This week: House GOP plots path forward
© Greg Nash

House Republicans are grappling with the future of their caucus amid intense jockeying following Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanElection Countdown: Takeaways from heated Florida governor's debate | DNC chief pushes back on 'blue wave' talk | Manchin faces progressive backlash | Trump heads to Houston rally | Obama in Las Vegas | Signs of huge midterm turnout Will the Federal Reserve make a mistake by shifting to inflation? Sanders: Democrats ‘absolutely’ have chance to win back rural America  MORE’s decision to retire at the end of the term.

The Wisconsin Republican decided to endorse House Majority Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyGOP lawmaker proposes legislative maneuver to fund Trump's border wall Maxine Waters gets company in new GOP line of attack The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — GOP faces ‘green wave’ in final stretch to the midterms MORE (R-Calif.) as his successor, calling him the “right man for the job.”

Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) also said he would not run against McCarthy, which means the GOP is likely to avoid a potential fight from within Ryan’s own leadership team.

But the race is hardly a closed deal.

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsConservatives fume over format of upcoming Rosenstein interview Farm bill negotiators should take advantage of the moment Conservative rep slams Rosenstein's 'conflicts of interest' MORE (R-N.C.) said Friday the powerful conservative group has the votes to stop contenders from reaching the 218 needed to secure the position.

And Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanConservatives fume over format of upcoming Rosenstein interview Nellie Ohr exercises spousal privilege in meeting with House panels Meadows calls on Rosenstein to resign 'immediately' MORE (R-Ohio), a founding member of the caucus, threw a curveball into the race late last week when he signaled he was interested in succeeding Ryan.

"I'm not announcing anything other than — there isn't a Speaker’s race — but if and when there is, like I've said, colleagues have encouraged me to consider it and I'm open to that,” he told reporters Friday.

It would be nearly impossible for the Ohio Republican to garner the 218 votes needed to become Speaker.

But, with the House Freedom Caucus holding a block of 25 to 30 votes, the powerful group could leverage their support in return for a lower leadership post or better committee positions.

McCarthy hasn’t officially declared his intention to run and needs to lock down the votes to succeed Ryan. He reportedly discussed wanting to be Speaker with Trump, who has not offered an endorsement in the burgeoning race.

Republicans are expected to hold their leadership elections after the November midterm.

But Ryan is facing doubts from within his own caucus about if he can hang onto the Speaker’s office through the end of the year, though few GOP lawmakers are publicly calling on him to step down early.

He pushed back against those rumors, saying he can continue to be effective despite his looming retirement.

“We’ve all discussed this and we think the smart thing to do is to actually stay an intact leadership team,” Ryan said during an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Syria

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump to fundraise for 3 Republicans running for open seats: report Trump to nominate former Monsanto exec to top Interior position White House aides hadn’t heard of Trump's new tax cut: report MORE's military strikes in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack on civilians is reigniting Congress’s war debate. 

Trump announced late Friday during a televised address at the White House that he had ordered "precision strikes" on targets in Syria associated with the government of Bashar Assad. The strikes targeted three sites near the capital of Damascus and in Homs, roughly 100 miles north.

Democrats, joined by some libertarian-minded GOP lawmakers, declared Trump’s actions “illegal,” noting they hadn't been specifically sanctioned by Congress.

“President Trump's strikes are illegal. He does not have authorization to take military action against Syria, and he should remember his own views during the last administration when he warned Obama that he could not strike Syria without congressional permission,” said Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyGOP lawmaker demands ‘immediate recall’ of acting US ambassador to Saudi Arabia Dem senator calls for US action after 'preposterous' Saudi explanation Saudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP MORE (D-Conn.).

Rep. Thomas MassieThomas Harold MassieOvernight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — Trump caps UN visit with wild presser | Accuses China of election meddling | Pentagon spending bill clears House | Hawks cheer bill | Lawmakers introduce resolution to force Yemen vote House lawmakers introduce bill to end US support in Yemen civil war Rand Paul’s Russia visit displays advancement of peace through diplomacy MORE (R-Ky.) added in a tweet that “I haven’t read France’s or Britain’s 'Constitution,' but I’ve read ours and no where in it is Presidential authority to strike Syria.”

Most Republicans, including members of leadership, however, believe Trump already has legal authority without Congress passing additional legislation.

“I support this effort and believe the president has the full authority to take these actions,” said Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP loads up lame-duck agenda as House control teeters Congress moves to ensure the greater availability of explosives detecting dogs in the US McConnell sets key Kavanaugh vote for Friday MORE (R-Mo.), a member of GOP leadership.

Trump said during a White House address that the U.S. would “sustain” pressure on Syria until the Assad government “stops its use of prohibited chemical agents.” But Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Pentagon insists Mattis, Trump 'completely aligned' on leaving arms treaty | Trump 'not satisfied' with Saudi explanation on Khashoggi | Kushner says US still 'fact-finding' A solid budget requires tradeoffs Pentagon: Trump, Mattis 'completely aligned' on Russia arms treaty withdrawal MORE later said no additional strikes against Syria were planned, telling reporters “this is a one-time shot.”

Though a group of senators is expected to roll out a new authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) this week, it’s expected to address combating terrorist groups and not the Syrian government.

Republican senators also called on the administration to update Congress on its long-term strategy.

"Moving forward, it is vitally important that the Trump administration honors the Constitution by working with Congress on further military action. The United States is not at war with the people of Syria and I anticipate that the Administration will quickly present their long-term intentions to the American people,” GOP Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordCollusion judgment looms for key Senate panel GOP loads up lame-duck agenda as House control teeters The Hill's Morning Report — Kavanaugh, Ford saga approaches bitter end MORE (Okla.) said in a statement.

Sen. Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungMnuchin pulls out of Saudi conference On The Money: Treasury official charged with leaking info on ex-Trump advisers | Trump to seek 5 percent budget cut from Cabinet members | Mnuchin to decide by Thursday on attending Saudi conference Mnuchin to decide by Thursday whether to attend Saudi conference MORE (R-Ind.) added that “I look forward to receiving a full briefing on this latest military action and the administration's broader strategy in Syria."

In the wake of the strikes, the House Foreign Affairs Committee is slated to hold a hearing Wednesday on the country's policy on the Middle East.

“The administration is justified to take limited action in coordination with our allies to hold Assad accountable for the use of chemical weapons,” Chairman Ed RoyceEdward (Ed) Randall RoyceWith the NFIP underwater, expand private sector’s role GOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Election Countdown: O'Rourke goes on the attack | Takeaways from fiery second Texas Senate debate | Heitkamp apologizes for ad misidentifying abuse victims | Trump Jr. to rally for Manchin challenger | Rick Scott leaves trail to deal with hurricane damage MORE (R-Calif.) said in a statement.

“Next week, this committee will convene a hearing regarding U.S. policy for the region, and the administration needs to begin fully explaining its strategy for the months ahead. Military force cannot be the only means of responding to these atrocities. The U.S. must leverage strong diplomacy and serious financial pressure.”

Mueller

The Senate Judiciary Committee has added legislation limiting Trump’s ability to fire special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE to its agenda for a Thursday business meeting.

The bill, from Sens. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerOn The Money: Trump to seek new round of tax cuts after midterms | Mnuchin meets with Saudi crown prince | Trump threatens to cut foreign aid over caravan Booker bill would create federally funded savings account for every child Big Dem donors stick to sidelines as 2020 approaches MORE (D-N.J.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamCongress raises pressure on Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia's myopia is the cause of the Khashoggi blunder Graham on Saudi Arabia: 'I feel completely betrayed' MORE (R-S.C.), Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsDem senators urge Pompeo to reverse visa policy on diplomats' same-sex partners 15 Saudis identified in disappearance of Washington Post columnist The Senate needs to cool it MORE (D-Del.) and Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisTrump says he will push for new round of tax cuts after midterms The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump says he is cutting foreign aid over caravan | Lawmakers point fingers at Saudi crown prince | DNC chair downplays 'blue wave' talk Lawmakers point fingers at Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi's death MORE (R-N.C.), would specify that only a senior Justice Department official can fire Mueller. It would also give him 10 days to have a court review his firing, and, if found to not be for “good cause,” he would be reinstated.

The legislation comes as Trump has lashed out at Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod Jay RosensteinConservatives fume over format of upcoming Rosenstein interview Papadopoulos set to testify before House lawmakers Rod Rosenstein has no conflict MORE following an FBI raid on the offices of the president's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. The raid stemmed from a tip from Mueller’s team and Rosenstein reportedly signed off on the move.

But a committee vote on the legislation is expected to be delayed until next week. Under committee rules, any one member can request a bill be held over when it’s on the agenda for the first time.

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinPoll: Feinstein holds 18-point lead over challenger Durbin to Trump: ‘We’re the mob? Give me a break’ Sen. Walter Huddleston was a reminder that immigration used to be a bipartisan issue MORE (D-Calif.) said Democrats could be ready to vote next week, but Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGOP plays hardball in race to confirm Trump's court picks Trump officials ratchet up drug pricing fight Dems angered by GOP plan to hold judicial hearings in October MORE (R-Iowa), the committee chairman, noted members on his side of the aisle would likely object.

More than half of Republicans on the committee have said they believe limiting Trump’s ability to fire executive branch officials is unconstitutional or simply not needed because they don’t believe he would ultimately fire Mueller.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said late last week that the administration hasn’t taken a position on the bill.

Taxes

The House Rules Committee is expected to take up three bills aimed at modernizing and revamping the Internal Revenue Service.

If the legislation makes it out of the committee, the Protecting Children from Identity Theft Act — which looks to help prevent identity theft of minors and immigrants — is scheduled for a vote Wednesday.

The 21st Century IRS Act, which would amend the Internal Revenue Code in an attempt to improve cybersecurity protections and update the IRS’s technology, and the Taxpayer First Act, which is designed to help improve the agency’s customer strategy and establish an independent appeals process allowing people to conduct tax disputes, are expected to come to the floor later in the week.

Tribal sovereignty

The Senate will take up legislation to make it harder for labor unions to organize workers at casinos owned and operated by a Native American tribe and located on tribal land.

The bill already cleared the House earlier this year, and Rep. Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeGOP loads up lame-duck agenda as House control teeters Both sides digging in for post-midterm shutdown fight Conservatives left frustrated as Congress passes big spending bills MORE (R-Okla.) had hoped to get it included in last month’s omnibus funding bill.

“It’s been such a contentious issue and tribes have tried really hard to get it through the Senate ... Leadership in both parties are engaged in this issue,” Cole told The Hill at the time.

The Senate will take a procedural vote on the bill Monday at 5:30 p.m., where it will need 60 votes to advance.