As Congress returns from a ten day legislative break, lawmakers come back to Capitol Hill facing a series of politcally explosive topics, ranging from the President’s diplomatic overtures to North Korea, to his controversial moves to slap tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum from Europe, Mexico and Canada, and how best to deal with the hot button issue of illegal immigration.
Bubbling underneath all of that as well, continues to be the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections, as the White House continues to question the probe being led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Here’s some of what we might see this week in the nation’s capital:
1. What can Trump-Kim summit produce? With President Trump declaring on Friday that he will meet the North Korean leader on June 12 in Singapore, the White House now has just over a week to not only get the final prep done for that historic meeting, but also lay the groundwork for some kind of progress to come from it. After a Friday meeting in the Oval Office with a top aide to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Mr. Trump made clear there was no guarantee that the summit would bring about a major agreement, as he floated the idea of maybe signing an offical end to the Korean War. But remember, there doesn’t seem to be any possibility that the U.S. will walk away with what had been the original bottom line for the President – an agreement by Kim Jong Un to end the nuclear weapons program of the Pyongyang regime. Will the summit produce any tangible results? And what if it doesn’t? Those will be some of the questions being aired in coming days.
2. House GOP returns to internal fight over DACA, Dreamers. When Republicans left town for their Memorial Day break, only five more signatures were needed on a special “discharge” petition, to force votes in the full House on a series of four different immigration measures, some supported by the White House, some not. A group of more moderate Republicans have made clear they are tired of waiting to have a vote in the House on plans to allow illegal immigrant “Dreamers” the chance to get on a 10-12 year pathway to citizenship. President Trump has said he wants a litany of changes to immigration law, but as this reporter has repeatedly documented, the votes are not there in either the House or Senate for such a plan. You’ll notice that GOP lawmakers are still talking about making a deal that can be approved. They are now on the clock.
3. Congress not likely to stop Trump tariffs. Congress has the power over tariffs, but has shifted much of that authority to the Executive Branch and the President – so when you hear lawmakers in both parties complaining about recent moves by the President to raise steel and alumnimum tariffs on imports, don’t be fooled into think that somehow the Congress is going to come back to Capitol Hill, and suddenly stand up and exercise its authority to stop that move. Article I of the Constitution is pretty clear: “The Congress shall have Power to lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises.” Most of the reaction from both parties has been entirely negative to new tariffs aimed at Mexico, Canada and the European Union, as GOP lawmakers worry it will harm domestic economic growth. Rep. Karen Handel (R-GA) said the President’s tariffs, “and the inevitable retaliatory moves by these countries — will hurt working Americans, negatively affect our economy, and do not further the goal of fostering more equitable trade.”
4. Congress takes first steps on next year’s spending bills. Only four times since the big budget process reforms of 1974 has the Congress approved funding bills on time for the federal government, and this week will see the first votes on some of those measures for 2019 (the deadline is September 30). House Republicans have put three of the twelve funding plans into one measure for consideration on the floor of the House, dealing with energy and water programs, military construction and the VA, plus the budget for Congress. The list of amendments that might be made in order is already an interesting one, including an end to any taxpayer funded settlements of sexual harassment claims against members of Congress, an end to the use of plastic drinking straws, and a possible fight over immigration, and whether people in the U.S. illegally could be employed on Capitol Hill.
5. Congress looks to advance local water projects. While most people probably don’t realize it, the Congress has pretty much done away with pork barrel spending. But that doesn’t mean that lawmakers have given up on finding ways to direct money to projects in their states and districts. This week, a major Water Resources Development bill comes to the House floor, filled with designations for what the Army Corps of Engineers should be working on. Two provisions caught my eye – one to require a study as to whether water projects should be moved out of the Pentagon and the Army Corps of Engineers, into a different part of the government, and the desire for more frequent water development bills. “Congress should consider a water resources development bill not less often than once every Congress,” the bill states.
6. The Russia questions will continue. The President was active again on Twitter this weekend, tweeting his familiar frustrations with the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 elections, and any possible links to the Trump Campaign. A big story on Saturday in the New York Times included a letter from Mr. Trump’s lawyers to the Special Counsel from back in January, which argued in parts that a President cannot be charged with obstruction of justice. “Is the Special Counsel/Justice Department leaking my lawyers letters to the Fake News Media?” the President tweeted – though there was no evidence to suggest that had happened, as the leaks could have just as easily come from the President’s legal team. Democrats said it was ridiculous to suggest that the President was above the law, in any way.
7. Inspector General report on Clinton email probe. It seems like this internal review of how the FBI and Justice Department dealt with the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server could become public as soon as this week. The Senate Judiciary Committee had scheduled a hearing on it for Tuesday, but that was delayed until June 11. If that is the exact timing, then it’s possible we could see more about what went on behind the scenes about the email probe. The irony is that FBI Director James Comey is likely to be criticized for going public about emails which were discovered – and then discounted – just before the 2016 election, which some Clinton backers believe helped Donald Trump in the last week of the campaign. Back then, Democrats wanted Comey’s scalp. Then, it was Mr. Trump who forced him out.