This week: House Democrats voting to hold Barr, Ross in contempt

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House Democrats are set to step up their battle with the Trump administration as part of several ongoing investigative threads being chased by lawmakers. 

The House is expected to vote Tuesday to hold administration officials in contempt after they opted not to comply with subpoenas for information related to the push to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. 

The votes are part of a larger effort by Democrats to ramp up their oversight authority, where they’ve issued more than two dozen subpoenas for administration officials. 

{mosads}In addition to the contempt vote, the lower chamber voted last week for the House Judiciary Committee and other panels to go to court to enforce their subpoenas days before the panel authorized subpoenas for documents and testimony from current and former officials. 

Tuesday’s vote comes after the House Oversight and Reform Committee voted to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt ahead of the July 4 recess. 

“Next week, the full House will vote on a resolution of criminal contempt for Attorney General Barr and Secretary Ross so we can enforce our subpoenas and get the facts,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters in the Capitol on Thursday.

Pelosi specified that the resolution coming to the floor would feature criminal contempt — a step that can carry steep penalties, including heavy fines and up to a year in prison.

While the vote signals the intensifying tensions between the Trump administration and Democrats, it is largely a symbolic move, as it’s unlikely the Department of Justice (DOJ) will pursue criminal charges against Barr and Ross. 

The administration heavily pursued the addition of the citizenship question to census forms, with the DOJ arguing it could help it enforce the Voting Rights Act.

Democrats strongly pushed back against the move, with several states challenging it in the courts. 

Following the Supreme Court ruling that the question could not be added at this time, the president ultimately dropped his administration’s effort despite speculation on Thursday. 

Instead, President Trump said he would issue an executive order requiring federal agencies to provide the Commerce Department information on citizens and noncitizens in the United States, a process he said would provide a more accurate count.

The decision is likely to come up at a Tuesday Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on the census, where Steven Dillingham, the director of the Census Bureau, is among the officials expected to testify.

Pelosi also noted Democrats are fighting to secure more funding for the census as they continue negotiations to lift budget caps for the 2020 fiscal year. 

“One of our issues in the [debate over] lifting the caps is more money for the census,” she said.

Minimum wage 

The House is slated to take up the Raise the Wage Act — spearheaded by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) — which would gradually increase the minimum wage to $15 by 2024.

Top Democrats have praised the bill as a necessary step for upward mobility within the United States, touting the nonpartisan scorekeeper the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate it would lift 1.3 million people out of poverty. 

“Democrats campaigned on a promise to lift wages, and I look forward to bringing the Raise the Wage Act to the Floor next week to make good on that promise,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said in a statement last Monday. “Americans who work hard deserve to afford a middle-class life and deserve opportunities to get ahead and help their children get ahead.”

While the bill has garnered a substantial number of co-sponsors within the Democratic caucus, Republicans have blasted the measure for its potential to cut jobs. The CBO estimated that increasing the minimum wage to $15 by 2024 could cost 1.3 million jobs.

“Today’s Congressional Budget Office report reaffirms that a $15 minimum wage would kill American jobs and harm Americans struggling to make ends meet,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said in a statement. “Today, Americans enjoy a booming economy, historically low unemployment, and notable wage growth. We must not jeopardize those gains through greater government control.”

A handful of moderate Democrats have also expressed concerns over the measure. 

“I am concerned about the fact that $15 is an arbitrary number that means a lot more in certain parts of the country than it does another,” Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) told The Hill last month. 

The bill faces an unlikely path in the Republican-controlled Senate. 

House Dem tensions

House Democrats are expected to meet for their weekly caucus meeting Tuesday, marking their first chance as a group to discuss the latest twist in a back-and-forth between leadership and a band of progressive lawmakers. 

Tensions between Pelosi and progressive Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Ayanna Pressley (Mass.) and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) boiled over last week, with Pelosi directing members of her caucus to avoid publicly attacking each other over policies, arguing they “are playing completely into the hands of the other people” during a closed-door caucus meeting. 

But critics of Pelosi’s push argue the California Democrat should take her own advice to tamp down attacks, with her remarks coming shortly after she questioned the influence of the firebrand freshmen during an interview with The New York Times.

On Friday the House Democratic Caucus took aim at Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, on Twitter after he attacked Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kan.), who is Native American. Chakrabarti alleged that Davids had taken votes that “enable a racist system.”

“Who is this guy and why is he explicitly singling out a Native American woman of color? Her name is Congresswoman Davids, not Sharice. She is a phenomenal new member who flipped a red seat blue. KeepHerNameOutOfYourMouth,” the House Democratic Caucus said in a quoted tweet Friday evening in response.

More than a dozen progressive groups put out a statement on the “escalating attacks on new leaders in the party,” arguing that congressional leadership should be focused on the administration’s migrant camps. 

While tensions were at a high at the end of the week, Trump’s tweet on Sunday saying the progressive congresswomen should “go back” to the “places from which they came” helped unify the fractured caucus. Both members of leadership and progressives blasted Trump’s remarks as racist.

“Racist attack on four strongly progressive congresswomen of color will not weaken them. IT ONLY MAKES US STRONGER,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) tweeted

Spending talks

Pelosi is set to talk again with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin as part of negotiations on the budget caps and raising the debt ceiling. 

The two spoke on three days last week — Tuesday, Thursday and Friday — and again over the weekend, underscoring the urgency in the spending talks. Mnuchin also met with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and McCarthy last week.

Mnuchin sent a letter Friday to Pelosi, McConnell, McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Friday formally requesting that Congress raise the debt ceiling before they leave for the August recess. 

“Based on updated projections, there is a scenario in which we run out of cash in early September, before Congress reconvenes. As such, I request that Congress increase the debt ceiling before Congress leaves for summer recess,” Mnuchin wrote.

The timeline gives lawmakers less than two weeks to come up with an agreement. The House is scheduled to leave town until after Labor Day on July 26. The Senate is poised to leave by Aug. 2. 

Leadership in both parties want to attach a hike in the debt ceiling to a deal to raise the defense and nondefense spending caps. But while they have to raise the debt ceiling this month they have until January to avoid across-the-board cuts under sequestration. 

A stand-alone debt ceiling vote is viewed by politically controversial for Senate Republicans, who are struggling to come up with a back-up plan for how to raise the nation’s borrowing limit without a budget deal. 

Pelosi has also kept the focus on the need for a budget deal during her talks with Mnuchin. Ahead of their talks on Monday, she sent the Treasury secretary a letter outlining why nondefense spending needs to be increased, a top Democratic priority. 

“We all agree on the need to address the debt limit, but we also must reach an agreement on spending priorities based upon the principle of parity as soon as possible,” Pelosi wrote. 

Arms sale

The House will vote Wednesday to block Trump’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia, setting up a veto fight with the White House. 

The Senate passed 22 resolutions late last month to block the sales, estimated to be worth a total of more than $8 billion, to provide weapons to Saudi Arabia, as well as the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.

Trump sparked widespread backlash after he used an “emergency” provision of the Arms Export Control Act to sidestep the 30-day notification to lawmakers about a pending sale.

Neither chamber is expected to have the votes to override a veto of the resolutions of disapproval. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) warned in a statement last month that the president wouldn’t sign the resolutions. 

“The transfer of these capabilities and services to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan directly supports the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States by improving the security of friendly countries that continue to be important forces for political and economic stability in the Middle East,” OMB said in a statement.

Cadillac tax 

The House will vote this week on a full repeal of an ObamaCare tax on high-cost health plans, known as the “Cadillac tax.” 

The chamber will take up nixing the tax during a Wednesday vote. The tax is viewed by health care economists as a way to control costs, but it’s widely disliked in both parties, meaning the vote will likely be bipartisan. 

Even without this week’s vote the tax isn’t expected to take effect until 2022. 

Tax treaties

The Senate is set to vote on four tax treaty protocols that would amend existing agreements with Japan, Luxembourg, Spain and Switzerland. 

“These protocols … are important for citizens of all nations. These treaties have languished and awaited ratification for nearly a decade, and are incredibly important to our own citizens,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch (R-Idaho) said late last month after the treaties cleared his panel.

The Senate is expected to start work on the first treaty on Tuesday. After overcoming an initial procedural vote, each treaty will be subjected to an additional 30 hours of debate before senators can take a final vote. 


The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold its confirmation hearing for Mark Esper’s nomination to be Trump’s second Defense secretary. 

Esper is set to appear before the panel on Tuesday, assuming the White House gets all of Esper’s paperwork to the committee by Monday, Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) told reporters last week. 

Esper, if he’s confirmed, will be the Pentagon’s first Senate-confirmed secretary since former Secretary James Mattis resigned in December amid growing disagreements with Trump about the direction of U.S. military and foreign policy. 

Under normal committee rules, the committee must wait at least a week after receiving nomination paperwork to hold a hearing. But senators agreed to waive that rule for Esper, according to a release from the committee. 


Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan will testify Wednesday before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on the separation of immigrant families. 

The hearing comes after the Homeland Security inspector general’s released reports describing “dangerous overcrowding and prolonged detention” of immigrant children and adults at facilities in El Paso, Texas, and the Rio Grande Valley that require “immediate attention and action.” Vice President Pence also led a group of Republican lawmakers on a trip to migrant facilities in the Rio Grande Valley on Friday.  

In addition to the hearing with McAleenan, a House Judiciary Committee subcommittee will hold a hearing on “overcrowding and prolonged detention” within Customs and Border Protection facilities. Meanwhile, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on migration along the U.S.-Mexico border. 


The Senate is set to take up another slate of Trump’s nominations. 

The Senate will start work Monday evening on Peter Phipps’s nomination to be an appeals judge for the 3rd Circuit. 

McConnell has also teed up votes on Clifton Corker’s nomination to be a district judge for the Eastern District of Tennessee, Lynda Blanchard’s nomination to be ambassador to Slovenia and Donald Tapia to be ambassador to Jamaica. 

Tags $15 minimum wage Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Ayanna Pressley Bobby Scott budget caps Charles Schumer congressional subpoenas Contempt of Congress Dean Phillips debt ceiling Donald Trump Hakeem Jeffries Ilhan Omar James Inhofe James Mattis Jim Risch Kevin McCarthy Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Rashida Tlaib Saudi Arabia arms sales sequestration Sharice Davids Steny Hoyer Steven Mnuchin Wilbur Ross William Barr

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