With the Senate wrapping up work yesterday, both chambers have now cleared out of Washington for the week in honor of the Rosh Hashanah holiday tomorrow. The Senate’s departure comes amid a new round of drama on the Republican effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), with the majority party up against a firm deadline of Sep. 30 to use the fiscal 2017 reconciliation instructions to advance a healthcare bill that can circumvent a Democratic filibuster. Lawmakers are expected to return on Monday evening, leaving a tight window for the bill to clear necessary procedural hurdles, be approved by both chambers, and reach the president’s desk by midnight next Saturday. The bill’s primary sponsors — Sens. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) — have been outwardly confident that they’ll be able to rally their colleagues, but as with past close-calls, it will be hard to predict a final outcome with much certainty.
President Trump speaks to the United Nations (UN) this morning for the first time as President and is expected to take a different tone towards the international organization than his predecessors. Whereas past presidents have largely used their remarks at the UN to tout the power of collective action in the face of humanity’s problems, the President will reportedly argue for the right of individual nations to act in their own self-interest and for the reform of the UN’s highly bureaucratic structure. He will also likely mention the need for additional international action against North Korea as the hermit kingdom continues to move closer to becoming a full member of the nuclear club.
With the House in recess for the week, Beltway-watchers will be focused on the upper chamber where lawmakers will return today to continue consideration of the FY18 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) (H.R. 2810). A final cloture and up-or-down vote on the bill is expected this evening, after the chamber adopts a substitute amendment from Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) that constitutes the Senate’s version of the bill. Passage is expected, but it remains unclear how the two chambers will reconcile their visions for the annual defense policy measure. The Senate is also expected to approve the nomination of Noel Fransisco to be Solicitor General early this week.
The Week in Review
The week started on a somber note as the nation marked the 16th anniversary of the September 11th terror attacks and assessed the damage from Hurricane Irma’s landfall on the Florida coast. That latter event delayed the House’s return to Washington, although lawmakers were able to return on Tuesday to work on an immigration bill and a highly partisan FY18 appropriations bill. The first (H.R. 3697) of those two measures would make it easier for government officials to deport undocumented immigrants involved in gang activity and was approved on Thursday by a 233-175 margin. The appropriations bill was subject to hundreds of amendments and contains a number of policy riders deemed “poison pills” by Democrats. For that reason, last week’s narrow 211-198 vote is largely a messaging exercise ahead of the more substantive funding negotiations that will take place later this fall.
Both chambers are out today, and for the House that means the beginning of a weeklong in-district work period. After yesterday’s action to clear an immigration bill (H.R. 3697) and FY18 appropriations measure (H.R. 3354) — a non-starter in the Senate — the House will remain in recess until Monday Sep. 25. With the major September deadlines on government funding and the debt ceiling already handled, House lawmakers will avoid a previously feared week of chaos when they return, but significant programs such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are still set to expire at the end of the fiscal year on Sep. 30. Lawmakers are hoping to reach an agreement on a long-term deal for CHIP in early October, while the FAA is likely to see a short-term reauthorization before the end of the month.
Progress continues to be made on a deal around the deferred action for childhood arrival (DACA) program as the House and Senate Minority Leaders, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY), met with President Trump last night over dinner to discuss the program. Both Democrats’ offices put out statements shortly after that the President had agreed to “enshrine the protections of DACA into law” with a “a package of border security excluding the wall, that’s acceptable to both sides.” President Trump offered a slightly different version of events on Twitter this morning, saying that “no deal was made last night on DACA” and “The WALL, which is already under construction in the form of new renovation of old and existing fences and walls, will continue to be built." However, the President also gave his most positive statement on DACA today, arguing that no one wants “to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military. . .”
This past week the President Trump that all Democrats had hoped for – the one who favors the art of the deal over ideology – finally made an appearance. Depending on your media consumption this was either the greatest thing or the end of days. As is often the case, the media hype misses the nuance of reality. The President’s deal was only a short-term punt of some serious issues that may not be resolvable by December 8th. So, while he changed the media narrative (especially in the New York Times and on MSNBC), this deal doesn’t change any of the politics around the substantive issues at stake. New Trump isn’t going to get Democratic support for a wall, nor will he get Republican support for a permanent DACA bill. Regardless, it was nice to see Washington “work” this past week and perhaps this ultimate outsider has a plan up his sleeve to keep it going.
Two off-the-floor meetings will highlight action in Washington today as lawmakers continue to plot the path forward for the remainder of the fall. First, a bipartisan group of moderate House members — including members of the newly formed Problem Solvers Caucus — will be meeting with President Trump to discuss his priority for the remainder of the legislative session: advancing a comprehensive tax reform package. The tax package is still expected to be a largely partisan affair, but as with their health care proposal, Republican leaders will need to balance the demands of the moderate and hard-line wings of their party. Meanwhile, Democrats at the meeting are expected to bring up the deferred action for undocumented arrivals (DACA) program, which the Trump Administration aims to wind down within the next six months. That issue will also be the subject of the other major Washington meeting today as House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) are expected to sit down to begin negotiations on a possible immigration package that would protect the young undocumented immigrants covered by DACA, also known as “DREAMers.”
The House returns to full strength today after a delayed return following the damage caused by Hurricane Irma in Florida last weekend. A set of twelve suspension bills await them, mostly relating to counterterrorism policies and other Department of Homeland Security reforms. Following the suspension votes, the House will return to its consideration of an eight-bill “minibus” (H.R. 3354) for appropriations for FY 2018. Lawmakers will continue to work off the bloc of 224 amendments that were initially put forward last week, with action today expected on the Commerce-Justice-Science section.
Washington opens the week on a somber note to honor the 16th anniversary of the September 11th terror attacks, with President Trump hosting a moment of silence this morning at the White House before heading to the Pentagon for a separate ceremony. Vice President Mike Pence will travel to Shanksville, Pennsylvania for a remembrance event at the location of the Flight 93 Memorial.