrees to a settlement over harassment accusations would have to reimburse taxpayers within 90 days.

At least two sitting lawmakers, Rep. Blake FarentholdRandolph (Blake) Blake FarentholdEx-lawmakers see tough job market with trade groups Republican wins right to replace Farenthold in Congress Supreme Court rules for Texas in redistricting case MORE (R-Texas) and Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.), were revealed to have used taxpayer-funded settlements after female aides accused them of sexual harassment. Both decided not to seek reelection following reports by Politico and The New York Times that exposed the settlements.

Farenthold has pledged to take out a personal loan and reimburse taxpayers for an $84,000 settlement, but he is waiting to see what changes Congress makes to its sexual harassment policies.

Government transparency advocates are critical of a provision in the bill that would prevent the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), an independent ethics watchdog, from reviewing complaints. Instead, complaints filed through the Capitol Hill entity that handles cases would only be referred to the House Ethics Committee for review.

Critics of the provision argue that the OCE was created in 2008 to add a layer of accountability to the ethics process and should be able to review complaints.

 

Nominations

The Senate will vote Monday on Andrei Iancu’s nomination to be the director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

McConnell scheduled a vote on his nomination for 5:30 p.m., after up to a half hour of debate.

Michelle Lee, the former head of the Patent Office, resigned in June after a drawn-out saga about confusion over leadership at the USPTO within the Commerce Department.

Lee had previously served as head of the office under President Obama, however her title fell into ambiguity when President TrumpDonald John TrumpSasse: Trump shouldn't dignify Putin with Helsinki summit Top LGBT group projects message onto Presidential Palace in Helsinki ahead of Trump-Putin summit Hillary Clinton to Trump ahead of Putin summit: 'Do you know which team you play for?' MORE took office.

The USPTO declined to officially confirm Lee’s role at the agency until March, after attorney Gary Shuster filed a FOIA request to the office, asking who was in charge.