This week: House impeachment inquiry hits crucial stretch
The House inquiry is set to hit a tipping point this week, as Democrats prepare to unveil articles of impeachment against President Trump.
Democrats are plowing forward with an ambitious timeline to vote on articles before Christmas, giving them roughly two weeks to wrap up their work and bring the impeachment effort to a head on the House floor.
The House Judiciary is slated to hold a high-stakes impeachment hearing on Monday, where lawmakers are expected to hear a “presentation of evidence” from both majority and minority counsel on the House Intelligence and House Judiciary Committees, according to a Democratic aide working on the inquiry.
The hearing marks one of the final opportunities to make their case over whether President Trump’s contacts with Ukraine were unlawful before articles of impeachment are introduced.
The White House announced on Friday that it would not take part in Monday’s hearing, and pushed for House Democrats to quickly end the impeachment inquiry.
“House Democrats have wasted enough of America’s time with this charade,” White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote in a one-page letter.
The hearing comes in the wake of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) announcement on Thursday that she is directing the committees that have been overseeing the impeachment prove to move forward with drafting articles of impeachment.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) confirmed on Sunday that staff are drafting possible articles of impeachment but they will not make a decision on which to pursue until after Monday’s hearing.
“There are possible drafts that various people are writing but the fact is we’re not going to make the decisions as to how — what the articles should be as to what they contain and what the wording is until after the hearing tomorrow,” he told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.
Nadler also appeared to indicate, in a separate NBC “Meet the Press” interview, that his committee could vote on articles of impeachment as soon as this week.
“We’ll bring articles of impeachment presumably before the committee at some point later in the week,” Nadler said.
The hearing comes in the wake of Democrats releasing their report laying out additional details from the probe.
It marks the Judiciary Committee’s second hearing, which comes on the heels of weeks of public hearings held by the House Intelligence Committee and closed-door hearings held by the House Intelligence Committee, House Committee on Foreign Affairs and House Oversight and Reform Committee.
During the hearing “majority and minority counsel for the Judiciary Committee will present opening statements for up to one hour, equally divided. Second, majority and minority counsel for the Intelligence Committee will present for up to 90 minutes, equally divided. Majority and minority counsel for the Intelligence Committee will then take questions from the committee,” according to the committee’s announcement notice.
Both sides prepped for the hearing over the weekend, with Democrats gathering on Saturday and Sunday and Republicans huddling in the Rayburn House office building on the eve of hearing to hold a prep session that lasted just over an hour.
“Basically, we just went over the format because the Democrats have been playing hide the ball so much, we also had to tell our members what the format was so that’s just getting ready for the format , but other than that it was very basic,” House Judiciary Ranking Member Doug Collins (R-Ga.) told The Hill while exiting the meeting.
Republicans on the panel have blasted Democrats for not allowing for a minority hearing, with House Freedom Caucus Chairman Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) arguing it is a breach of the rules, telling The Hill he is disappointed by the decision.
As the House impeachment effort rolls on, Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz is set to testify on his long awaited report into alleged surveillance abuse during the 2016 election.
Horowitz is set to release his findings on Monday. He’ll then testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
The watchdog’s office announced in a March 2018 statement that it would “examine the Justice Department’s and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) compliance with legal requirements, and with applicable DOJ and FBI policies and procedures, in applications filed with the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) relating to a certain U.S. person.”
While the individual was not named in the announcement, the person is widely known to be Carter Page, the former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser who was investigated in connection with the FBI’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) predicted on Sunday that Horowitz’s report, which he had not yet read, would show “the system off the rails.”
“I’m looking for evidence of whether or not they manipulated the facts to get the warrant and as to the counterintelligence investigation,” he added.
Selective leaks of the report ahead of its release have raised questions about how damaging it will be, especially for leading Obama-era intelligence figures who have been top targets for the president and his allies.
The report, according to the Associated Press, will find that the investigation was flawed but valid. The Los Angeles Times separately reported that it will find that mistakes were made, but that the investigation wasn’t politically motivated and that there was enough evidence for the warrant on Page.
Negotiators are hoping to wrap up a deal on the fiscal 2020 government funding talks this week after talks lasted through the weekend.
Congress has until Dec. 20 to get government funding legislation to Trump’s desk if they’re going to prevent the second shutdown of the year.
But lawmakers say that in order to meet that deadline they need to get an agreement on the fiscal 2020 funding bills this week or they’ll be forced to pass another continuing resolution (CR).
One option, floated by Republicans, would be to combine the fiscal 2020 bills they can reach an agreement on with a CR for the portion that they are still negotiating. But Democrats have so far resisted that option, arguing it would put Congress in a similar position to last December when a fight over the border wall caused a 35-day partial government shutdown.
Subcommittee chairs were expected to hand off any remaining hurdles up to House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and Senate Appropropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) as well as leadership on Friday.
The biggest hurdle remains Trump’s request on the U.S.-Mexico border wall. The House included no new funding for physical barriers in its Department of Homeland Security (DHS) bill, while the Senate included $5 billion. In addition to new barrier funding, lawmakers are still haggling over Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) beds and the president’s ability to shift military money toward the border.
Complicating the schedule for getting funding legislation to Trump’s desk is a packed end-of-the-year floor schedule in the House.
Pelosi said late last week that she did not expect a shutdown and any CR would be brief.
The House could take up a final National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) this week after lawmakers reached a deal over the weekend.
The breakthrough comes after months of behind-the-scenes negotiating that had raised the chances that Congress wouldn’t be able to pass the mammoth defense policy bill for the first time in nearly 60 years.
Reps. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) indicated at a defense-related conference over the weekend in California that they had finished negotiations.
“We got it done, we got a good bill,” Smith, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said, according to Air Force Magazine.
Thornberry, the ranking member on the House panel, added: “We have reached agreement on this year’s defense authorization bill. …The House will vote on a Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act as soon as Wednesday and in the Senate shortly thereafter.”
The final NDAA conference report hasn’t been released yet. But the bill is expected to grant 12 weeks of paid parental leave to all federal workers in exchange for Trump’s Space Force, sources told The Hill on Friday.
Lawmakers have been haggling over Trump’s request for a creation of Space Force as a new military branch under the control of the Department of the Air Force as they’ve tried to finalize the defense policy bill. The NDAA that passed the House would create a “Space Corp.” The Senate bill greenlighted a “Space Force,” but did not specifically authorize a new branch of the military.
The Senate is set to confirm another slate of Trump’s nominees on the floor this week.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has teed up votes on two Ninth Circuit nominees: Patrick Bumatay and Lawrence VanDyke. The Ninth Circuit has been a long running annoyance for conservatives, who view it as too large and too liberal leaning.
Both nominees are likely to be confirmed despite opposition from both of their home-state senators, marking the latest circuit court nominee to be confirmed despite missing both blue slips from Democratic senators.
In addition to judicial picks, the Senate is expected to vote on John Sullivan’s nomination to be ambassador to Russia, Stephen Hahn to be Food and Drug Administration commissioner and Aurelia Skipwith to be director of the Fish and Wildlife Service.
The House is slated to take up a Democrat-led bill aimed at lowering drug prices this week.
The legislation includes language that would allow the secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate lower prices for up to 250 drugs a year.
“We are going to give Medicare the power to negotiate lower drug prices, and make those prices available to Americans with private insurance as well as Medicare beneficiaries,” Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and committee chairmen, Reps. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), Richard Neal (D-Mass.) and Bobby Scott (D-Va.) said in a joint statement. “American seniors and families shouldn’t have to pay more for their medicines than what Big Pharma charges in other countries for the same drugs.”
The bill faces an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled upper chamber, where GOP lawmakers argue the legislation is “socialist.”
The bill comes as House Democrats try to emphasize their work on issues outside of impeachment.
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