This week: Senate plots path on healthcare
© Getty Images

Senate Republicans are struggling to reach a consensus on their bill to repeal and replace ObamaCare ahead of a looming recess.

GOP lawmakers have spent weeks locked in closed-door meetings, as well as caucus lunches, discussing proposals. 

But key policy choices, including what year to end the Medicaid expansion and whether or not to keep some of ObamaCare’s taxes, remain unanswered with less than two weeks until Congress is scheduled to leave town for the July 4th recess. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Conservatives are warning Senate leadership against moving the bill to far to the middle. They’ve specifically taken issue with a longer phase out of Medicaid expansion and keeping in place some of ObamaCare’s taxes for longer than the House bill. 

“I think we shouldn't have new entitlements that will go on forever in a Republican plan to fix healthcare,” Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulFive things to watch in two Ohio special election primaries Up next in the culture wars: Adding women to the draft The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators MORE (R-Ky.) told reporters. “We can't pay for what we already have: Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.”

Paul, and Sens. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeThis week: Senate starts infrastructure sprint Senators introduce bipartisan infrastructure bill in rare Sunday session Biden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet MORE (R-Utah) and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzUp next in the culture wars: Adding women to the draft Biden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet 228 Republican lawmakers urge Supreme Court to overrule Roe v. Wade MORE (R-Texas) are considered three potential conservative “no” votes, though Cruz has largely held his fire. Both he and Lee are part of the working group convened by Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - White House, Dems play blame game over evictions GOP skepticism looms over bipartisan spending deal On The Money: Biden, Pelosi struggle with end of eviction ban | Trump attorney says he will fight release of tax returns MORE

Meanwhile, Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiGraham's COVID-19 'breakthrough' case jolts Senate Sarah Palin says she's praying about running for Senate against Murkowski Graham says he has COVID-19 'breakthrough' infection MORE (R-Alaska), a moderate Republican and key vote, signaled late last week that she was still undecided on the Senate effort. 

“I just truly do not know, because I don’t know where it’s going,” she told reporters

She separately said in a letter that she’s “committed” to funding Planned Parenthood. The House bill defunds the group for a year. 

Senate Republicans are walking a tightrope over the women’s health organization. Both Murkowski and GOP Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGraham's COVID-19 'breakthrough' case jolts Senate The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate finalizes .2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill Schumer: Democrats 'on track' to pass bipartisan deal, .5T budget MORE (R-Maine) oppose cutting off federal funding for the organization. 

With 52 seats Republicans could theoretically pass a bill without the two senators, but would need to keep every other member on board and require Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceOfficers' powerful Capitol riot testimony underscores Pelosi's partisan blunder RealClearPolitics reporter says Freedom Caucus shows how much GOP changed under Trump Want to improve vaccine rates? Ask for this endorsement MORE to break a 50-50 tie. 

Top GOP senators—including Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - White House, Dems play blame game over evictions GOP skepticism looms over bipartisan spending deal Graham's COVID-19 'breakthrough' case jolts Senate MORE (R-S.D.), the No. 3 Republican—have expressed optimism that they would be able to vote on their legislation by the July 4th recess.

The move would allow them to use July to hash out differences with the House if the bill passes, or move on to a full calendar of other policy issues if it fails. 

But McConnell has yet to publicly commit to a timeline, and Sen. John CornynJohn CornynGOP skepticism looms over bipartisan spending deal Biden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal MORE (R-Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican, has pointed to the August recess as the caucus’s self-imposed deadline. 

Democrats are also stepping up their attacks on the GOP healthcare bill, dinging Republicans for refusing to discuss the yet-written legislation in public. 

Minority Leader Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerPoll: Majority of voters say more police are needed amid rise in crime America's middle class is getting hooked on government cash — and Democrats aren't done yet The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate finalizes .2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill MORE (D-N.Y.) sent a letter to McConnell late last week, requesting an all-senators meeting so the two sides could “come together to find solutions to America's challenges."  

"Please accept our invitation to sit down together in the old Senate Chamber so we can hear your plans and discuss how to make healthcare more affordable and accessible," Schumer wrote. 

Democrats also introduced legislation that would block Republicans from bringing their ObamaCare repeal and replace legislation up for a vote under reconciliation—the fast-track progress that lets its pass by a simple majority—without first giving it a hearing. 

Gianforte takes office

Republican Greg Gianforte will take the oath of office on Wednesday afternoon, a month after he assaulted Ben Jacobs, a reporter for The Guardian, the night before a special election.

He’ll be sworn in as a House member just over a week after pleading guilty to the assault. Gianforte was sentenced to 40 hours of community service and 20 hours of anger management counseling, along with a $385 fine. 

Gianforte had already pledged to donate $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists while issuing a full apology to Jacobs.

His swearing-in will take on added significance after last Wednesday’s shooting at the GOP baseball practice in Alexandria, Va. 

Lawmakers have been calling for greater political civility in the aftermath of a gunman shooting four people, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.).

Scalise remains in the hospital and is expected to remain there for weeks as he recovers from multiple surgeries since a bullet pierced his hip.

Gianforte said in an interview with the Associated Press on Friday that lawmakers are obligated to tone down the partisan rancor.  

“I believe that good things can come out of bad,” Gianforte said. “It’s important to make sure we reach out to all parties and hear their voice. I think the other parties have an obligation, as well, to be respectful and in that dialogue.”

Gianforte’s campaign initially issued a statement describing the altercation as “aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist.” But he later apologized at his campaign victory rally the next day after winning the special election over Democrat Rob Quist.

Gianforte is sure to attract massive media interest as soon as he steps into the Capitol Hill complex on Wednesday.

Capitol Hill is a uniquely accessible place for journalists, who are authorized to freely roam just about anywhere on the campus. They congregate outside the House and Senate chambers during votes, and walk up to lawmakers making their way inside to ask questions on behalf of the public.

Gianforte will be closely watched on how he handles the crowds of reporters that are sure to gather around him, put their recorders near his face and ask relentless questions.

Some Democratic lawmakers and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have called on the GOP to refuse to let Gianforte be sworn into office after he admitted to a crime.

But GOP leaders have shown no indication they would refuse to let Gianforte into their ranks. 

Russia probe

For the third week in a row, a witness will be called before Congress to testify publicly about Russia’s interference in last year’s election.

Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson will appear before the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday to discuss Russian efforts to breach U.S. election systems. 

Johnson’s testimony will come after Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsWant to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump Democrat stalls Biden's border nominee Garland strikes down Trump-era immigration court rule, empowering judges to pause cases MORE, former FBI Director James Comey and the heads of the nation’s security agencies appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee this month.

The House and Senate Intelligence Committees are conducting two separate investigations into Russia’s election meddling.  

The House Appropriations Committee, meanwhile, will also hold a hearing that could result in questions about the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s role in the election and potential ties with President Trump’s campaign.

Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe will appear before an Appropriations subcommittee to testify about the agency’s budget, but is sure to get questions about the Russia probe.

In the Senate, the Intelligence Committee plans to host a hearing also on Wednesday about potential cyber threats in the 2018 and 2020 elections. That hearing will feature testimony from DHS and FBI officials leading cyber and intelligence divisions. 

Workforce development, environmental processes

The House is slated to consider legislation by Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) to create grants for states to conduct projects that help low-income individuals enter the workforce.

Curbelo introduced the bill with Illinois Democrat Danny Davis, which should pave the way for a bipartisan vote this week. 

“Poverty is an issue that affects each our districts. We need innovative solutions that can help get people on track to a brighter future,” Curbelo said as the House Ways and Means Committee considered the legislation last week.

Floor consideration of both bills comes after Trump signed an executive order last week aimed at expanding apprenticeships to help people with job training. The order directs the Labor Department to create new rules allowing companies, industry groups and unions to make their own programs to be approved by the agency. 

Lawmakers will also consider legislation to streamline the process for utility companies to remove trees near transmission lines as a way to limit the risk of wildfires and streamlines agency coordination for reviews to construct new surface water storage projects.