This week: Congress seeks to avoid a shutdown
© Greg Nash

Four days remain until government funding expires and it still isn’t entirely clear how Congress will avoid a shutdown.

House GOP leaders are still forging ahead with a plan to pass a two-week stopgap measure to keep the government’s lights on through Dec. 22 once current funding expires after Friday, despite opposition from conservatives and uncertainty over whether Democrats would support it.

The House Rules Committee is scheduled to meet on Tuesday to set up floor debate on the two-week spending patch.

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Under the plan outlined by GOP leaders, Congress would pass the two-week stopgap this week to give lawmakers time to negotiate a budget deal. Then lawmakers would approve another temporary spending bill, known as a continuing resolution (CR), right before Christmas so that appropriators will have time to write a trillion-dollar “omnibus” package that could be approved in January.

House conservatives are unconvinced that GOP leaders have a clear strategy and worried that the holiday deadline pressure would result in a bill loaded with extraneous measures they won’t like. They prefer to extend funding into January.

“I just know from experience if you have a CR that ends Dec. 22, you’re going to try to jam the conference into voting for something just so you can be home for Christmas,” said Rep. Louie GohmertLouis (Louie) Buller GohmertOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump order aims to curb US agencies' use of foreign workers after TVA outrage | EPA transition back to the office alarms employees | Hundreds of green groups oppose BLM nominee Interior stresses 'showing up for work' after Grijalva tests positive for coronavirus Trump's junk medicine puts his own supporters at deadly risk MORE (R-Texas), a member of the House Freedom Caucus.

Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisCoronavirus deal key to Republicans protecting Senate majority From a Republican donor to Senate GOP: Remove marriage penalty or risk alienating voters The Hill's Campaign Report: COVID-19 puts conventions in flux  MORE (R-N.C.) signaled that he would want to know the strategy for the end-of-December spending bill before supporting a stopgap this week.

“Really the first CR is predicated on the strategy and the linkage to what are we really talking about. ... I would not say 'yes' to the first one without having some understanding of what the content and the strategy on the second one is,” Tillis said.

Senate GOP leadership hasn't outlined its plan to fund the government by Friday. But Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump signs executive orders after coronavirus relief talks falter Coronavirus deal key to Republicans protecting Senate majority Coronavirus talks collapse as negotiators fail to reach deal MORE (R-Ky.) is downplaying the chances of a shutdown. 

"There's not going to be a government shutdown," he told ABC's "This Week" on Sunday. "It's just not going to happen."

Republicans have been adamant that they would not allow a shutdown during their first year of unified government, as they go into the 2018 midterm elections. 

Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyFauci says positive White House task force reports don't always match what he hears on the ground Bottom line White House, Senate GOP clash over testing funds MORE, President Trump's budget chief, noted that various factions in Congress, including House conservatives and Democrats, want a shutdown. But he predicted that lawmakers and the White House will be able to get a deal.

"We need to get beyond that. I think that we will, I don't think you'll see a government shutdown," he told CBS's "Face the Nation." 

Democrats are holding their cards close on whether they’d vote for any proposal offered by GOP leaders. They’re pushing for a spending package to include a solution for young immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children.

House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiWhite House officials, Democrats spar over legality, substance of executive orders Sunday shows - Trump coronavirus executive orders reverberate Pelosi: 'Of course there's room for compromise' on 0-per-week unemployment benefit MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) pulled out of a planned meeting at the White House last week after Trump tweeted, “I don’t see a deal!”

Schumer added that Democratic and Republican staffs were “making great progress until the president stepped in. We were very close on a number of issues."

The Trump administration is rescinding the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that granted temporary work permits for certain qualifying young immigrants. DACA recipients will face deportation in March if Congress doesn’t act by then.

Republicans are pushing for any DACA deal to include border security enforcement measures.

Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinWhite House officials, Democrats spar over legality, substance of executive orders Sunday shows - Trump coronavirus executive orders reverberate Durbin blasts Trump's 'country-club fix' on unemployment MORE (D-Ill.) rejected an offer from a group of Senate Republicans, led by Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyTrump puts trade back on 2020 agenda McConnell goes hands-off on coronavirus relief bill GOP chairmen hit back at accusation they are spreading disinformation with Biden probe MORE (R-Iowa) that would have paired large swaths of a border security bill by 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) with a DACA fix that did not include a path to citizenship.

Cornyn noted that Republicans were now discussing other paths forward and could have an announcement this week.

But sensitivity over pushing tax reform is adding to the already-complicated negotiations.

GOP lawmakers are eager for at least one major legislative accomplishment since taking across-the-board control of Washington 11 months ago, especially after failing to fulfill their campaign pledge to repeal ObamaCare.

Acceding to Democrats’ demands on immigration before getting tax-reform done is hardly what Republicans campaigned on.

“We haven’t passed any of our major legislation right now. So to be working on a Democrat point as the first major bill you’re going to pass, it doesn’t seem right to me,” said Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), another Freedom Caucus member.

Tax reform

The House is convening Monday — a day earlier than originally scheduled — to vote on a motion to go to conference with the Senate’s tax-reform bill.

GOP lawmakers are hoping to send legislation to the president's desk by the end of this month so that they can finally claim a major legislative accomplishment.

Despite some suggestions that the House might simply swallow the Senate's tax-reform bill, GOP leaders are adamant that the two chambers will hammer out their differences in a conference committee for a final compromise product.

The House passed its version relatively easily before Thanksgiving, with only 13 GOP defections. Senate Republicans advanced their proposal early Saturday with only Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerTennessee primary battle turns nasty for Republicans Cheney clashes with Trump Sessions-Tuberville Senate runoff heats up in Alabama MORE (R-Tenn.) breaking ranks.

The two bills have several differences, including the child tax credit, mortgage interest deduction and inclusion of repealing ObamaCare's individual mandate.

Unlike the House bill, the Senate legislation has seven brackets with a top rate of 38.5 percent.

The Senate bill also keeps the estate tax, while the House bill eliminates it. And the House measure would lower the corporate tax rate in 2018, while the Senate delays the cut by a year.

GOP Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCoronavirus deal key to Republicans protecting Senate majority From a Republican donor to Senate GOP: Remove marriage penalty or risk alienating voters The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump's visit to battleground Ohio overshadowed by coronavirus MORE (R-Maine) said on Sunday that whether or not she votes for the final version depends on the compromise struck by negotiators. 

"No, I mean obviously I want to see what comes out," Collins, who voted for the Senate bill, told NBC News. 

Several of Collins's amendments made it into the Senate legislation, including the restoration of a $10,000 deduction for property taxes and a lower threshold for deducting medical expenses.

Guns

Two months after the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, the House is set to vote on a package combining concealed carry reciprocity with beefing up the background check system.

The legislation includes a bill authored by Rep. Richard HudsonRichard Lane HudsonHow Congress is preventing a Medicare bankruptcy during COVID-19 Cook shifts 20 House districts toward Democrats American meat producers must leverage new technology to protect consumers, workers MORE (R-N.C.) that would allow people with state permits for carrying concealed handguns to do so in other states they are traveling in that allow concealed carry.

People would only be authorized to have concealed guns if they are legally licensed to carry them, are not prohibited from possessing guns and have valid government-issued photo identification.

The concealed-carry measure is a top priority for the National Rifle Association.

Democrats widely oppose the concealed carry reciprocity measure, but do support the other bill included in the package to boost the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) for gun purchases.

The background check measure, authored by Rep. John CulbersonJohn Abney Culberson2020 Democratic Party platform endorses Trump's NASA moon program Bottom line Ex-Rep. Frelinghuysen joins law and lobby firm MORE (R-Texas), would ensure that authorities report criminal history records to the NICS. It would also penalize agencies that don’t report criminal records to the FBI.

In addition, it includes a provision directly in response to the Oct. 1 shooting in Las Vegas that killed nearly 60 people and injured more than 500.

The measure would require the Bureau of Justice Statistics to report to Congress on the number of times a device known as a bump stock has been used in a crime. Authorities found a dozen bump stocks, which are used to make guns fire faster, in the Mandalay Bay hotel room used by the Las Vegas shooter.

Sexual harassment

The fallout over sexual harassment in Congress is still going strong. House Democrats have called for Rep. John ConyersJohn James ConyersBiden's immigration plan has serious problems Tlaib wins Michigan Democratic primary Tlaib holds lead in early vote count against primary challenger MORE Jr. (D-Mich.) to resign following allegations that he harassed female staffers, including one who agreed to a settlement of more than $27,000.

Conyers has denied wrongdoing and said he made the settlement to avoid protracted litigation.

But on Friday, a lawyer for Conyers said that the embattled lawmaker will make a decision in the coming days about whether to resign and end his congressional career spanning more than five decades.

A handful of House Democrats have also called for Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenCNN publishes first Al Franken op-ed since resignation Political world mourns loss of comedian Jerry Stiller Maher to Tara Reade on timing of sexual assault allegation: 'Why wait until Biden is our only hope?' MORE (D-Minn.) to resign amid allegations that he inappropriately touched multiple women. No Senate Democrats have done so, however.

Yet another lawmaker, freshman Rep. Ruben KihuenRuben Jesus KihuenRep. Steven Horsford wins Democratic House primary in Nevada Members spar over sexual harassment training deadline Nevada Dem sanctioned for sexual misconduct announces city council bid MORE (D-Nev.), has been accused of sexual harassment by a woman who worked for his 2016 campaign, according to a BuzzFeed News report published Friday.

Pelosi and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) both said that Kihuen, who denies the accusations, should step down.

Lawmakers in both parties are working on legislation to reform the system to report and settle harassment complaints. Thousands of dollars funded by taxpayers have been paid in at least three sexual harassment cases regarding Conyers, Rep. Blake FarentholdRandolph (Blake) Blake FarentholdThe biggest political upsets of the decade Members spar over sexual harassment training deadline Female Dems see double standard in Klobuchar accusations MORE (R-Texas) and ex-Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.).

As part of its review of Capitol Hill’s workplace policies, the House Administration Committee is set to hold a hearing on Thursday to discuss reforms to the 1995 law that created the Office of Compliance process to report harassment complaints.

Representatives from the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, Office of Compliance and Office of House Employment Counsel are all slated to testify before the panel.

Homeland Security

The Senate is set to confirm Trump's pick to lead the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) this week. 

Senators will take a procedural vote on Kirstjen Nielsen's nomination on Monday evening. If Democrats drag out debate time a final vote could take place as late as Wednesday. 

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved Nielsen's nomination in a 11-4 vote last month, after it was delayed when members sent her nearly 200 follow-up questions. 

If confirmed, Nielsen — a cybersecurity expert and former Homeland Security official — will lead an agency charged with protecting America’s borders, guarding against cybersecurity threats and spearheading disaster relief efforts.

But Democrats have raised concerns about her lack of leadership experience, questioning if she would be able to mandate an agency that has roughly 240,000 employees. 

DHS hasn't had a Senate-confirmed secretary since John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE left the agency to be Trump's chief of staff. 

In the interim, Elaine Duke has led the agency in an acting capacity.