The calendar is the same as last week – the Senate returns on Monday, and the House returns on Tuesday. The Senate will likely finish its work on Thursday, because that’s still a full workweek in the Senate, and the House is scheduled to stay in session through Friday.
LAST WEEK ON THE HOUSE FLOOR:
The House returned to work on Tuesday, and took up and passed three bills under Suspension of the Rules.
On Wednesday, the House took up and passed H.R. 8, the Water Resources Development Act. Then the House took up and passed a motion to concur in the Senate amendment to H.R. 3249, the Project Safe Neighborhoods Grant Program Authorization Act.
On Thursday, the House took up and passed H.R. 3, the Spending Cuts to Expired and Unnecessary Programs Act, otherwise known as the president’s $15 billion rescissions package.
Later Thursday, the House took up H.R. 5895, the appropriations minibus that combined the Energy and Water, Military Construction and Veterans, and Legislative Branch appropriations bills. The bill passed by a vote of 235-179.
And then they were done.
THIS WEEK ON THE HOUSE FLOOR:
This week in the House it’s going to be all-opioids, all the time.
The House will return on Tuesday, with the first vote set for 6:30 PM. At that time, the House will attempt to take up no fewer than 26 bills under Suspension of the Rules. The overwhelming majority of these bills deal with various aspects of the nation’s opioid crisis.
On Wednesday, the House will attempt to take up another 10 bills under Suspension of the Rules. These bills, too, deal with the opioid crisis.
On Thursday, the House will take up H.R. 5788, the Securing the International Mail Against Opioids Act of 2018, and H.R. 5735, the Transitional Housing for Recovery in Viable Environments Demonstration Program.
On Friday, the House will take up H.R. 2851, the Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues Act of 2017.
And then they’ll be done.
LAST WEEK ON THE SENATE FLOOR:
The Senate returned to work on Monday, and moved to invoke cloture on the nomination of Robert Earl Wier to be U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Kentucky.
On Tuesday, the Senate voted by 95-0 to confirm him to that position.
Then the Senate voted to invoke cloture on the nomination of Fernando Rodriguez to be U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of Texas, and then voted by 96-0 to confirm him to that position.
Then the Senate voted to invoke cloture on the nomination of Annemarie Carney Axon to be U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of Alabama.
On Wednesday, the Senate voted to confirm her to that position.
On Thursday, the Senate took up and passed the nomination of Kenneth Marcus to be Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education.
Then the Senate resumed consideration of H.R. 5515, the John McCain National Defense Authorization Act. On Thursday afternoon, the Senate voted to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to consideration.
And then they were done.
THIS WEEK ON THE SENATE FLOOR:
The Senate will return Monday, and will resume its consideration of H.R. 5515, the John McCain National Defense Authorization Act. The Senate will be on that bill all week.
On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell bowed to the inevitable and announced that he was effectively canceling the August recess for the Senate. Instead, Senators will take off the first week of August, and then return for the duration of the month.
This is a victory for our Make Congress Work Again project, but it’s only a first step. We still need to get the Senate working five-day workweeks. Over the past twelve months, the Senate has worked on just two Fridays, and the Senate has worked on just eight Fridays since President Trump was inaugurated.
Oddly, Leader McConnell said when he took the Majority Leader’s post following the 2014 elections, “most people work five days a week … The first thing I need to do is get the Senate back to normal. That means working more … I don’t think we’ve had any votes on Friday in anybody’s memory.”
But that was then, and this is now.
On Tuesday, the trustees of Social Security and Medicare released their annual report, revealing that for the first time since 1982, Social Security will pay out more in benefits than it takes in, forcing it to dip into its nearly $3 trillion trust fund to cover those benefit payments.
According to the report, the trust fund will be depleted by 2034, and Social Security will no longer be able to pay its full scheduled benefits. Absent action to bolster Social Security’s finances, after 2034 beneficiaries would receive about three-quarters of their scheduled benefits.
The report also said that the hospital insurance fund in Medicare will be empty by 2026, three years earlier than they anticipated in last year’s report.
Roughly 61.5 million people receive retirement or disability benefits from Social Security, and another 58.4 million people receive benefits from Medicare.
To put this in context, this year’s reports show that in order to keep Social Security solvent, it would require corrective measures equal to prospective benefit cuts of 21 percent across the board. And the longer Congress and the White House take to address the problem, the worse that number is going to be.
According to a Tuesday report by ABC News, Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report – apparently to be released Thursday – will say that Horowitz concluded that former FBI Director James Comey “defied authority at times” during his tenure. One source told ABC News that the report uses the word “insubordinate” to describe the former director’s behavior.
The IG report also criticized former Attorney General Loretta Lynch for her handling of the investigation – strike that, “matter,” ahem – into Hillary Clinton’s personal email server.
Inspector General Horowitz said on Thursday in a letter to Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley that he expects to release the report on Thursday, June 14. Horowitz is scheduled to appear before Grassley’s committee on Monday, June 18.
On another matter of interest, the indictment handed down last week against James A. Wolfe, a 30-year veteran staffer of the Senate Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence for lying to investigators – about which we’ll talk more in a moment – has to have former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe concerned. After all, the indictment wasn’t for transmitting classified information to someone not authorized to receive it, the indictment was for lying to federal investigators – exactly what McCabe did, according to the DOJ Inspector General who made the criminal referral to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia.
House Republicans had their meeting on Thursday morning and could not come to agreement on a way out of their immigration predicament. But they agreed to continue talking.
Initial reports after the meeting indicate that the biggest sticking point in the negotiations between the so-called “moderate” Republicans and the conservatives is over what kind of pathway to citizenship might be available for the so-called “Dreamers.” Remember, President Obama’s original DACA program offers NO pathway to citizenship for the illegal immigrants it helps – it merely offers them deferred deportation. That is, they are authorized to work, but not to become citizens. But the “moderate” Republicans want to go a step further, and find a way to get to a solution that includes full citizenship for this particular population of illegal immigrants. The conservatives in the House GOP Conference oppose that – some because they oppose it outright, and some because they’re scared of being tagged with voting for something called “amnesty.”
So it looks like the House GOP Conference is actually broken down into three separate and distinct groups on the question of amnesty for a group of illegal immigrants – the first group wants to find a way to create a pathway to citizenship; the second group wouldn’t mind giving them a pathway to citizenship but doesn’t want to be criticized for voting for amnesty; and the third group believes in the rule of law and opposes any kind of amnesty that would include a special pathway to citizenship for any kind of illegal immigrants, so-called “Dreamers” included.
Another point of contention appears to be just what is the universe of illegal immigrants that this solution would be applied to – remember, President Obama’s original DACA program provided work permits for those who met certain qualifications: 1) They had to have come to the United States when they were younger than 16 years old; 2) they had to be no older than 30 years old as of June 15, 2012; and 3) they must have lived in the United States since 2007. As we know, that yielded a population of about 1,800,000 illegal immigrants who were eligible for the program, of which roughly 690,000 currently have work authorizations.
President Trump’s “Four Pillars” plan proposed to expand that population significantly, back to the original group of 1.8 million illegal immigrants who were eligible to apply for DACA status, and it proposed to give them citizenship.
On Friday, there was a follow-up meeting, hosted by the House GOP leadership in the Capitol, to try to continue working on the potential agreement. Mark Meadows, Jim Jordan, and Raul Labrador were there for the conservatives, while Jeff Denham and Carlos Curbelo were there for the “moderates.” House Homeland Security Chairman Mike McCaul and House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte were also in the room.
According to Politico Playbook, whose reporters say they talked to a bunch of people who were in the room, a special pathway to citizenship isn’t the sticking point they thought it was 24 hours earlier – instead, the toughest nut to crack seems to be interior enforcement, and how far Republicans should go on that front.
Discharge petition ringleader Jeff Denham says he’ll give the talks until Tuesday to bear fruit. If they haven’t come to an agreement by then, he says, he’s going to add three more signatures to the discharge petition and force action.
On Wednesday, Sen. Rob Portman, Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Subcommittee on Investigations, released a report revealing that in 2016 – despite promises to the Congress that, under the terms of the deal, Iran would never be given access to the U.S. financial system – the Obama Administration did, in fact, try to do exactly that, secretly issuing a license to allow Iran sanctions relief so it could convert previously-frozen funds in an Omani bank into dollars and then Euros.
The only reason the transaction did not go through was because two different U.S. banks refused to participate. Why? Because they feared the reputational damage of doing business with Iran, and they apparently weren’t sure they could trust the Obama Administration to level with them that the transaction would not be violating other financial sanctions still in place against Iran.
Said Portman, “The Obama Administration misled the American people and Congress because they were desperate to get a deal with Iran.” Congressman Ed Royce, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, accused Obama of trying “to hide a secret push to give the ayatollah access to the U.S. dollar.”
Late Thursday evening, The New York Times reported that “a former Senate Intelligence Committee aide was arrested on Thursday in an investigation of classified information leaks where prosecutors also secretly seized years’ worth of a New York Times reporter’s phone and email records. The former aide, James A. Wolfe, 57, was charged with lying repeatedly to investigators about his contacts with three reporters. According to the authorities, Mr. Wolfe made false statements to the FBI about providing two of them with sensitive information related to the committee’s work. He denied to investigators that he ever gave classified material to journalists, the indictment said.”
There are two kickers to the story. The first is that Wolfe’s last job with the Intelligence Committee was “director of security” – in other words, when the committee received classified intelligence from the executive branch, it was physically directed to him. He was perfectly placed, with access to all the classified information the committee held in its possession.
But it’s the second kicker that has the Beltway buzzing. One of the reporters to whom Wolfe allegedly fed sensitive information appears to be a young twenty-something female by the name of Ali Watkins, with whom he appears to have been involved in a romantic relationship for a number of years.
Washington being Washington, of course, the buzz isn’t so much about the FBI catching a senior Senate staffer leaking classified information, or even about the fact that a young female reporter was apparently perfectly happy to take classified information from her boyfriend and then use it to publish breaking news stories – no, the concern in Washington, of course, is that the FBI seized several years’ worth of email and phone records from the reporter. A federal prosecutor notified the reporter in February that the Department of Justice had customer records and subscriber information from Google and Verizon for two email accounts and a phone number of hers – but investigators did not obtain the contents of the messages themselves.
On Tuesday, President Trump will meet North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un for the first-ever meeting between a sitting U.S. President and a leader of North Korea. The meeting will take place in Singapore.
President Trump said last week that he would know “within the first 60 seconds” of meeting Kim whether or not the two will be able to do business. And the president apparently is approaching the summit with lots of goodies to offer in exchange for North Korea’s decision to give up its nuclear weapons program – including, possibly, the establishment of a U.S. Embassy in Pyongyang.
On Thursday, the House took up and passed President Trump’s $15 billion rescissions package. The vote in favor was 210-206.
And on Friday, this year’s appropriations process got off to its start, as the House took up and passed H.R. 5895, the three-subcommittee minibus that combined the appropriations bills for Energy and Water, Veterans and Military Construction, and Legislative Branch affairs into one larger bill.
And believe it or not, that bill, or something close enough to it that the two houses could actually conference over it, looks like it will pass the Senate.
On Friday and Saturday, President Trump attended the annual meeting of the G-7, the world’s industrialized democracies. While there, he suggested that the G-7 should agree to readmit Russia, which had been kicked out of the G-8 in 2014 following its annexation of Crimea and its invasion of Ukraine. He also challenged the other leaders to scrap all tariffs and subsidies, and to engage in truly free trade.
After Trump left the summit to head to his summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau held a press conference in which he said it was “insulting” that the U.S. should seek to impose tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum imports on national security grounds. Trump, on Air Force One, gave instructions to rescind the U.S. signature on the joint communiqué that is a standard feature of such meetings. That led to even worse criticism from the assembled international leaders, which then led to even worse criticism by senior White House staffers, including National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow, who called Trudeau’s action a “betrayal,” and White House National Trade Council Director Peter Navarro. Navarro went so far as to say, “There’s a special place in hell for any foreign leader that engages in bad faith diplomacy with Donald J. Trump and then tries to stab him in the back on the way out the door.”
Since we last talked, we’ve had several primary elections.
Last Tuesday, TPPCF went three-for-three – our endorsed candidate, Matt Rosendale, won the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Jon Tester in Montana; our endorsed candidate, Jay Webber, won the GOP nomination for the open seat in New Jersey’s 11th congressional district, currently held by Rodney Frelinghuysen; and our endorsed candidate, incumbent Steve King, won the GOP nomination for another term representing Iowa’s 4th congressional district.
As for primaries that will take place this week, on June 12, TPPCF has endorsed incumbent Mark Sanford for another term in SC-01, incumbent Jeff Duncan for another term in SC-03, and incumbent Dave Brat for another term in VA-07.
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