Scheduling

This week: Fight brews over Mueller testimony

Congress is returning to Washington this week as a battle looms over negotiations for special counsel Robert Mueller 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 Trump 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 Barr to decide if the special counsel speaks before a congressional committee.

{mosads}“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 Cicilline (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 Schumer (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.

{mossecondads}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 Collins (R-Ga.), have previously called on Mueller to testify “immediately.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (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 Shelby (R-Ala.), the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said that talks with Sen. Patrick Leahy (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 Kuster (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 Hoyer (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 Scalise (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 McConnell (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 Gillibrand (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 Menendez (D-N.J.) and Cory Booker (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 Bachus (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.

Tags Ann Kuster Bernie Sanders Bob Menendez Charles Schumer Cory Booker David Cicilline Donald Trump Doug Collins Jerrold Nadler Kirsten Gillibrand Lindsey Graham Mitch McConnell Patrick Leahy Richard Shelby Robert Mueller Spencer Bachus Steny Hoyer Steve Scalise William Barr

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