This week: Congress grapples with Comey fallout
© Greg Nash

The fallout over President Trump’s firing of James Comey as FBI director is expected to further inflame Congress this week.

House and Senate GOP leaders have dismissed Democrats’ push to appoint a special prosecutor or create an independent bipartisan commission to investigate Russia’s role in the 2016 election since Comey’s ouster.

They insist that the ongoing probes the FBI and House and Senate Intelligence panels will suffice.


But the controversy isn’t going away, even nearly a full week after the White House made the bombshell announcement.

The House will be back in session for the first time since the firing, after being out for a week and a half. Trump poured gasoline onto the fire days after the firing, tweeting that Comey "better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!"

Meanwhile, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will meet with senators during a closed-door briefing this week over his role in Comey’s firing. 

Rosenstein has been under the spotlight because of a memo used to justify Comey’s firing. 

His role has confused and infuriated Democratic senators, most of whom voted to confirm him to the No. 2 Department of Justice spot less than a month ago. 

Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinOvernight Health Care — Presented by The Partnership for Safe Medicines — GOP lawmaker pushes back on Trump drug pricing plan | Pfizer to raise prices on 41 drugs next year | Grassley opts for Finance gavel McConnell: Criminal justice bill unlikely this year Trump’s backing may not be enough on criminal justice reform MORE (D-Ill.), who supported Rosenstein’s nomination, said on Friday that he needed to resign if he wasn’t willing to appoint a special prosecutor to oversee the FBI’s investigation, which includes potential ties between the Trump campaign and Moscow. 

"To preserve his reputation as a credible prosecutor, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein must appoint an independent special prosecutor to pursue possible criminal charges, or he must resign," Durbin said in a statement. 

The White House initially said Trump made his decision based off guidance from Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsAttorneys want Supreme Court to determine legality of Whitaker as acting AG Hillicon Valley: Russian-linked hackers may have impersonated US officials | Trump signs DHS cyber bill | Prosecutors inadvertently reveal charges against Assange | Accenture workers protest border enforcement work | App mines crypto for bail bonds McCarthy, other Republicans back Ratcliffe to be next attorney general MORE. Trump, however, contradicted that when he told NBC News that he would have fired Comey regardless of the FBI’s recommendation. 

In addition to briefing the entire Senate, the Senate Judiciary Committee has asked that either Rosenstein or Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, or both, give senators an update on the FBI’s investigation. 

Senate Minority Leader Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerFacebook reeling after damning NYT report Schumer warns Trump to stay out of government funding negotiations Schumer predicts Nelson will 'continue being senator' if 'every vote counted' MORE (D-N.Y.) also wants Sessions to meet with his former colleagues. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) has also called for Rosenstein, Sessions and Comey to publicly testify. 

Comey declined to meet in a closed-door session with the Senate Intelligence Committee that was tentatively scheduled for Tuesday. 

“He is not going to be testifying on Tuesday, but it’s our hope that in the not too distant future that we can find time for him to come in and talk to our committee,” Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerFacebook reeling after damning NYT report On The Money: Trump, Senate leaders to huddle on border wall funding | Fed bank regulator walks tightrope on Dodd-Frank | Koch-backed groups blast incentives for corporations after Amazon deal Schumer told Warner to back off of Facebook: report MORE (D-Va.) — the top Democrat on the committee — told MSNBC. 

Health care

Despite the Comey cloud, Republicans will plow ahead with one of their top priorities: ObamaCare repeal.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanHow this year’s freshmen can save the Congress — and themselves Democrat Katie Porter unseats GOP's Mimi Walters Amazon fleeced New York, Virginia with HQ2 picks MORE (R-Wis.) downplayed the notion that the Comey scandal would distract from the GOP’s legislative agenda.

“You know, it’s not hard that in Congress to get us to focus on our jobs,” Ryan told a Wisconsin radio host on Friday.

House Republicans struggled to defend their votes for their healthcare plan while back in their districts over the last week.

The few GOP lawmakers who did hold town halls were overrun by angry constituents fearful that they could lose access to health insurance. Even Freedom Caucus members in deep-red districts, like Reps. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) and Dave Brat (R-Va.), faced crowds full of people upset over their votes.

An analysis from the Congressional Budget Office on the legislation the House narrowly passed earlier this month isn’t expected until next Monday. 

For now, the bill’s fate is in the Senate’s ballpark, where GOP senators are noncommittal on when they could pass it.

Both Ryan and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price have endorsed the idea that the upper chamber could clear its legislation before lawmakers leave for the August recess. 

"We will continue to work with the Leader [Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellAs Democrats gear up to challenge Trump in 2020, the key political divide will be metropolitan versus rural McConnell: Criminal justice bill unlikely this year On The Money: Why the tax law failed to save the GOP majority | Grassley opts for Finance gavel, setting Graham up for Judiciary | Trump says China eager for trade deal | Facebook reeling after damning NYT report MORE] and all the other senators who are interested, as I say, in working toward a positive, productive outcome. And I do, I believe the Senate will produce a bill this summer," Price told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Friday. 

Asked if senators would be able to vote before they leave Washington, Price added, "I believe so."

Ryan said Friday he hopes the Senate can move the legislation within the next month or so, but added, “I stopped trying to predict what the Senate is going to do a long time ago.”

Lawmakers have roughly two and a half months before they are scheduled to leave on July 31. They will return to Washington in early September, where they will need to work out a deal funding the government and avoiding a shutdown. 

But the timeline is a contrast to signals from Senate Republicans, who have been wary of being tied down to a specific deadline. 

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has yet to lay out when he thinks the Senate could pass legislation. 

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynTrump’s backing may not be enough on criminal justice reform Congress should ban life without parole sentences for children  Senate GOP discussing Mueller vote MORE (R-Texas) said the Senate will pass a bill this year, but pressed if they could pass legislation by Sept. 30 — the end of the fiscal year — he demurred. 

“No, no, I’m not going to play that game," the No. 2 Senate Republican told reporters. 

House and Senate lawmakers could also need to go to conference to work out their differences, which could drag the healthcare debate well into the fall. 

For now, McConnell has convened a working group that is meeting two times a week. The group is tasked with coming up with a deal that could pass the Senate, but senators say the talks are still in the early stages and focused on broad policy ideas. 

Senate Republicans have a narrow path for passing healthcare legislation through the upper chamber. With 52 seats, McConnell can only afford to lose two GOP senators and still pass a bill. 

They're expected to make significant changes to the bill, with a group of moderate GOP senators concerned about what happens to ObamaCare's Medicaid expansion in their home states. 

GOP Sens. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanThe case for bipartisan solutions GOP lawmakers condemn attempted attacks on Democrats Trump takes steps to punish Saudi Arabia MORE (Ohio) and Pat Toomey (Pa.) have been tasked with trying to find a way forward on Medicaid. 

Senate GOP leaders are also preparing for a fight over using the bill to defund Planned Parenthood. Though cutting off federal funding is supported by most of the caucus, Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsMcConnell, Flake clash over protecting Mueller probe Overnight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — Border deployment 'peaked' at 5,800 troops | Trump sanctions 17 Saudis over Khashoggi killing | Senators offer bill to press Trump on Saudis | Paul effort to block Bahrain arms sale fails Senators introduce bill to respond to Khashoggi killing MORE (Maine) and Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiMcConnell, Flake clash over protecting Mueller probe Dems slam Trump’s energy regulator nominee Ernst elected to Senate GOP leadership MORE (R-Alaska) don't want to link the two issues. 

Meanwhile, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said they are exploring whether they can get a repeal of essential health benefits through the Senate's rules. Though the move has been pushed by conservatives it could alienate more moderate senators. 

In the meantime, House Republicans will try to pivot to tax reform. 

The House Ways and Means Committee will hold its first hearing on tax reform — "How Tax Reform Will Grow Our Economy and Create Jobs Across America" — on Thursday morning. 

“Our hearing is an important step forward as we work with President Trump and our Senate colleagues on delivering historic pro-growth tax reform for the first time in 30 years,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyGOP lawmaker pushes back on Trump drug pricing proposal Tax law failed to save GOP majority Overnight Health Care — Presented by The Partnership for Safe Medicines — Juul halts retail sales for most flavored e-cigs | CDC confirms 90 cases of rare polio-like illness | Physicians push back on Trump plans to redefine gender MORE (R-Texas) said in a statement announcing it. 

With no major votes imminent, the House has a relatively light floor schedule this week.

Lawmakers will consider two bills in commemoration of National Police Week. One would give probation officers the authority to arrest “hostile third parties” who interfere with their duties, while another would include the murder or attempted killing of a law enforcement officer as a factor for a jury to consider when deciding if a case merits the death penalty. 


The Senate will continue processing Trump's nominees with up to three votes this week. 

Senators will start the week on Monday evening with a procedural vote on Jeffrey Rosen's nomination to be the deputy secretary of Transportation. Democrats could drag out a final vote on the nomination until Tuesday night. 

Rosen was nominated by Trump in March and previously served as general counsel to the Transportation Department during the George W. Bush administration. 

After wrapping up Rosen's nomination the Senate is expected to move to Rachel Brand's nomination to be assistant attorney general. The Judiciary Committee voted 11-9 to approve her nomination last month. 

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOvernight Health Care — Presented by The Partnership for Safe Medicines — GOP lawmaker pushes back on Trump drug pricing plan | Pfizer to raise prices on 41 drugs next year | Grassley opts for Finance gavel McConnell: Criminal justice bill unlikely this year On The Money: Why the tax law failed to save the GOP majority | Grassley opts for Finance gavel, setting Graham up for Judiciary | Trump says China eager for trade deal | Facebook reeling after damning NYT report MORE (R-Iowa) also told Iowa reporters last week that the Senate could confirm Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) to be Trump's ambassador to China. 

"By next week, he’ll be ambassador to China, as far as I can tell," he said according to the Des Moines Register. 

But McConnell wrapped up the Senate's work for the week without setting up Branstand's nomination.