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

Congress is scrambling to lock down a deal on a mammoth funding bill and prevent the third shutdown of the year.

Lawmakers have until midnight Friday to pass the omnibus legislation or face the third partial closure of the government in as many months.

House Republicans had hoped to vote on the bill last week in order to prevent a jam in the Senate after 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.) refused to let leadership speed up consideration of a stopgap measure and forced an hours-long shutdown last month.

But that timeline slipped amid last-minute jockeying over a host of issues and lawmakers trying to insert pet projects into what is shaping up to be one of the last major pieces of legislation to pass Congress before the midterm elections.

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“They’re coming along ... We’re not there yet. They’ve got a number of things that the leadership ... are trying to work out,” Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyWary GOP eyes Meadows shift from brick-thrower to dealmaker On 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 MORE (R-Ala.), expected to be the next chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, told reporters late last week.

Now the bill could be unveiled as soon as Monday afternoon, giving leadership a matter of days to amass support and meet Friday’s deadline.

House lawmakers are hoping to vote on the bill as early as Wednesday, driving any Senate action down to the wire.

Before then, negotiators will need to clinch an agreement on a host of controversial policy provisions.

A fight over abortion is threatening a deal to include ObamaCare stabilization money in the legislation.

Republicans are insisting that a rule known as the Hyde Amendment, which restricts federal money from being used to fund abortion, be applied. But Democrats argue it would represent an expansion of the Hyde Amendment to a new area of funding.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Charles 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.) and the Trump administration are locked in a fight over an infrastructure project considered a top priority of the New York and New Jersey delegations.

The Gateway tunnel project would rebuild passenger rail connections under the Hudson River between New York City and Newark, N.J.

But the Trump administration is warning it could veto the government bill if money for the effort is included, and the president is actively lobbying GOP leadership to leave it out.

Schumer, however, indicated last week that he still wants funding included in the omnibus, despite the administration’s threats.

“There is broad bipartisan support in the House and Senate for Gateway, and I hope it will stay in the bill,” he said.

And Republicans appeared to be taken by surprise by the Trump administration's immigration trial balloon and reports that Trump was open to including a deal on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and border security in the omnibus.

Asked if he had heard about a potential agreement on the DACA program, 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.) said with a laugh: "Well, I see there's statements by the president about it."

Shelby, asked if the White House had discussed the idea with him or his staff, hesitated for several seconds before saying “we talk about a lot of issues."

Democrats have backed away from their demand that a fix for the Obama-era immigration program, which allows certain immigrants brought into the country illegally as children, be included in the omnibus bill.

It’s a dramatic turn from January when Senate Democrats, joined by a small band of Republicans, shut down the government for three days to try to force an immigration vote.

Shelby added that a final decision hadn’t been made about including border wall funding in the bill.

Schumer separately called the wall “ineffectual and expensive” but said he wouldn’t negotiate in public.

“I don’t think the wall is border security. We will fight for real border security, not fake border security, plain and simple,” he said. “We’re not drawing red lines in the sand as we negotiate.”

Yemen

The Senate is gearing up for a fight over the United States's military involvement in Yemen.

A resolution from Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill's Campaign Report: LIVE: Trump from Gettysburg | The many unknowns of 2020 | Omar among those facing primary challenges Trump's personality is as much a problem as his performance Sierra Club endorses Biden for president  MORE (I-Vt.), Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyDemocrats try to force Trump to boost medical supplies production Overnight 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 MORE (D-Conn.) and 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) calls for any U.S. forces not involved in fighting al Qaeda or related groups to be out of the country within 30 days.

Sanders told reporters last week the measure would be brought up on the Senate floor before lawmakers leave town on Friday for a two-week recess.

"I think what our job now in Congress is to ... accept responsibility for issues of war," he said. "I hope Congress and the Senate next week votes to get the United States out of aiding Saudi Arabia in this very terrible war."

Under a provision of the International Security and Arms Export Control Act of 1976, they can get a vote on the Senate floor within 10 days of its introduction. It is subject to up to 10 hours of debate.

A spokesman for Senate 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 (R-Ky.) said last week that the resolution hasn’t been formally scheduled but could be brought up.

A vote could coincide with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's visit to Washington this week.

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, told CNN it would be better if the resolution went through the committee process rather than coming directly to the Senate floor, which could delay a vote.

"I think it would be better for the committee to consider it and make a recommendation after having a hearing so everybody understands exactly what the consequences are," he said.

Yemen is locked in a years-long civil war after Houthi rebels took over the capital and President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi fled to the southern city of Aden.

Saudi Arabia formed a coalition and intervened in support of Hadi. In response, the U.S. has provided support for the Saudi campaign.

Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Most VA workers find racism 'moderate to serious problem' at facilities l Trump advisers were wary of talking military options over fears he'd accidentally start war Trump advisers were wary of talking military options over fears he'd accidentally start war: report Trump prizes loyalty over competence — we are seeing the results MORE sent a letter to McConnell last week urging the Senate to reject the resolution.

“New restrictions on this limited U.S. military support could increase civilian casualties, jeopardize cooperation with our partners on counterterrorism, and reduce our influence with the Saudis — all of which would further exacerbate the situation and humanitarian crisis,” Mattis wrote in the letter.

The letter coincided with a closed-door, all-members briefing on Yemen, which appeared to grow contentious.

Murphy called the briefing a "blatant effort to ignore reality."

He added "that's the most angry I've been at a briefing in all my time here" and that he told the administration officials during the meeting that he thought "they were misleading the Senate."

Online sex trafficking

The Senate is poised to take up legislation combating online sex trafficking as they wait for the House to send over the government funding legislation.

The legislation, spearheaded by Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanNot a pretty picture: Money laundering and America's art market Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire Senators holding behind-the-scenes talks on breaking coronavirus package stalemate MORE (R-Ohio), would make it easier for internet platforms to be held liable for content posted on their platforms by letting state attorneys general prosecute the sites for violating federal sex trafficking laws.

“I know we have an important omnibus spending bill coming up, and I know the Senate needs to focus on that, but first let's get this commonsense legislation passed. Let's take this opportunity to do something that is actually going to help immediately on this issue of sex trafficking,” Portman said last week.

An initial procedural vote on taking up the legislation is scheduled for Monday evening.

Many internet companies worry that changing the law will upend the legal framework they see as foundational to the internet and are urging the Senate to make last-minute changes before a final vote this week.

But a competing group of major companies — including Disney, IBM and Oracle — have urged the Senate to pass the legislation, arguing it is necessary to crack down on the online sex trafficking trade.

The House overwhelmingly passed the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act last month.

"Right to try"

The House is poised to take a second go at passing “right to try” legislation after the experimental drug bill failed to overcome Democratic objections last week.

The legislation would let terminally ill patients request access to drugs the Food and Drug Administration hasn’t yet approved — and to do so without going through the agency.

But Democrats blocked the bill over safety concerns. Because leadership moved the bill under suspension of the rules, it needed two-thirds support to pass.

The issue is a top priority for the White House. And Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) quickly signaled after last week’s setback that they would try again.

"We will try again, pass legislation, and bring hope to those whose only desire is the right to try to live," he said.