GOP: FBI firing won't slow agenda

GOP: FBI firing won't slow agenda
© Getty Images

Senate Republicans are determined to keep their ambitious policy agenda alive amid the political turbulence from President Trump’s surprise decision to sack FBI Director James Comey.

They say they aren’t worried about threats from Democrats to slow the Senate and are signaling they believe the fight over Comey will eventually fade.

“I’m not concerned,” Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioChina sanctioning Rubio, Cruz in retaliatory move over Hong Kong The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Negotiators signal relief bill stuck, not dead PPP application window closes after coronavirus talks deadlock  MORE (R-Fla.) told The Hill when asked about the agenda. “We’ll get it done.”

Republican senators have been cautious not to put a deadline on wrapping up work on their healthcare bill, though Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynCOVID-19 bill limiting liability would strike the wrong balance From a Republican donor to Senate GOP: Remove marriage penalty or risk alienating voters Skepticism grows over Friday deadline for coronavirus deal MORE (R-Texas) has said it will be passed by the end of the year.


Cornyn told reporters he’s not worried that the Comey fallout will negatively affect the GOP agenda. When asked how lawmakers can get back on track, Cornyn said, “We quit hyperventilating. I recommend that to all of you, and we just kind of do our work."

Trump’s firing of Comey sent shockwaves through the Capitol at a time when the GOP and Trump finally had some momentum after the House’s passage of its healthcare bill last week.

It put Republicans on defense and split the party. While GOP leaders have offered support for Trump, a number of Republicans have expressed reservations or concern about the firing of an official overseeing an investigation into Russia’s meddling in the U.S. presidential election, as well as possible links between that meddling and the president’s campaign.

Shifting stories from the White House this week over how the decision to fire Comey came about has only aggravated concerns about Trump’s ability to govern.

“It came as a surprise to us, the way that it happened. Certainly there was a question as to the coordination or the timing on it,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.). “This White House is still learning.”

After their loss on healthcare last week, Democrats are playing offense with the Comey news.

They sought to slow the Senate on Wednesday by refusing to agree to committee hearings.

On Thursday, it was back to business as usual, but it’s not entirely clear whether the minority’s protests will return next week.

“We just hope they will take this dismissal of Comey seriously and join us in asking for a special prosecutor,” Senate Minority Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Negotiators signal relief bill stuck, not dead White House officials, Democrats spar over legality, substance of executive orders Sunday shows - Trump coronavirus executive orders reverberate MORE (D-Ill.) told The Hill.

In a possible sign that Republicans do not want the Comey fight to become a bigger distraction, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTeachers union launches 0K ad buy calling for education funding in relief bill No signs of breakthrough for stalemated coronavirus talks State aid emerges as major hurdle to reviving COVID-19 talks MORE (R-Ky.) on Thursday night said he would invite Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to brief all senators about the firing.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerTo save the Postal Service, bring it online White House officials, Democrats spar over legality, substance of executive orders Schumer declines to say whether Trump executive orders are legal: They don't 'do the job' MORE (D-N.Y.) thanked McConnell for the move.

“I've just heard from the majority leader that he will invite Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to an all senators briefing next week. ... It is a good first step, and I thank the majority leader for consenting to this request,” he said from the Senate floor. 

Democrats have demanded that the GOP agree to closed-door briefings with Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsThe 'pitcher of warm spit' — Veepstakes and the fate of Mike Pence FBI officials hid copies of Russia probe documents fearing Trump interference: book Tuberville breaks DC self-quarantine policy to campaign MORE and Rosenstein, testimony from Comey and a special prosecutor to oversee the FBI’s Russia investigation.

A Quinnipiac survey released Wednesday found Trump with an approval rating of just 36 percent. The same poll found Republicans trailing Democrats on a generic House ballot by 16 points.

Those figures won’t make Democrats more unwilling to work with the GOP. Worse, from the GOP’s perspective, is that both polls were done before Trump decided to fire Comey.

Despite the breathless cable news coverage and Twitter chatter on Comey, some with Capitol Hill experience believe the affair will eventually blow over.

While the Senate will be charged with confirming a new FBI director to a 10-year term, these voices say battles over healthcare and tax reform are unlikely to be affected too much by the Comey fight — even if they further diminish Trump’s approval numbers.

The Comey situation is “a distraction” but won’t “derail” progress on tax reform, said Sean Neary, a former staffer on the Senate Finance Committee under former Sen. Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusBottom line Bottom line The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - George Floyd's death sparks protests, National Guard activation MORE (D-Mont.).

Trump must still nominate a new FBI director, and the confirmation process could take months even without additional obstruction from Democrats.

Still, another expert called Comey a “short-term” issue, while healthcare and tax reform are “long-ball issues.”

“It’s more of a marathon to get things through,” said Dean Zerbe, national managing director of the law firm Alliantgroup and former senior counsel to the Senate Finance Committee under Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyTrump puts trade back on 2020 agenda McConnell goes hands-off on coronavirus relief bill GOP chairmen hit back at accusation they are spreading disinformation with Biden probe MORE (R-Iowa).

Zerbe said he did not think the Comey issue would hurt Senate Republicans’ legislative agenda since “Comey is on a whole separate track.”

But a former Democratic staffer involved in the Affordable Care Act negotiations noted, “Congress has trouble walking and chewing gum” at the same time.

Jordain Carney contributed