This week: Surveillance, travel ban fights play out amid growing coronavirus concerns
© Greg Nash

Lawmakers are scrambling to wrap up their work ahead of a one-week recess while also juggling growing concerns about a widespread outbreak of the coronavirus within the United States. 

Congress has a slew of bills set to clear before lawmakers prepare to leave Washington as early as Thursday, including soon-to-expire surveillance legislation, a House bill on President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden slams Trump in new ad: 'The death toll is still rising.' 'The president is playing golf' Brazil surpasses Russia with second-highest coronavirus case count in the world Trump slams Sessions: 'You had no courage & ruined many lives' MORE’s travel ban and a mammoth energy package. 

All of that will play as lawmakers are sure to field growing questions about the spread of the coronavirus within the U.S., and the potential impact both in Washington and across the country. 


As of Sunday, 34 states had reports of coronavirus cases, according to CNN and The New York Times, while Washington, D.C., also confirmed its first case over the weekend. 

And increasing the direct impact on Capitol Hill, two lawmakers — Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward Cruz125 lawmakers urge Trump administration to support National Guard troops amid pandemic Parties gear up for battle over Texas state House Cruz threatens to stop federal agencies from cooperating with Hollywood over China 'censorship' MORE (R-Texas) and Rep. Paul GosarPaul Anthony GosarConservative lawmakers press Trump to suspend guest worker programs for a year Impeachment figure among those chosen for Facebook's new oversight board Cruz rebukes San Antonio City Council for denouncing 'Chinese virus' as hate speech MORE (R-Ariz.) — both announced Sunday that they are self-quarantining after interacting with an individual at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) who has since been diagnosed with the coronavirus. 

Cruz, in a statement, said that he felt “fine and healthy,” but he will remain in Texas this week “out of an abundance of caution." 

“The medical authorities explicitly advised me that ... the people who have interacted with me in the 10 days since CPAC should not be concerned about potential transmission," he said. "Nevertheless ... because of how frequently I interact with my constituents as part of my job and to give everyone peace of mind, I have decided to remain at my home in Texas this week, until a full 14 days have passed since the CPAC interaction.” 

Gosar added in a tweet that he and three of his senior staff are self-quarantined. 

“We are all asymptomatic and feel great. But we are being proactive and cautious,” Gosar tweeted, adding that his office will be closed this week. 


The announcements come amid rampant chatter on Capitol Hill about the potential impact the coronavirus could have on the building's day-to-day workings. The House is preparing to allow staff to telework as concerns grow over the global coronavirus outbreak, and Senate staffers also received an email last week about teleworking. 

Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump slams Sessions: 'You had no courage & ruined many lives' Lies, damned lies and the truth about Joe Biden The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Mnuchin: More COVID-19 congressional action ahead MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump slams Sessions: 'You had no courage & ruined many lives' Senate Democrats call on Trump administration to let Planned Parenthood centers keep PPP loans States, companies set up their own COVID-19 legal shields MORE (D-N.Y.) on Sunday night laid out initial goal posts for any potential economic stimulus package as concerns about a widespread outbreak have roiled the stock market. 

The Washington Post reported late last week that administration officials were considering deferring taxes for the sectors most affected by the outbreak, including the hospitality, cruise, travel and airline industries. Trump has also floated a payroll tax cut. 

“We are hoping to work with the administration on a coordinated, government-wide plan to respond to the coronavirus," the two Democratic leaders said. "However, President Trump continues to manufacture needless chaos within his administration, and it is hampering the government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak."

The two want any package to include paid sick leave, bolstered unemployment insurance and "widespread and free" testing for the coronavirus.


Lawmakers are barreling toward a deadline for three expiring provisions of the USA Freedom Act with no plan in sight for how to extend them. 

Though Congress technically has until March 15 — Sunday — to reauthorize, change or formally end the intelligence programs, the House is expected to hold last votes for the week on Thursday. That gives lawmakers just four days to get a deal on either a short-term extension or a larger reauthorization. 

Neither the House nor Senate has been able to advance legislation at the committee level or on the floor that deals with the expiring provisions, which are related to roving wiretaps, lone wolf surveillance and a controversial phone records program. 

Part of the problem for leadership is a push, from members on both sides of the aisle, to use the USA Freedom bill to make broader changes to the court associated with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. 

Progressives and libertarian-minded GOP senators have raised concerns about the court for years, believing that it does not provide enough privacy protections for those targeted for surveillance or transparency about its activities. 

But the concern about potential abuse grew among Republicans after Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz found 17 instances of significant inaccuracies and omissions in the warrant applications related to Trump campaign associate Carter Page.

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHouse conservatives voice concerns over minority rights during remote hearings House slated to vote on FISA before end of the month House Rules Committee approves remote voting during pandemic MORE (D-Md.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyTrump, GOP go all-in on anti-China strategy The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Mnuchin: More COVID-19 congressional action ahead GOP pulls support from California House candidate over 'unacceptable' social media posts MORE (R-Calif.) are leading talks amid a small group of lawmakers to try to find a potential deal ahead of the end-of-week deadline. 

Hoyer said on Thursday they had sent an offer back to the Republicans, but indicated that the focus on making broader FISA reforms was slowing down the talks. 

“The focus on a non-related … issue is slowing up this process. And I would hope that in the coming days, because the 15th is upon us, we come to an agreement,” Hoyer said.

Both Attorney General William Barr and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMemorial Day weekend deals latest economic blow to travel industry Senate Republicans call on DOJ to investigate Planned Parenthood loans On The Money: Jobless rate exceeds 20 percent in three states | Senate goes on break without passing small business loan fix | Biden pledges to not raise taxes on those making under 0K MORE (R-Ky.) support a clean reauthorization of the USA Freedom provisions. But in a curveball, Trump told Republican lawmakers at the White House last week that he would not reauthorize the intelligence programs without broader FISA reforms. 

That, and the looming deadline, is bolstering talk of a potential short-term patch to give lawmakers more time to negotiate a deal on changes to the surveillance court. How long of an extension Congress could agree to, and Trump would sign, remains unclear. 

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSunday shows preview: States begin to reopen even as some areas in US see case counts increase Congress headed toward unemployment showdown Doctors push Trump to quickly reopen country in letter organized by conservatives MORE (R-Ky.), who is pushing broader FISA reforms, has indicated that he thinks the president will only sign a weeks-long extension. But Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneOn The Money: Jobless rate exceeds 20 percent in three states | Senate goes on break without passing small business loan fix | Biden pledges to not raise taxes on those making under 0K Senate leaves for break without passing Paycheck Protection Program fix McConnell in talks with Gardner to allow Senate to take Memorial Day recess MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, said lawmakers should look at a two- to three-month extension. 


“The question is, does the president and do the people who don’t want to see any extension at all make it difficult to get that done?” Thune added.  

Travel ban

The House is slated to take up legislation to repeal Trump’s controversial travel ban this week.

The measure — introduced by Rep. Judy ChuJudy May ChuMinority lawmakers gain unprecedented clout amid pandemic Hispanic leaders warn census could undercount minority communities amid pandemic Trump: Chinese Americans 'most angry' at Beijing MORE (D-Calif.) — aims to rein in the president’s ability to “suspend or restrict aliens from entering the United States” and limit the administration from putting in place similar bans in the future. It also includes language that would prevent “religious discrimination in various immigration-related decisions, such as whether to issue an immigrant or non-immigrant visa, with certain exceptions.”

“This bill would repeal the president's Muslim travel ban and prevent the administration from putting in place other discriminatory travel bans,” Hoyer said on the floor.

In January 2017, Trump issued the first iteration of the travel ban on seven majority-Muslim countries, which was met with strong pushback from Democrats and faced a series of legal challenges. The third version of the ban, which was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2018, impacts Iran, North Korea, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Venezuela. In January 2020, Trump announced immigration restrictions on six additional countries: Myanmar, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Sudan, Tanzania and Nigeria.


Republican allies of the president have shot down accusation that the ban is discriminatory or unconstitutional, with several GOP lawmakers noting it was upheld by the Supreme Court. 

“I understand there was a disagreement over whether or not you supported the president's ability to restrict travel from certain countries based on not whether they were a Muslim country, but based on whether or not they were a country not in compliance with our Department of Homeland Security requirements and criteria to ensure that they are properly vetting people that come to our country for national security purposes,” House Minority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseTrump, GOP go all-in on anti-China strategy House Republicans voice optimism on winning back the House following special election victories Republicans push for help for renewable energy, fossil fuel industries MORE (R-La.) said on the floor on Thursday.  

“There were limited number of countries back in 2017 that the president ultimately determined working through the Department of Homeland Security were not in compliance," he added. 

The bill passed out of the House Judiciary Committee in February. 

The House will also take up the Access to Counsel Act, led by Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalJayapal says progressives need to better coordinate to accomplish initiatives Jayapal explains the paycheck recovery bill House Progressive Caucus leader blasts mass unemployment as 'a policy choice' MORE (D-Wash.), which would ensure individuals detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection are granted access to legal counsel. 

“This legislation would make certain that those held or detained while attempting to enter the united states are guaranteed access to legal counsel. That legal counsel, Mr. Speaker, would not be paid for by the government,” Hoyer said. 

Jayapal, in a statement in January, noted that Jan. 27, 2020 was the third anniversary of the "xenophobic and unconstitutional Muslim Ban."

"The recent accounts of Customs and Border Protection officers unjustly detaining Iranian Americans at the border crossing in Blaine, Washington, are a stark reminder that this Administration’s attacks on civil liberties are far from over,” she added. 

Ukraine probe

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will vote this week on the first subpoena to come from a months-long investigation into Hunter Biden and Burisma Holdings. 

Committee Chairman Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonHouse chair threatens subpoenas if Pompeo doesn't provide Biden docs he gave Senate GOP Senate confirms Ratcliffe to be Trump's spy chief Schumer dubs GOP 'conspiracy caucus' amid Obama-era probes MORE (R-Wis.) has scheduled a vote for Wednesday on a subpoena for documents from an interview with former Blue Star Strategies consultant Andrii Telizhenko. 

Johnson, in a letter sent earlier this month to committee members, said that Telizhenko has indicated that he wants to cooperate fully with the investigation, but is currently limited by a nondisclosure agreement. 

Sen. Gary PetersGary Charles PetersThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump threatens coronavirus funds for states easing voting Pelosi blasts Senate GOP subpoenas Senate Republicans issue first subpoena in Biden-Burisma probe MORE (D-Mich.) is opposed to the subpoena. He wrote to Johnson over the weekend requesting a closed-door FBI briefing prior to the committee vote. 

Because Peters is opposed, Johnson will need a simple majority on the panel where Republicans hold eight seats compared to six for Democrats. 

Johnson is expected to get the votes after Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyTrump, GOP go all-in on anti-China strategy Senate panel approves Trump nominee under investigation Pelosi, Democrats press case for mail-in voting amid Trump attacks MORE (R-Utah), who had previously expressed concern that the probe appeared “political,” announced that he would support the subpoena. Liz Johnson, a spokeswoman for Romney, said Johnson confirmed to the Utah senator that “any interview of the witness would occur in a closed setting without a hearing or public spectacle.”

Republicans have homed in on Hunter Biden's work on the board of Burisma and the discredited narrative that then-Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden slams Trump in new ad: 'The death toll is still rising.' 'The president is playing golf' Warren to host high-dollar fundraiser for Biden COVID-19 makes Trump's work with black Americans that much harder MORE tried to remove Ukrainian Prosecutor Viktor Shokin in an effort to protect his son. No evidence has indicated that either of the Bidens engaged in criminal wrongdoing, and there was widespread concern at the time both internationally and from a bipartisan coalition in Congress about corruption within Shokin's office. 

Energy bill

The Senate is set to wrap up a wide-ranging energy bill by Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). 

The Senate will take its first procedural vote to wind down debate on the 550-page bill on Monday evening. That could pave the way for the chamber to pass the bill on Tuesday or Wednesday. 

The legislation incorporates more than 50 bills including promoting research in up and coming renewable energies. It also includes efforts to bolster the capture of carbon pollution, including from the coal and natural gas sector, as well as research to expand nuclear energy.

But debate on the Senate floor has largely been stalled as lawmakers grappled behind-the-scenes on potential amendment votes. 

War powers resolution

The House could take up a Senate-passed resolution to rein in Trump’s ability to take military action against Iran without congressional signoff. 

Hoyer said on Thursday that the House could take up Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineBipartisan senators introduce bill to make changes to the Paycheck Protection Program Overnight Defense: National Guard chief negative in third coronavirus test | Pentagon IG probing Navy's coronavirus response | Democrats blast use of Russia deterrence funds on border wall Overnight Defense: Navy secretary nominee: Service in 'rough waters' after 'failure of leadership'| Senate fails to override Trump's Iran war powers veto| Top Armed Services Republican expects to address Pentagon border wall funds in defense policy bill MORE’s (D-Va.) resolution as soon as this week. The House Rules Committee is expected to meet Monday night to establish the parameters for floor debate on the resolution, paving the way for a vote on the House floor. 

The resolution requires Trump to pull any U.S. troops from military hostilities against Iran within 30 days unless he gets congressional approval for the military actions. 

It passed the Senate last month in a 55-45 vote, including the support of eight Republicans. It is expected to pass the House once it comes up for a vote. But Trump has threatened to veto the resolution, and neither chamber is expected to have the two-thirds support necessary to override.