Good morning fellow Seekers,
As we’ve already stated a few times on DSJ, this year’s going to be a wild ride. This article outlines five topics that will be at the head of just about any controversial proposals that the POTUS makes. Only deemed that way because of the anti-Trumpers that have infiltrated our government in droves.
Here’s more from Jordain Carney and The Hill…
Congress is returning to Washington with several divisive fights looming over the 2019 agenda.
The first year of divided government under the Trump administration will set up a clash between Senate Republicans, who expanded their majority, and House Democrats ready to challenge the administration.
The 2020 election will also cast an increasingly long shadow as President Trump gears up to run for reelection and a boatload of Democrats ready presidential campaigns.
Ending a two-week partial government shutdown will be the first piece of business. Here’s what to watch for.
Roughly 25 percent of the federal government has been closed since Dec. 22 amid a protracted fight over Trump’s demands for $5 billion in funding for a wall on the Mexican border.
The shutdown came after Trump, under fire from conservatives, refused to support a Senate-passed seven-week bill that provided no extra money for the border. House Republicans, instead, passed a seven-week stopgap bill that included $5.7 billion for the wall and border security.
House Democrats plan to pass a bill to fully reopen the government when they take power on Thursday. Their plan is to approve a spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security that would continue existing funding through Feb. 8. They would also pass a package of six other bills funding the remaining closed parts of the government through the end of the fiscal year.
The move would kick the fight back to the Senate and force Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to decide whether or not to move a bill without Trump’s support. Another question? Whether Trump would sign such a deal.
Behind the scenes, there has been talk about a deal in which Trump would lower his demands to roughly $2.5 billion. That would be in exchange for Democrats, who previously rejected a two-year deal that would have given Trump $2.5 billion in 2019, backing down from their hardline of $1.3 billion for fencing.
Such a deal would hinge on wording that would allow both sides to save face, meaning funding would need to go to fencing or other security measures falling short of a wall. They would also need to iron out an agreement on what restrictions to include on the funding, with the White House pushing for wide leeway on how they can use it.
Trump’s cabinet reshuffling will set up several fights in the Senate as lawmakers work to confirm his picks.
Defense Secretary James Mattis’s resignation, and Trump’s decision to force him out early, rankled Senate Republicans and set a high bar for his successor. Lawmakers viewed the retired general as a stabilizing influence who aligned more closely with their foreign policy views than the president.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who says he wants a “Mattis clone,” predicted the confirmation battle for Mattis’s successor “ought to be pretty interesting” and that “hard questions” will be asked by both Democrats and Republicans.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that some of Trump’s views are “very, very distinct” from most Republicans and that he wanted the next defense secretary to share “a more traditional view about America’s role in the world.”
Mattis’ resignation came as Trump is already facing several nomination fights.
William Barr, the president’s pick to be the next attorney general, is under fire for his criticism of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into the 2016 election. The Wall Street Journal reported that Barr, a former attorney general from the George H.W. Bush administration, wrote in an unsolicited memo that the probe is based on a “fatally misconceived” theory and would do “lasting damage” to the presidency.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has called on Trump to drop Barr. Several Republicans, including Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), have also signaled they want assurances on Mueller or expressed unrelated reservations about Barr.
Senators will also need to tackle Heather Nauert’s nomination to be U.N. ambassador, handle a replacement for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and confirm Andrew Wheeler as EPA administrator.
Congress will face another perennial fiscal headache later this year: Raising the debt ceiling.
The debt ceiling was suspended until March 2019, and the Treasury Department’s use of “extraordinary measures” means the real deadline for action is probably mid-summer, say budget experts.
Raising the debt ceiling was a point of contention between GOP leadership and conservatives, with rank-and-file members wanting to use the vote to force through spending and entitlement cuts or changes to the congressional budget process.
Trump threw Republicans through a loop when he opened the door to nixing the debt ceiling in a meeting last year, arguing “there are a lot of good reasons” to get rid of it.
Democrats coming into power could further shift the dynamics. The House Freedom Caucus, which tried to weaponize the issue, will be in the minority. Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) previously said House Democrats would back a “clean” hike.
Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), the incoming Budget Committee chairman, also has a proposal to de-escalate the fight by reinstating the “Gephardt rule,” which deemed the debt ceiling raised when Congress passed a budget.
Trump needs Congress to pass implementing legislation for his new trade deal with Mexico and Canada, which is meant to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
But the trade agreement is already sparking fierce debate, and alarm bells, among members raising questions about if it could get through Congress in its current form.
Though Congress previously agreed to fast-track any trade deals, House Democrats could easily nix the abbreviated floor process. In 2008 Democrats, led by Pelosi, voted to change the timeline required for Congress to take up trade agreements, effectively killing a Bush administration deal with Columbia.
Pelosi has repeatedly indicated that she views Trump’s trade agreement with Mexico and Canada as a “work in progress” and wants changes to bolster labor and environmental protections.
“While there are positive things in this proposed trade agreement, it is just a list without real enforcement of the labor and environmental protections. We are also still waiting for Mexico to pass its promised law on the wages and working conditions of Mexican workers competing with American workers,” Pelosi said after a meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in December.
Even in the Senate, Republicans are warning about the potential consequences of the deal and publicly saying Trump cannot pull out of NAFTA without their approval. Trump has threatened to do so in an effort to pressure Congress to approve his new agreement.
Congress and Trump are expected to battle on multiple foreign policy fronts in 2019 as Republicans appear increasingly unnerved by the administration’s foreign policy decisions.
A battle over the U.S.-Saudi relationship is spilling over into the new year.
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) will reintroduce his resolution that directs Trump to remove any troops in or “affecting” Yemen within 30 days unless they are fighting al Qaeda. Senators are also expected to re-introduce legislation to require sanctions on anyone involved in Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi’s death.
Trump is also facing fights over his plans to remove troops from Syria and draw down the U.S. military in Afghanistan. The Syria decision, in particular, has rattled lawmakers, who worry it will empower Russia, the Assad government and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) predicted there would be oversight hearings about the administration’s strategy. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who has publicly and privately urged Trump to reverse course, said after a White House meeting on Sunday that he felt reassured and that he believed the administration was “slowing things down” to evaluate the situation.
Graham told CNN that Trump hadn’t changed his mind about withdrawing troops but there is a “pause” to “assess the effects of the conditions on the ground.”
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