Garland to face first grilling before new Congress

Attorney General Merrick Garland is scheduled to appear on Capitol Hill this week for the first time in the 118th Congress, testifying before a Senate panel as the Justice Department continues its investigations into the current and former presidents.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has released little information regarding the hearing, which is titled “Oversight of the Department of Justice” and is scheduled for Wednesday at 10 a.m. The presentation, however, will likely include questions about the probes zeroing in on President Biden and former President Trump.

The Judiciary Committee this week is also scheduled to vote on the nomination of Charnelle Bjelkengren to be U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Washington after the vote was held over earlier this month. Bjelkengren drew criticism when she flubbed basic questions about the Constitution during her confirmation hearing.

On Monday, Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) is slated to deliver Washington’s Farewell Address on the Senate floor, continuing the decades-old tradition to recognize the first U.S. president’s birthday.

On the House side, Democrats are heading to Baltimore this week for their annual issues conference, which will feature remarks from Biden, Vice President Harris and a number of cabinet officials.

The lower chamber will also consider a disapproval resolution and an inflation-related bill. Additionally, the Homeland Security Committee and newly created House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party will hold their first hearings.

Garland to testify before Senate panel

Garland’s scheduled appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee comes at a significant moment for the Department of Justice (DOJ), which is overseeing a number of probes into top political figures — including Biden, Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence.

Questions regarding those investigations are likely to come up during Wednesday’s hearing.

The agency is looking into all three men following the discovery of classified documents at their homes and/or offices. The FBI has conducted searches at locations belonging to all three men.

The probes into Biden and Trump, however, are now under the purview of two separate special counsels, decisions Garland made after Trump announced a 2024 bid for president, and amid speculation of a Biden reelection bid.

The two cases, in addition to the Pence matter, bear some key differences, despite all revolving around the alleged mishandling of classified documents.

Though it appears that all three did not properly follow the President Records Act — which requires that presidents and vice presidents give official documents to the National Archives following their tenures — Biden and Pence have cooperated with the DOJ, while an affidavit accuses Trump of refusing to cooperate with entities to return the materials.

Senators on the Intelligence Committee have expressed frustration at the administration for not having a briefing on the documents seized in searches on Trump and Biden locations, and for not providing a damage assessment on the materials found. Senators have said the administration has pointed to the ongoing special counsel probes as the reason for the delay.

Those irritations may bubble up on Wednesday.

In addition to the case involving the discovery of classified documents, the Justice Department is also conducting an investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, which involves Trump — and is also under the purview of Trump special counsel Jack Smith.

Questions about that investigation could come up on Wednesday as well.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has revealed few details regarding the hearing aside from its name and star witness.

Senate Judiciary to vote on Bjelkengren nomination

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote Thursday on the nomination of Bjelkengren to be U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Washington, after the lawyer was mocked last month for failing to answer basic legal questions.

During her confirmation hearing last month, Bjelkengren — a Spokane County Superior Court judge — was unable to answer questions from Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) about the purpose of Article II and Article V of the Constitution, which deal with executive branch powers and procedures for amending the document, respectively.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) ridiculed the nominee for her inability to answer the inquiries.

“Is this the caliber of legal expert with which President Biden is filling the federal bench?” McConnell asked on the Senate floor, referring to Bjelkengren. “For lifetime appointments? Is the bar for merit and excellence really set this low?”

Bjelkengren was listed on the Judiciary Committee’s executive business meeting agenda for Feb. 16, but her nomination was ultimately held over. Her name is now listed on the agenda for Thursday’s business meeting.

Lankford to deliver Washington’s Farewell Address

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) will continue the decades-old tradition of delivering Washington’s Farewell Address in the Senate chamber Monday to commemorate the first U.S. president’s birthday.

One senator — alternating parties each time — has recited the famed address in the Senate chamber every year since 1896, according to the Senate website. The reading comes around the time of Washington’s birthday, Feb. 22.

The tradition of reading the address in the chamber, however, officially began on Feb. 22, 1862, amid the Civil War, per the Senate website. The act was seen as a “morale-boosting gesture” during the conflict.

House Democrats hold annual issues conference

House Democrats will convene in Baltimore Wednesday through Friday for their annual issues conference, which is taking place weeks into their time as the minority party of the chamber.

Biden is scheduled to address the caucus on Wednesday night. According to the White House, he will deliver remarks “on his Administration and Congress’ historic investments in America.” Harris is also slated to make an appearance at the gathering.

A number of other administration officials will speak with the group, according to House Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), including Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D) and Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott (D) are also slated to attend, in addition to comedian Jordan Klepper of “The Daily Show.”

The conference, which is themed “People Over Politics,” will include conversations regarding reproductive freedom, women’s economic security, LGBTQI+ equality, border security, gun violence prevention, public safety, climate, national security and the economy, according to Aguilar.

House to vote on disapproval resolution, inflation-related bill

The House this week is scheduled to vote on a disapproval resolution that aims to nullify a Department of Labor rule issued by the Biden administration that makes it easier for money managers to take climate change and other environmental and social factors into account when making retirement investments.

The rule eased a Trump-era rule, issued in 2020, that was meant to discourage considerations of environmental and social factors in investment decisions.

Under the Congressional Review Act, lawmakers can overturn a rule if both chambers pass a disapproval resolution and the president signs it. If the president decides to veto the measure, Congress can override it.

When introducing the resolution earlier his month, Rep. Andy Barr (R-Ky.) wrote in a statement that “Retirement plans should be solely focused on delivering maximum returns, not advancing a political agenda.”

The chamber is also slated to vote on a bill that would require the Biden administration to draw up an inflation estimate for all executive orders that are projected to have an annual gross budgetary effect of at least $1 billion.

The legislation does not, however, include measures that provide emergency assistance or relief that is requested by state or local governments, or measures that are “necessary for the national security or the ratification or implementation of international treaty obligations.”

In a statement introducing the Reduce Exacerbated Inflation Negatively Impacting the Nation (REIN IN) Inflation Act, House GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), a sponsor of the legislation, spoke about holding the Biden administration “accountable.”

“As hardworking families in New York’s 21st District and across the nation are forced to pay the price for Democrats’ out-of-control spending, I am working to hold this administration accountable and rein in the policies that fuel devastating inflation, which is a tax on every family,” she wrote.

House Homeland Security Committee holds border hearing

The House Committee on Homeland Security is scheduled to hold its first full committee hearing on Tuesday at 10 a.m., which will focus on the situation at the border.

Witnesses for the hearing, titled “Every State is a Border State: Examining Secretary Mayorkas’ Border Crisis,” have not yet been announced. But the presentation, according to the panel, “will focus on the widespread and debilitating impact” the “border crisis” is having on communities across the nation.

“Our first hearing will clearly and articulately lay out the devastation this crisis is having on our communities and how Americans have been abandoned by President Biden and Secretary Mayorkas as this crisis surfaces in our backyards,” Rep. Mark Greene (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the committee, wrote in a statement.

“Whether it’s the overwhelming presence of MS-13 gang violence on Long Island in New York, the crippling impact of the fentanyl crisis across Tennessee, or the influx of illegal aliens being dropped in small towns in Mississippi and North Carolina, every American community bears the brunt of weak border security,” he added.

China select committee to hold first hearing

The House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party is slated to hold its first hearing Tuesday night at 7 p.m.

The hearing, titled “The Chinese Communist Party’s Threat to America,” will feature testimony from four witnesses: Former U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor Matthew Pottinger, former U.S. national security advisor H.R. McMaster, Tong Yi, a Chinese human rights advocate, and Scott Paul, the president of the Alliance for American manufacturing. Pottinger and McMaster both served in their roles under the Trump administration.

The first hearing comes more than a month after the House overwhelmingly passed a resolution to create the bipartisan panel. During an appearance on CBS’s “Face The Nation” on Sunday, Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), the chairman of the select committee, said he wants to convey the bipartisan nature of the panel during Tuesday’s hearing.

“I want to send a message that the committee’s work is going to be bipartisan,” Gallagher said. “Speaker [Kevin] McCarthy [(R-Calif.)] wants to be bipartisan. And I firmly believe that besides its own people, what the Chinese Communist Party fears most is the idea of Republicans and Democrats working together to counter CCP aggression.”

Updated at 7:43 a.m.

Tags James Lankford Joe Biden Merrick Garland Mike Pence

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