This week: House GOP heads for the exit

Anna Moneymaker

House Republicans are eyeing the exit until September as they wrap up their work.

The House has just one week left in session before they head back to their districts ahead of what is gearing up to be a contentious midterm election cycle.

Before their August break, lawmakers in the lower chamber are expected to have a busy week.

A series of health-care-related bills are expected to come to the floor, in addition to a vote on legislation to extend funding for the National Flood Insurance Program and possibly a vote to go to conference with the Senate on the National Defense Authorization Act.

While Democrats were hoping Republicans would bring up legislation to address family separations at the border, it appears the House doesn’t have plans to take up a bill at least before coming back to Washington in September.

{mosads}Lawmakers are set to return back to their home states as tensions have been simmering in the Capitol.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) got in a shouting match on the House floor last week over a resolution supporting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Meanwhile, tactics on an ultimately foiled vote on legislation to “abolish ICE” exposed lines of division within House GOP leadership. McCarthy and Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La) publicly pushed for a vote, while House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) rejected the strategy.

And House Democrats have struggled in recent weeks to show a united front after the shocking defeat of their caucus chairman has rekindled tensions about the future of their party — and who is best suited to lead it into the crucial 2020 cycle.

Though the House is leaving D.C. at the end of the week until September, the Senate is expected to be in town until Aug. 6. They’ll then go home for a week, before returning to Washington, D.C., for the rest of the month.

Russia grilling

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is set to be grilled over President Trump’s recent meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Pompeo is scheduled to testify on Wednesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the first Capitol Hill appearance by a member of Trump’s national security team since the Helsinki summit.

Though Pompeo’s appearance was originally requested after Trump’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, senators will likely use the public hearing to demand details on any agreements struck with Putin, what the two leaders discussed, Russia’s election interference and the administration’s positions on Syria and Ukraine.

“The White House better get out in front of this before the Russians start characterizing this,” warned Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Trump sparked widespread backlash over the Helsinki meeting when he stood next to Putin at a press conference and refused to condemn Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

Though Trump initially tried to walk back his comments, saying he believes the intelligence community assessment, he added on Sunday that talk of Moscow meddling is a “big hoax.”


The Senate will take up President Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs on Monday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) scheduled a vote on Robert Wilkie’s nomination to lead the department for 5:30 p.m.

Wilkie’s nomination has been largely drama free and he’s expected to easily be confirmed. Trump’s first VA secretary pick, White House physician Adm. Ronny Jackson, withdrew his nomination amid allegations of professional misconduct, which he denied.

Wilkie was approved by the committee in a near-unanimous vote. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) voted against him.

Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), the chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, urged the Senate to confirm Wilkie “without delay” late last week.

“It is of utmost importance that any policy changes that impact the future of the department be made by a confirmed VA secretary who can be held accountable by Congress and the American people,” Isakson said at the time.

Meanwhile, Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s Supreme Court pick, is expected to continue making the rounds on Capitol Hill as he meets with senators.

Kavanaugh returned his 110-page questionnaire to the Judiciary Committee last week.

Democrats are pointing to Ryan Bounds’s failed circuit court nomination as they push for documents from Kavanaugh’s time working in theGeorge W. Bush-era White House and on the Clinton-era Ken Starr investigation.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said last week that the committee’s review of Kavanaugh would be “thorough” but warned he would not let it become a “government-funded fishing expedition.”

But Democrats counter that Bounds’s nomination, which was foiled by decades-old college-era writings, show why the Senate needs to review documents from before Kavanaugh’s time as a judge.

“If Republicans agreed that Bounds is not qualified because of what he wrote in college, how could they possibly argue that material from Brett Kavanaugh’s time in the White House and as a political operative aren’t relevant?” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) asked after a vote on Bounds’s nomination was canceled.


The Senate will take up its second government funding package this week.

The House passed its version of the legislation — which includes Financial Services and Interior and Environment and related agencies like Environmental Protection Agency — earlier this month. The $58.7 billion legislation included language to block D.C. from implementing its own individual mandate on health insurance after 2019.

Senators are mulling adding funding for Agriculture and Transportation, Housing and Urban Development into the House-passed bill.

Congress has until Oct. 1 to pass all 12 appropriations bills, iron out the differences and send them to the president’s desk for signature.

Flood insurance 

The lower chamber is set to take up on Tuesday a measure that extends funding for the nation’s National Flood Insurance Program through November. The legislation provides lawmakers additional time to hash out a plan to reform the program that can pass both chambers.

Because of significant damage caused by hurricanes and flooding in recent years, the program was in debt by roughly $30 billion as of last fall, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

“We will extend floor insurance to Nov. 30 as we continue to work through the other differences we have,” Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said on the floor.

NDAA conference

While it hasn’t been scheduled yet, House GOP leadership said it’s possible the lower chamber could vote to go to conference with the Senate on the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2019.

The House easily passed its $717 billion defense policy bill in late May, which included $617 billion in base spending, $22 billion for a nuclear weapons programs under the Energy Department and $69 billion for the Overseas Contingency Operations fund.

The Senate passed its version in June. The upper chamber’s bill included $716 billion in spending —  $617.6 billion for the Pentagon’s base budget and $21.6 billion for defense-related programs in the Department of Energy. Under the Senate bill, $68.5 billion would be allocated to the Overseas Contingency Operations account with another $8.2 billion for other defense-related spending.

Sources told The Hill late last week that the final bill wouldn’t block Trump’s deal to revive Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE.

The Senate-passed bill would have kept tough penalties slapped on ZTE for violating Iran and North Korea sanctions in place, including blocking it from buying U.S technology.

But that language drew backlash from the White House and Trump’s top allies on Capitol Hill pledged they would water it down during the conference committee

Instead, the final NDAA is expected to line up with language included in the House’s defense bill, which blocks government agencies or contractors from using ZTE or Huawei technology, according to a congressional source, but would otherwise let those companies do business with U.S. companies.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) added in a separate tweet that lawmakers “had to cave” on ZTE in order to get tougher language on vetting foreign investments.

“So chances that a #China controlled telecomm will not just stay in business, but do so here inside the U.S. sadly just went up,” Rubio said.

Health care 

The House is scheduled to take up a number of health-care-related bills before the end of the week. Legislation includes measures aimed at modernizing Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), a bill to expand access to HSAs and lower premium plans and a bill that would repeal the medical device tax.

Tags Bernie Sanders Chuck Grassley Dianne Feinstein Donald Trump House Jeff Flake Johnny Isakson Kevin McCarthy Marco Rubio Mike Pompeo Mitch McConnell National Defense Authorization Act Paul Ryan Senate Steny Hoyer Steve Scalise Supreme Court nomination

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