Tea Party Patriots Weekly Report from Washington for 7/24/17
The House will return on Monday, with the first votes scheduled for 6:30 PM. The House will stay in session through Thursday. And then the House will leave for its August recess, not to return until Tuesday, September 5.
The Senate will return on Monday, with the first vote set for 5:30. The Senate is also scheduled to stay in session through Friday.
LAST WEEK ON THE HOUSE FLOOR:
The House returned on Monday and immediately took up and passed three bills under Suspension of the Rules.
On Tuesday, they considered and passed another bill under Suspension of the Rules. Then they took up and passed H.R. 806, the Ozone Standards Implementation Act of 2017, by a vote of 229-199.
On Wednesday, they took up and passed H.R. 2883, the Promoting Cross-Border Energy Infrastructure Act, by a vote of 254-175. Then they took up and passed H.R. 2910, the Promoting Interagency Coordination for Review of Natural Gas Pipelines Act, by a vote of 248-179.
On Thursday, they took up and passed H.R. 2825, the Department of Homeland Security Authorization Act under Suspension of the Rules, by a vote of 386-41. Finally, they took up and passed H.R. 218, the King Cove Road Land Exchange Act, by a vote of 248-179.
And then they were done.
THIS WEEK ON THE HOUSE FLOOR:
The House will return on Monday evening and is set to take up 17 bills on the Suspension Calendar. Most of them deal with various aspects of veterans’ issues and small business issues, but the Intelligence Authorization Act is one of them.
On Tuesday, the House will consider three more bills under Suspension of the Rules, one of which will be an as-yet-unintroduced bill adding sanctions against North Korea to a bill that already passed the Senate that deals with sanctions against Iran and Russia. The bill has faced opposition from the White House because it restricts the president’s ability to lift sanctions against Russia. On Friday, House and Senate negotiators announced that they had come to agreement on the language of the bill, and on Saturday, The New York Times reported that the White House supports the legislation.
On Wednesday, the House will take up H.J.Res. 111, a Congressional Review Act Resolution of Disapproval targeting a rule submitted by the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection relating to “Arbitration Agreements.”
Later on Wednesday and Thursday, the House will attempt to take up four more bills on the Suspension Calendar, and will also try to pass H.R. 3219, the Make America Secure Appropriations Act of 2018, about which we’ll speak more in a moment.
As always, additional legislative items are possible.
LAST WEEK ON THE SENATE FLOOR:
The Senate returned Monday and voted to invoke cloture on the nomination of Patrick Shanahan of WA to be Deputy Secretary of Defense.
On Monday evening, Majority Leader McConnell announced that, in the wake of his inability to move to consideration of his Better Care Reconciliation Act, he would plan to hold a vote on a motion to proceed to consideration of a repeal-only reconciliation bill similar to the one that passed the Senate in 2015.
On Tuesday, the Senate voted by 97-2 to confirm Patrick Shanahan to serve as Deputy Secretary of Defense.
On Wednesday, 51 Republican Senators – all of them other than Susan Collins – dined with President Trump for lunch at the White House, so they could discuss efforts to repeal ObamaCare. Later that day, the Senate voted to invoke cloture on the nomination of John Kenneth Bush of KY to serve as U.S. District Court Judge for the Sixth Circuit
On Wednesday evening, we learned that Sen. John McCain of AZ has been diagnosed with a brain tumor, and will not return to the Senate for an undetermined period.
On Thursday, the Senate voted to confirm Bush by a vote of 51-47. The Senate then voted by 56-39 to invoke cloture on the nomination of David Bernhardt to serve as Deputy Secretary of the Interior. And then they went home.
THIS WEEK ON THE SENATE FLOOR:
The Senate will come back into session Monday, with the first vote set for 5:30 PM, with a vote to confirm David Bernhardt to be Deputy Secretary of the Interior.
On Tuesday, Majority Leader McConnell will call up the motion to proceed to a healthcare bill. The underlying bill will be H.R. 1628, the House-passed American Health Care Act, but that will simply be the vehicle for action. The bill will be amended significantly.
At this point, it’s at best a 50-50 shot that McConnell gets the 50 votes he needs to proceed to the bill. John McCain is still home in Arizona recovering, and Susan Collins of ME is still a hard no. But Rand Paul of KY has given some indications that he might be amenable to voting to get on the bill, and Mike Lee of UT hasn’t declared himself a hard no. Rob Portman of OH, Jeff Flake of AZ and Shelley Moore Capito of WV are also on the fence. McConnell will need all of them to vote for the motion to proceed, or the effort will fail before it ever gets on the floor.
FBI Director nominee Christopher Wray’s nomination passed out of the Judiciary Committee on a unanimous vote, and Senate Majority Leader McConnell announced he wanted to have Wray’s confirmation vote done before the Senate broke for its truncated August recess.
House Republican leaders plan to add $1.6 billion in funding to begin construction of a 74-mile stretch of President Trump’s proposed border wall to a spending bill that will be considered this week.
It’s unclear at this point how exactly that $1.6 billion is going to be added to the bill – it was included in the appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security, but that appropriation bill isn’t one of the four that are being wrapped into one. So that leaves two options: First, the House Rules Committee could add the money to the giant spending bill by means of a self-executing rule, which means that the act of voting to support the rule would also automatically add the amendment to the underlying bill; second, it could be made in order a stand-alone amendment for floor consideration. Under the first scenario, if the rule passed, the money would be added to the bill automatically; under the second, it would require a majority vote on the House floor to add it.
U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego, Democrat of AZ, has proposed an amendment that would prohibit using any of the funds appropriated in the act from being used to construct any wall or barrier along the U.S.-Mexican border, and that amendment was made in order by the House Rules Committee.
On Monday, President Trump re-certified that Iran is holding up its end of the bargain known as the JCPOA – the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” otherwise known as the Iran Nuclear Deal. According to news reports, the President signed the certification only after he made clear his displeasure at being forced to do so by his Secretary of State and his National Security Adviser. Apparently, he had directed Secretary Tillerson back in April, the last time the President certified Iran, for an options paper that would show him how he could de-certify Iran, and he wanted it prepared in advance of this second certification. When it came time for the key meeting, Secretary Tillerson had no options paper prepared that would give the President the option to de-certify Iran. So he blew his top.
In the end, feeling pressure and facing a deadline, the President signed the certification. But he told Tillerson and Masterson that he expected a full options paper to be prepared before the next certification, 90 days from now. And if press reports are to be believed, he also gave orders to his White House staff to develop its own options paper for him, showing him how could de-certify Iran, because he doesn’t trust the State Department under Secretary Tillerson to carry out his directives on the issue.
Last Monday, GOP Senators Mike Lee of UT and Jerry Moran of KS announced they would not vote in support of a motion to proceed to consideration of Majority Leader McConnell’s revised Better Care Reconciliation Act, adding their names to those of Sens. Susan Collins of ME and Rand Paul of KY. Their announcement seemed to bring to an end any thought of consideration of the faux ObamaCare “repeal” bill devised by McConnell. On Monday evening, bowing to the what seemed to be the inevitable, Leader McConnell announced he would instead attempt to hold a vote on a simple repeal bill modeled after the 2015 reconciliation bill that passed both houses of Congress but was vetoed by President Obama.
But President Trump doesn’t like reading about political losses, and responded by inviting the Senate GOP Conference to join him for lunch on Wednesday. All but three attended. At that lunch, the President pressed McConnell and the assembled GOP Senators to find a way to come to consensus. That night, about 20 GOP Senators met in a members-only meeting for several hours to try to work through their differences, but reports indicate that no consensus was reached.
Then we learned later on Wednesday evening about Sen. McCain’s diagnosis, and Leader McConnell’s plans were reshuffled. Without McCain’s vote, it appeared he can only afford to lose one vote, rather than the slim margin of two he previously had. Sen. Collins still says she’s a “no” vote, but Sen. Paul allowed as he may be able to find a way to get to “yes,” at least on the motion to proceed.
As Wednesday became Thursday became Friday, talks shifted back to the original plan – the Better Care Reconciliation Act, which had somehow been revived.
Then late Friday afternoon, news broke that the Senate Parliamentarian had ruled that several key sections of the BCRA would fail the Byrd Rule test, affectionately known as a “Byrd Bath.” Specifically, the section prohibiting federal funds for one year to Planned Parenthood would have to be stripped from the bill, and a provision meant to ban the use of taxpayer funds to pay for abortion by banning coverage of abortion in ObamaCare exchange plans would both have to go, because both of them are, the eyes of the Parliamentarian, focused on the policy issue of abortion and its funding, rather than a serious attempt to save money from the federal treasury.
The Senate Republican leadership responded by saying the Parliamentarian was referring to an earlier version of the draft legislation, and went on to say that sections were being rewritten to pass muster.
So as we head into the week, all we know is that Leader McConnell plans to hold a vote Tuesday on a motion to proceed to consideration of H.R. 1628, the House-passed American Health Care Act. We don’t know if the first amendment would be an amendment containing the updated language of the 2015 repeal-only reconciliation bill, or if it would be the revised language of his Better Care Reconciliation Act. The problem for McConnell is, we’re not the only ones who don’t know – too many GOP Senators are voicing the same complaint. They don’t know what’s going on, and that’s no way to run a successful legislative strategy.
On Wednesday, unbeknownst to most of his senior White House staff, President Trump sat for a 50-minute Oval Office interview with three New York Times reporters. The result was, shall we say, interesting. In the interview, the President revealed that he still hasn’t gotten over Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Russia probe – said Trump, “Sessions never should have recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else … Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself, which frankly I think is very unfair to the president. How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair – and that’s a mild word – to the president.”
Apparently, the President believes the only function of being Attorney General is to oversee a probe into whether or not there was collusion between the President’s campaign and the Russian government, and there are no other aspects to the job. It would require that kind of thinking to think that an Attorney General who recuses himself from such a probe would have nothing left to do.
Of course, that kind of thinking is wrong. The Attorney General has a great deal to do that has nothing at all to do with overseeing a probe into potential collusion. In fact, no previous Attorney General has ever been required to oversee such an investigation, so it’s not like not overseeing the probe leaves the Attorney General with nothing to do.
The President also said in the interview that he believed Special Counsel Robert Mueller would overstep his authority if he began investigating Trump’s businesses. The President said that would be a “violation,” and dodged a question about whether or not that would lead Trump to fire Mueller. Not surprisingly, the very next day, Bloomberg reported that Mueller’s probe had widened to include a look at Trump’s businesses and personal finances.
Both The New York Times and The Washington Post reported last week that the Trump team was researching Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the team he is building around him, with an eye to discrediting him and his probe. In doing so, they’re taking a page from the Bill Clinton playbook, when he faced off against Special Counsel Kenneth Starr.
Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort have both agreed to provide records to and sit for private interviews with the Senate Judiciary Committee before any public session. The committee had planned to have them in for a public hearing Wednesday, but their appearance is now on hold.
Meanwhile, the House Intelligence Committee announced Friday it will interview Kushner on Tuesday of this week. The Senate Intelligence Committee is interviewing him on Monday.
On Friday evening, The Washington Post reported that U.S. intelligence intercepts of Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak’s communications reveal that Kislyak had told his superiors in Moscow that, contrary to assertions by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, he and Sessions discussed campaign-related matters and items of interest to Moscow during their two meetings in 2016. The Post sourced the assertion to what it described as “current and former U.S. officials,” which is another way of saying, “We found someone to leak classified intelligence to us. Again.”
Wrote The Post, “One U.S. official said that Sessions – who testified that he had no recollection of an April encounter – has provided ‘misleading’ statements that are ‘contradicted by other evidence.’”
You have to read to the ninth paragraph of the story to find this acknowledgement: “Officials emphasized that the information contradicting Sessions comes from U.S. intelligence on Kislyak’s communications with the Kremlin, and they acknowledged that the Russian ambassador could have mischaracterized or exaggerated the nature of his interactions.” Two paragraphs later, The Post continues: “Russian and other foreign diplomats in Washington and elsewhere have been known, at times, to report false or misleading information to bolster their standing with their superiors or to confuse U.S. intelligence agencies.”
You’ll recall that when we last we spoke, I told you about a plan from the House Republican Leadership to wrap all 12 annual spending bills into one massive omnibus appropriations bill, and how they had asked all GOP Members to spend last weekend reading all the different appropriations bill so they would be prepared to tell the Leadership if they would support that plan to wrap them all into one giant bill. And perhaps you’ll recall that I said the chances of this happening were no better than 50-50.
I was overly optimistic. The plan landed with a thud. Too many Members didn’t take the time to read the bills, and weren’t prepared to wrap them all into one giant spending bill.
So instead, the Leadership decided to wrap up four of the appropriations bills into what they’re calling a “minibus.” So the appropriations bills for defense, military construction and veterans affairs, legislative branch, and energy and water development will all be added together into one bill, and they’ll vote on that. That will leave eight appropriations bills remaining to be dealt with when they return in September.
On Thursday evening, President Trump met with Wall Street financier Anthony Scaramucci and offered him the job of White House Communications Director. The President’s move, according to press accounts, split his senior staff – Ivanka and Jared Kushner and Hope Hicks and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross all approved the move, while Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Senior Counselor Steve Bannon opposed it. Priebus and Bannon tried on Friday morning to get the President to reverse himself, but failed, at which point White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer announced his decision to resign. Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was elevated in his place.
Spicer quit because he did not believe Scaramucci knows what the job entails. Remember, Spicer has been pulling double duty as both Communications Director and Press Secretary since the resignation of Mike Dubke in May. Spicer reasonably intuited that he would still be doing the work of the communications director and the press secretary, but he would no longer have the authority of the communications director. Worse, he would have to report to the new Communications Director, who made clear to the press corps on Friday afternoon that he reported directly to the President, rather than the Chief of Staff. Spicer decided he’d had enough, and will stay in the White House for a few more weeks as Scaramucci transitions in.
JENNY BETH MARTIN/TEA PARTY PATRIOTS: