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 PaulTrump-backed Hagerty wins Tennessee GOP Senate primary Senators introduce bill to block Trump armed drone sale measure The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump's visit to battleground Ohio overshadowed by coronavirus 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 LeeOvernight Defense: Air Force general officially becomes first African American service chief | Senators introduce bill to block Trump armed drone sale measure | State Department's special envoy for Iran is departing the Trump administration Senators introduce bill to block Trump armed drone sale measure Trump signs major conservation bill into law MORE (R-Utah) and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSens. Markey, Cruz clash over coronavirus relief: 'It's not a goddamn joke Ted' China sanctioning Rubio, Cruz in retaliatory move over Hong Kong The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Negotiators signal relief bill stuck, not dead 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 McConnellTeachers union launches 0K ad buy calling for education funding in relief bill No signs of breakthrough for stalemated coronavirus talks State aid emerges as major hurdle to reviving COVID-19 talks MORE

Meanwhile, Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiOn The Money: Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire | Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks | Tax preparers warn unemployment recipients could owe IRS Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire Hillicon Valley: Facebook removes Trump post | TikTok gets competitor | Lawmakers raise grid safety concerns 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 CollinsState aid emerges as major hurdle to reviving COVID-19 talks Senators ask for removal of tariffs on EU food, wine, spirits: report Coronavirus deal key to Republicans protecting Senate majority 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 PenceTrump campaign adviser sparks criticism for misgendering Pennsylvania official On The Trail: Pence's knives come out Pence: Chief Justice Roberts 'has been a disappointment to conservatives' MORE to break a 50-50 tie. 

Top GOP senators—including Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneTrump says he'll accept nomination from either White House or Gettysburg Meadows says he wants Trump nomination speech 'miles and miles away' from White House The Hill's 12:30 Report: White House, Dems debate coronavirus relief package 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 CornynCOVID-19 bill limiting liability would strike the wrong balance From a Republican donor to Senate GOP: Remove marriage penalty or risk alienating voters Skepticism grows over Friday deadline for coronavirus 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 SchumerTo save the Postal Service, bring it online White House officials, Democrats spar over legality, substance of executive orders Schumer declines to say whether Trump executive orders are legal: They don't 'do the job' 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 SessionsThe 'pitcher of warm spit' — Veepstakes and the fate of Mike Pence FBI officials hid copies of Russia probe documents fearing Trump interference: book Tuberville breaks DC self-quarantine policy to campaign 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.