Congress is returning to Washington this week as a battle looms over negotiations for special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE to testify.

Mueller is in talks with House Democrats about appearing next week, which would mark his first appearance before Congress since he wrapped up his two-year investigation in March.

But President TrumpDonald John TrumpDeWine tests negative for coronavirus a second time Several GOP lawmakers express concern over Trump executive orders Beirut aftermath poses test for US aid to frustrating ally MORE threw a potential curveball into the discussions over the weekend when he said Mueller shouldn’t testify, reversing his previous position that it was up to Attorney General William BarrBill BarrGOP lawmaker calls for Justice Dept. to probe international court Barr pulls over to thank pro-police rally in Virginia Trump: Yates either lying or grossly incompetent MORE to decide if the special counsel speaks before a congressional committee.

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“After spending more than $35,000,000 over a two year period, interviewing 500 people, using 18 Trump Hating Angry Democrats & 49 FBI Agents - all culminating in a more than 400 page Report showing NO COLLUSION - why would the Democrats in Congress now need Robert Mueller to testify," Trump said in a pair of tweets.

"Are they looking for a redo because they hated seeing the strong NO COLLUSION conclusion? … Bob Mueller should not testify. No redos for the Dems!" Trump added. 

Trump’s tweets came as House Democrats said they were working to lock down Mueller testifying before the House Judiciary Committee next week, on May 15.

“We are aiming to bring Mueller in on the 15th, but nothing has been agreed to yet. That’s the date the Committee has proposed, and we hope the Special Counsel will agree to it,” Rep. David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineFive takeaways from Big Tech's blowout earnings What factors will shape Big Tech regulation? Hillicon Valley: House panel grills tech CEOs during much anticipated antitrust hearing | TikTok to make code public as it pushes back against 'misinformation' | House Intel panel expands access to foreign disinformation evidence MORE (D-R.I.) said on Sunday.

Democrats are clamoring for Mueller to testify about his findings in the closely watched probe into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign. Those demands crescendoed last week amid reports of Mueller sending a letter to Barr in late March that raised concerns about a four-page memo Barr had released that outlined the main conclusions of Mueller's report.

"The summary letter … did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this office's work and conclusions," Mueller wrote in his letter to Barr.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerPelosi, Schumer slam Trump executive orders, call for GOP to come back to negotiating table Sunday shows preview: White House, congressional Democrats unable to breach stalemate over coronavirus relief Postal Service says it lost .2 billion over three-month period MORE (D-N.Y.) immediately pounced on Trump’s tweet on Sunday, accusing the president of trying to “silence” Mueller.

“He’s trying to silence Mueller. For a man who constantly proclaims his innocence, [Trump] is acting awfully guilty. Mueller must testify publicly before Congress,” Schumer said on Sunday.

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Trump did not specify in his tweet if the White House would try to actively prevent Mueller from testifying. Some House Republicans, including Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsMatt Lieberman faces calls to drop out of Georgia Senate race over 'racist and discriminatory' tropes in 2018 book Sabato's Crystal Ball shifts Iowa Senate race to 'toss-up,' Georgia toward GOP Loeffler knocks WNBA players for wearing shirts backing Democratic challenger MORE (R-Ga.), have previously called on Mueller to testify “immediately.”

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSeveral GOP lawmakers express concern over Trump executive orders Graham says he appreciates Trump orders, but 'would much prefer a congressional agreement' Sunday shows preview: White House, congressional Democrats unable to breach stalemate over coronavirus relief MORE (R-S.C.), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, initially indicated that he wouldn’t ask Mueller to testify, arguing that the matter was “over.” But he sent a letter to Mueller on Friday asking if he would like to testify about any “misrepresentation” about a phone call he had with Barr after the four-page memo was released.

Barr told the Senate Judiciary Committee last week that Mueller's concerns were not about the letter, but the media coverage surrounding it. He previously said he would not object to Mueller testifying.

“He was very clear with me that he was not suggesting that we had misrepresented his report,” Barr added.

The drama over Mueller appearing before Congress comes as House Democrats are continuing to battle with Barr after he backed out of a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee last week.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) sent the Justice Department a letter late last week indicating he is willing to move forward with holding Barr in contempt of Congress if the committee does not receive subpoenaed information on Mueller's report.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, also said over the weekend that he supported the House holding Barr in contempt.

"We had an attorney general of the United States who refused to come to a hearing that the House Judiciary Committee called," Sanders said at a town hall in Perry, Iowa. “If I were a member of the House, I would vote to hold Attorney General Barr in contempt.”

Disaster relief

The House is set to take up a bill this week aimed at providing additional relief for those affected by a spate of recent floods, hurricanes, storms and wildfires.

The legislation would provide $3 billion to address tornadoes in the South and flooding in the Midwest that took place after the House passed its first disaster aid bill earlier this year.

The measure includes language that would extend the National Flood Insurance Program through Sept. 30 and funding for Puerto Rico recovery efforts. It also provides aid to Midwestern and Southern farmers.

The vote this week comes after an initial disaster relief bill passed the House in January but stalled amid the government funding fight.

The House vote comes as top senators indicated last week that they were optimistic about the chances of getting a deal to revive the stalled disaster aid bill, which derailed earlier this year amid a fight between Democrats and Trump over assistance to Puerto Rico.

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.), the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said that talks with Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahySenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Yates spars with GOP at testy hearing Vermont has a chance to show how bipartisanship can tackle systemic racism MORE (Vt.), the top Democrat on the committee, were “trending in the right direction.”

"The vibes are better than they've been," he said.

The disaster aid package fell apart in the Senate last month after Trump criticized Puerto Rico’s handling of previous disaster aid money during a closed-door meeting with GOP senators.

The GOP proposal included $600 million for food stamp aid in Puerto Rico. Democrats wanted to amend it to include additional provisions like requiring the Department of Housing and Urban Development to release block grant funding and adding money to help Puerto Rico repair damaged water systems.

Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) separately told reporters late last week that Trump was “on board,” and had called him at 6 a.m. on Thursday to discuss the issue.

“This man is involved. This man is engaged. He talked to several members. ... He wants to get it solved,” Perdue said.

Pre-existing conditions

The House is slated to bring a Democratic-backed bill that pushes back against the Trump administration's guidance issued last year loosening restrictions on states’ ability to waive certain requirements in the Affordable Care Act.  

Proponents of the Protecting Americans with Pre-existing Conditions Act — spearheaded by Reps. Ann KusterAnn McLane KusterChinese tech giants caught up in rising US-China tensions Democratic lawmakers introduce legislation to ensure US can mass-produce COVID-19 vaccine Hillicon Valley: Trump signs order targeting social media legal protections | House requests conference with Senate after FISA vote canceled | Minneapolis systems temporarily brought down by hackers MORE (D-N.H.) and Don Beyer (D-Va.) — argue the legislation is necessary to ensure patient protections remain in place, making the case that by allowing states to promote plans that don’t require the same level of coverage as the ACA could be detrimental to patients with preexisting conditions.

“H.R. 986 blocks implementation of that guidance so as to preserve protection for pre-existing conditions and to ensure health care remains affordable,” House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Negotiators 'far apart' as talks yield little ahead of deadline 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 Overnight Health Care: Ohio governor tests positive for COVID-19 ahead of Trump's visit | US shows signs of coronavirus peak, but difficult days lie ahead | Trump: COVID-19 vaccine may be ready 'right around' Election Day MORE (D-Md.) said on the floor.

“That new guidance, Madam Speaker, undermines patient protections and threatens coverage for Americans with pre-existing conditions. H.R. 986 blocks implementation of that guidance so as to preserve protection for pre-existing conditions and to ensure health care remains affordable.”

But Republicans argue the waivers help states find ways to drive down premiums and broaden access to care.

“I would point out that the president's executive order on Section 1332 does nothing to change the protections in the law for people with pre-existing conditions under ObamaCare, as the gentleman knows the law protects people with pre-existing conditions from facing any kind of discrimination and the Section 1332 waivers have nothing to do with that,” House Minority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseRepublicans fear disaster in November Gaetz set to endorse primary opponent of fellow Florida GOP lawmaker Hillicon Valley: Trump backs potential Microsoft, TikTok deal, sets September deadline | House Republicans request classified TikTok briefing | Facebook labels manipulated Pelosi video MORE (R-La.) said on the floor Thursday.  

“What they do is allow some states, and there have been a number of states who have requested, the ability to be more innovative and focus on lowering premiums while protecting pre-existing conditions.”

The legislation will likely see little movement in the Republican-controlled Senate. 

Nominations

Senate 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 set to escalate a fight over “blue slips” and Trump’s judicial nominations.

McConnell has teed up votes on two appeals court nominations: Joseph Bianco and Michael Park to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.

Both nominations were nominated to fill New York seats, but neither Schumer nor Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandExpanding our health force can save lives and create jobs simultaneously Sanders offers bill to tax billionaires' wealth gains during pandemic Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic MORE (D-N.Y.) returned a blue slip, a piece of paper that indicates if they support the nominee.

The blue slip rule — a precedent upheld by Senate tradition — has historically allowed a home-state senator to stop a lower court nominee by refusing to return the blue slip to the Judiciary Committee.

How strictly the precedent is upheld is decided by the committee chairman, and enforcement has varied depending on who wields the gavel.

If they’re confirmed, Bianco and Park would be the third and fourth circuit court picks to be confirmed even though both home-state senators did not return a blue slip.

The Senate confirmed several appeals judges who were missing one blue slip last year, but the confirmation in February of Eric Miller to be a 9th Circuit judge was the first known instance of an appeals judge being confirmed without a blue slip from either home-state senator.

Senate Republicans also confirmed Paul Matey for the 3rd Circuit though Sens. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezVOA visa decision could hobble Venezuela coverage Bottom line Koch-backed group urges Senate to oppose 'bailouts' of states in new ads MORE (D-N.J.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerSenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Senate Democrats push to include free phone calls for incarcerated people in next relief package Ex-USAID employee apologizes, denies sending explosive tweets MORE (D-N.J.) didn’t return their blue slips.

In addition to Bianco and Park, McConnell has teed up votes on Kimberly Reed’s nomination to be president of the Export-Import Bank, former Rep. Spencer BachusSpencer Thomas BachusManufacturing group leads coalition to urge Congress to reauthorize Ex-Im Bank Biz groups take victory lap on Ex-Im Bank On The Money: White House files notice of China tariff hikes | Dems cite NYT report in push for Trump tax returns | Trump hits Iran with new sanctions | Trump praises GM for selling shuttered Ohio factory | Ex-Im Bank back at full strength MORE (R-Ala.) and Judith Pryor to be members of the Export-Import board of directors and Janet Dhillon to be a member of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.