This week: Congress returns to chaotic Washington
© Aaron Schwartz - Greg Nash

Lawmakers are returning to Washington on Tuesday from a two-week break as Congress is waging a multifront fight against President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive landmark moments of testimony to Congress Lindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Democrats sharpen their message on impeachment MORE

The end of the recess comes as the two sides of Pennsylvania Avenue are locked in a battle over Democrats' impeachment inquiry and a split between Trump and his traditional GOP allies over the decision to yank U.S. troops out of northern Syria.

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Lawmakers also face crucial nomination votes, a potential veto override and, with the House only in session for an additional 28 days this year, rapidly approaching deadlines to avoid a shutdown, reauthorize expiring surveillance programs and the GOP push to ratify Trump’s trade deal with Canada and Mexico. 

Senate Democrats also want to begin forcing votes on efforts to nix Trump administration rules on taxes, health care and energy policy, in an effort to use the floor to highlight differences heading into 2020. 

But the House impeachment inquiry and the growing fallout over Trump’s Syria policy are likely to suck up most of the political oxygen this week. 

The House inquiry, which is made up of the Intelligence, Oversight and Reform and Foreign Affairs committees, has a packed lineup of former and current officials scheduled to testify. Lawmakers met with Fiona Hill, Trump’s former top adviser on Russia, on Monday, despite Congress not formally being in session. 

On Tuesday, George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of State, will meet with the committees, followed by Michael McKinley, the former top aide for Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: Protests at Trump's NYC Veterans Day speech | House Dems release Pentagon official's deposition transcript | Lawmakers ask Trump to rescind Erdogan invite Cheney calls for Turkish leader's bodyguards to be banned from re-entering US Pompeo: Trump to discuss political solution for Syria in meeting with Erdoğan MORE; Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union on Thursday; and Laura Cooper, a defense official overseeing Ukraine, on Friday. 

McKinley resigned last week, with The Washington Post reporting that he and others were disappointed in Pompeo's lack of public support for diplomats who have been asked to testify before the House as part of the impeachment inquiry. 

Sondland had been set to testify last week, but his appearance was abruptly blocked by the State Department. The Post reported that Sondland will tell the committee that a text he sent denying a quid pro quo between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a July phone call was dictated by Trump himself.

“All of these depositions are to gather the data, to gather the data. And then from there, there will be hearings and there will be public testimony about exactly what happens. This is the process of gathering the details, understanding who said what, when. There's going to be a lot of data, a lot of texts, e-mails and testimony, all of that will come public in the days and weeks ahead,” Rep. John GaramendiJohn Raymond GaramendiThis week: Congress returns to chaotic Washington Trump labels Tlaib 'a despicable human being' Tlaib says Democrats have discussed detaining White House officials who don't testify MORE (D-Calif.) told CNN on Monday.

Polling has shown support for impeaching Trump slowly ticking upward. A Quinnipiac University poll released on Monday found that 46 percent of respondents thought Trump should be impeached and removed from office, compared to 48 percent who thought he shouldn’t. 

Republicans are returning to Washington after struggling to unite behind a strategy on the impeachment fight. 

Senate Republicans have largely remained mum on Trump’s call for Ukraine and China to investigate former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenFive landmark moments of testimony to Congress Democrats sharpen their message on impeachment Biden: 'I'm more of a Democrat from my shoe sole to my ears' than anyone else running MORE and his son, Hunter Biden. 

Though several have raised concerns about Trump’s remarks none have backed the House impeachment inquiry or removing Trump from office. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Biden not ruling out Senate voting to impeach Trump: 'It will depend on what their constituency says' Congress hunts for path out of spending stalemate MORE (R-Ky.) ran Facebook ads over the break pledging that he would block Trump from being removed from office. 

Trump and his allies are pushing for House Democrats to formally take a vote on starting an impeachment inquiry. Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocrats sharpen their message on impeachment Congress hunts for path out of spending stalemate Siren song of impeachment lures Democrats toward election doom MORE (D-Calif.) has said such a step isn’t necessary, but Republicans think it would be a political boon by forcing swing district Democrats to go on the record, as well as giving them more power to demand documents. 

“With regards to process and substance, on the process, precedent, whether it was the Richard Nixon impeachment or it was the Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonPennsylvania's other election-night story Democrats debate how to defeat Trump: fight or heal As impeachment goes public, forget 'conventional wisdom' MORE impeachment, had rights for the minority, rights for the president. And what should happen here is that there should be a vote,” Rep. Lee ZeldinLee ZeldinDemocrats sharpen their message on impeachment Trump tears into impeachment probe, witnesses in early Twitter spree White House doubles down on 'no quid pro quo' MORE (R-N.Y.) told reporters on Monday. 

“If the House Democrats want to pursue impeachment, they should put their money where their mouth is and have a vote,” he continued. 

Syria

Lawmakers are mulling how to respond to Trump’s decision to pull back troops from northern Syria and Turkey’s subsequent military invasion. 

Trump announced on Monday that he would slap new financial penalties on Ankara, including restricting travel of Turkish officials, targeting assets with U.S. jurisdiction and ratcheting up tariffs. 

The decision by Trump to slap new sanctions on Turkey comes as he has faced fierce backlash from Capitol Hill amid growing fallout over the decision to move U.S troops. 

Democrats quickly signaled after the announcement that the White House sanctions did not go far enough and that they were sticking by their plan to pass a resolution opposing Trump’s strategy, as well as a separate sanctions package. 

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sens. Jack Reed (R.I.) and Bob Menendez (N.J.) — the top Democrats on the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, respectively — urged Republicans to support a resolution asking Trump to reverse his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria. 

"Strong sanctions, while good and justified, will not be sufficient in undoing that damage nor will it stop the consequences stemming from the ISIS jailbreak," they said in an apparent reference to reports that some ISIS fighters had broken out of prisons in the wake of Turkey's military invasion. 

Pelosi spoke on Monday with Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamLindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Trump circuit court nominee in jeopardy amid GOP opposition The Hill's Morning Report - Impeachment drama will dominate this week MORE (R-S.C.) about the need for Congress to pass its own sanctions package, as well as the joint resolution, in an effort to rebuke Turkey and formally break with Trump. 

“As we find ourselves in a situation where the President gave a green light to the Turks to bomb and effectively unleashed ISIS, we must have a stronger sanctions package than what the White House is suggesting,” Pelosi said in a tweet about their phone call. 

Pelosi also panned Trump’s sanctions plan, saying he “unleashed an escalation of chaos and insecurity in Syria. His announcement of a package of sanctions against Turkey falls very short of reversing that humanitarian disaster.”

Republicans have blasted Trump’s strategy as “catastrophic,” a “grave mistake,” and the “biggest blunder of his presidency.” But it’s unclear how far they will go on legislation that explicitly rebukes him. 

McConnell didn’t tip his hand Monday on what he will support, but said he was “gravely concerned” and that talks would be ongoing in the Senate this week on how to respond. He also noted for a second time that the Senate previously passed a resolution warning Trump against yanking troops from Syria by a veto-proof majority. 

“Withdrawing American leadership from this pivotal region would not serve our nation’s short-, medium- or long-term interests. ... I look forward to discussing what the United States can do to avoid a strategic calamity with my Senate colleagues and with senior administration officials when the Senate returns to Washington this week,” he said.

Graham and Sen. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenOn The Money: Retirement savings bill blocked in Senate after fight over amendments | Stopgap bill may set up December spending fight | Hardwood industry pleads for relief from Trump trade war GAO reviewing Trump hold on Ukraine military aid Democrats unveil proposal for 'millionaires surtax' MORE (D-Md.) have been working on their own sanctions legislation that would target Turkey’s military and energy sector, as well as limit the ability for Turkish leadership to travel to the United States and target any assets they have within U.S. jurisdiction. 

Graham also said last week that he would author a resolution to oppose Trump’s Syria decision, predicting it would get bipartisan support. 

But Graham mentioned neither effort in a statement on Monday night where he threw his support behind Trump’s sanctions plan and argued they needed time to be able to implement the strategy. 

“I would urge my Republican and Democratic colleagues to continue to speak out against Turkey’s incursion into Syria and support President Trump’s efforts to impose crippling sanctions against Turkey,” he said.   

“The President’s team has a plan and I intend to support them as strongly as possible, and to give them reasonable time and space to achieve our mutual goals,” he added. 

Hong Kong

Multiple bipartisan bills in support of pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong are slated to come to the floor of the House this week.

The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019 — spearheaded by  Rep. Chris SmithChristopher (Chris) Henry SmithChina threatens 'strong countermeasures' if Congress passes Hong Kong legislation This week: Congress returns to chaotic Washington Nancy Pelosi is ready for this fight MORE (R-N.J.) — would require multiple government departments to “assess whether political developments in Hong Kong” justify its separate economic treatment than the rest of the country.

Under the legislation, the State Department would provide the report “annually to Congress as to whether Hong Kong is sufficiently autonomous from China to justify its unique treatment. The report would assess whether China has eroded Hong Kong's civil liberties and the Department of Commerce would assess any of China’s “efforts to use Hong Kong to evade U.S. export controls and sanctions.”

The bill would also allow for Hong Kong protesters to obtain visas to work or study even if they had been arrested for nonviolent crimes related to the protests. 

“Democrats and Republicans in the House and the Senate enthusiastically support this legislation,” Pelosi said. 

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioGOP senators plan to tune out impeachment week Republicans warn election results are 'wake-up call' for Trump Paul's demand to out whistleblower rankles GOP colleagues MORE (R-Fla.) introduced companion legislation in the Senate.

Other measures slated to be taken up include the PROTECT Hong Kong Act — led  by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) — which would bar certain “commercial exports of certain nonlethal crowd control items” to the police in Hong Kong,  and a resolution introduced by Rep. Brad ShermanBradley (Brad) James ShermanOvernight Defense: Protests at Trump's NYC Veterans Day speech | House Dems release Pentagon official's deposition transcript | Lawmakers ask Trump to rescind Erdogan invite Bipartisan House members call on Trump to rescind Erdoğan invitation Live coverage: Zuckerberg testifies before House on Facebook's Libra project MORE (D-Calif.) expressing support for the nonviolent demonstrations and protests.

Nominations

The Senate is set to process another slate of Trump’s nominees, including a potentially high-profile showdown over some of his judicial picks. 

The Senate will take a procedural vote on Tuesday evening on Barbara Barrett’s nomination to be the next Air Force secretary, with a final vote expected on Wednesday. 

After that, McConnell has teed up Frank Volk to be a district judge for the Southern District of West Virginia, Charles Eskridge to be a district judge for the Southern District of Texas, David Novak to be a district judge for the Eastern District of Virginia and Rachel Kovner to be a district judge for the Eastern District of New York.

Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee has more than a dozen nominations on its agenda for a Thursday business meeting, including Judge Halil Suleyman Ozerden's nomination to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

At least two GOP senators — Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyTrump circuit court nominee in jeopardy amid GOP opposition GOP senator wants to know whistleblower identity if there's an impeachment trial Hillicon Valley: California AG reveals Facebook investigation | McConnell criticizes Twitter's political ad ban | Lawmakers raise concerns over Google takeover of Fitbit | Dem pushes FCC to secure 5G networks MORE (Mo.) and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTrump circuit court nominee in jeopardy amid GOP opposition Trump has officially appointed one in four circuit court judges On The Money: Retirement savings bill blocked in Senate after fight over amendments | Stopgap bill may set up December spending fight | Hardwood industry pleads for relief from Trump trade war MORE (Texas) — have both pledged to oppose his nomination, meaning Ozerden will need help from Democrats to clear the committee with a positive recommendation. No Democrats have said yet that they’ll oppose him. 

Other GOP senators on the committee, including Sens. John CornynJohn CornynFalling investment revives attacks against Trump's tax cuts GOP senators plan to tune out impeachment week The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump says Dems shouldn't hold public hearings MORE (Texas) and Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseTrump circuit court nominee in jeopardy amid GOP opposition Trump has officially appointed one in four circuit court judges Senators press NSA official over shuttered phone surveillance program MORE (Neb.), haven’t yet said if they will support Ozerden. 

Steven Menashi’s nomination to be a judge on the 2nd Circuit is also on the committee agenda for the first time, meaning it will likely be delayed a week. 

Menashi came under fierce criticism from senators on both sides of the aisle during his confirmation hearing when he sidestepped directly answering questions about his work in the Trump administration. 

Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) warned last month that “I'm not going to vote for him until I understand how he approaches legal issues."

"He may be Oliver Wendell Scalia but I can't tell because he won't answer my questions," Kennedy said, referring to Supreme Court Justices Oliver Wendell Holmes and Antonin Scalia. "The burden of proof is on him. If someone gets mad at that, they need to call somebody who cares, because that is my job and I'm tired of them playing games."