Congress to Return With Hefty To-Do List

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By NTD Newsroom
April 7, 2024Congress
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Congress to Return With Hefty To-Do List
The U.S. Capitol building in Washington on April 2, 2024. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

Members of Congress will return to the nation’s capital city this week with a hefty to-do list.

For the past two weeks, lawmakers have been in their home districts enjoying the Easter recess.

Prior to the recess, a $1.2 trillion government funding bill was rammed through Congress, putting an end to a monthslong saga of puntings and delays.

However, they left Capitol Hill with many legislative priorities unfulfilled.

Here’s what members of Congress will have on their plate when they come back:

Mayorkas Impeachment

Perhaps the highest profile agenda item for Congress will be the trial of Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in the Senate—a trial that may not even happen.

House members in February turned their attention to the embattled secretary, who Republicans have accused of dereliction of duty in his handling of the southern border.

After an initial vote on articles of impeachment failed, the House voted on Feb. 13 to approve the articles in a mostly party-line 214–213 vote opposed by a handful of Republicans.

Since then, the articles of impeachment have seen no movement in the Democrat-controlled upper chamber of Congress, where they are all but guaranteed to fail.

This week, however, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has indicated that he intends to begin work on the trial as the House is expected to formally deliver the resolution to the upper chamber on April 10.

“Please be advised that all Senators will be sworn in as jurors in the trial the day after the articles are presented, and Senate President Pro Tempore Patty Murray will preside,” Mr. Schumer wrote in a “Dear Colleague” letter (pdf). “I remind Senators that your presence next week is essential.”

However, many observers expect that the articles may not get a full hearing in the Senate, as there are parliamentary maneuvers that could be used to effectively kill the impeachment articles.

Primarily, these could include a vote of the Senate to shelve the measure altogether or send it to committee.

Because either of these would only require a simple majority, such a motion would be effectively guaranteed to pass in the upper chamber, dispensing with the trial altogether.

The only wild cards in that arithmetic are Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), each of whom are running for reelection this year as Democrats in deep red states. However, they too are likely to vote with their party on such a measure.

Ukraine

Also up for consideration is some form of supplemental support for Ukraine, which has stalled in Congress for months due to growing GOP criticism.

Several lawmakers, like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), have called for an end to funding Ukraine altogether.

Former President Donald Trump hasn’t gone as far in his public statements about it, but has recommended that Republicans introduce future foreign aid packages in the form of interest-free loans rather than simple grants. 

Others have called for a focus on purely military aid, and dispensing with humanitarian efforts.

However, at the time of publication, no specifics about this package, whether top-line numbers or the form it will take, have been released.

But in their speculations about what additional assistance might look like, several Republicans have echoed President Trump’s argument for a loan, a move that some expect House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) to pursue.

With so little information available, it’s difficult to predict whether an additional Ukraine aid package will be introduced and taken up by Congress.

At the same time, Ukraine’s pleas for assistance have intensified in recent months, with dire warnings of the consequences of a failure to act by Congress.

Motion to Vacate

Hanging over the issue of Ukraine funding is an outstanding motion to vacate against Mr. Johnson.

Americans got to witness the first successful motion to vacate a speaker in October 2023, when Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) organized one against then-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

At the time, seven Republicans joined Mr. Gaetz and all Democrats in voting to strip the California Republican of the gavel.

Now, Ms. Greene has introduced a similar motion against Mr. Johnson, which she said should serve as a “pink slip” and “a warning” to the Louisiana Republican.

She introduced the motion immediately following the House’s passage of a $1.2 trillion funding package that had been unveiled less than 36 hours earlier.

However, Ms. Greene declined to make the motion privileged, a parliamentary status that would force a vote without Mr. Johnson’s acquiescence. She’s warned that that could change at any time.

And as one of Congress’s most outspoken critics of Ukraine, any effort to provide additional funding to Ukraine could prompt Ms. Greene to force a vote on the measure.

At the same time, it’s unclear whether such a motion could succeed.

Many Republicans don’t want to see a repeat of the weeks of paralysis that followed the ouster of Mr. McCarthy.

And even those Republicans who voted to give Mr. McCarthy the boot have expressed skepticism about a similar effort against Mr. Johnson, saying that such a move could result in a Democrat speaker.

Baltimore Bridge Funding?

Congress could also take up funding to help Maryland rebuild the Francis Scott Key Bridge, which collapsed two weeks ago after it was hit by a cargo ship.

Following the disaster, which ended in the deaths of several people still on the bridge as it collapsed, President Joe Biden quickly vowed that the federal government would foot the entire bill.

Republicans responded critically, with many saying that it’s not the federal government’s job to rebuild a bridge owned by Maryland.

Some, including the House Freedom Caucus (HFC), have called for maximizing the legal liability of the owner of the Dali, the cargo ship involved in the disaster, even as the owner of the ship seeks to limit its legal liability.

However, the HFC didn’t entirely rule out the possibility of federal funding, but emphasized the importance of keeping any such bill simple and limited to that singular subject, rather than “a pork-filled bill loaded with unrelated projects.”

President Biden was open to pursuing legal liability claims against the owner of the ship, but reiterated his promise that the federal government would pay most of the damages during a visit to the disaster scene last week.

“I fully intend, as the governor knows, that the federal government cover the cost of building this entire bridge—all of it—as we’ve done in other parts of the country in similar circumstances,” President Biden said. “I call on Congress to authorize this effort as soon as possible.”

However, at the time of publication it’s unclear what plans, if any, the Congress has to meet the president’s calls.

FISA Renewal

Finally, the House is expected to take up legislation to reauthorize a controversial spying power.

Specifically, Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), initially set to expire at the end of 2023, received a short-term extension until April 19.

The authority has been represented as crucial by members of the intelligence community, even as scrutiny of it grows due to a series of high-profile abuses.

This week, the House is expected to vote on a compromise reform bill, Rep. Laurel Lee’s (R-Fla.) Reforming Intelligence and Securing America Act.

In addition to reauthorizing the authority for five years, the proposal makes some reforms that critics of the program have demanded.

For instance, it would mandate new standards to ensure the accuracy and completeness of any query under the authority. It would expand legal penalties for those who make illegal queries, and it would make it easier for Congress to exercise oversight over it.

Noticeably absent, however, is a requirement that all queries of American citizens be backed by a warrant—a key demand often repeated by its critics, including House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner (R-Ohio) said that despite this that he’s backing the bill, and expects it to pass.

However, a coalition of Republicans and Democrats opposed to the U.S. government spying on Americans could still kill the package if they don’t find the reforms sufficient, leaving the fate of Ms. Lee’s bill uncertain.

Additionally, lawmakers will hear from Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio in a joint session of Congress on April 11, a speech that comes at a time of rising tensions with the Chinese communist regime.

From The Epoch Times

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