GOP: FBI firing won't slow agenda

GOP: FBI firing won't slow agenda
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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 RubioWashington fears new threat from 'deepfake' videos Overnight Defense: Second Trump-Kim summit planned for next month | Pelosi accuses Trump of leaking Afghanistan trip plans | Pentagon warns of climate threat to bases | Trump faces pressure to reconsider Syria exit Pressure mounts for Trump to reconsider Syria withdrawal 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 CornynTrump tells GOP senators he’s sticking to Syria and Afghanistan pullout  Texas governor, top lawmakers tell Trump not to use hurricane relief funds to build border wall The Hill's Morning Report — Trump’s attorney general pick passes first test MORE (R-Texas) has said it will be passed by the end of the year.

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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 DurbinBlagojevich's wife 'speechless' that officer's sentence less than half of husband's Trump pitches new plan to reopen government amid Dem pushback Democrats signal they'll reject Trump shutdown proposal 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 McConnellDACA recipient claims Trump is holding ‘immigrant youth hostage’ amid quest for wall Former House Republican: Trump will lose the presidency if he backs away from border security Pence quotes MLK in pitch for Trump's immigration proposal 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 SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerProtecting our judiciary must be a priority in the 116th Congress Baldwin's Trump plays 'Deal or No Deal' with shutdown on 'Saturday Night Live' Sunday shows preview: Shutdown negotiations continue after White House immigration proposal 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 SessionsOvernight Health Care: Thousands more migrant children may have been separated | Senate rejects bill to permanently ban federal funds for abortion | Women's March to lobby for 'Medicare for All' Acting AG Whitaker's wife defends him in lengthy email to journalist Watchdog: Thousands more migrant children separated from parents than previously known 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 BaucusOvernight Defense: McCain honored in Capitol ceremony | Mattis extends border deployment | Trump to embark on four-country trip after midterms Congress gives McCain the highest honor Judge boots Green Party from Montana ballot in boost to Tester 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 GrassleyDem calls for Cohen to testify before Senate panel over explosive report Senate Republicans eye rules change to speed Trump nominees IRS shutdown plan fails to quell worries 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