Today on the Hill: Mueller Named Special Prosecutor for Trump/Russia Investigation; Ways and Means to Hold First Tax Reform Hearing

Yesterday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein named Robert Mueller, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director from 2001-2013, to be a special prosecutor on investigating ties between President Trump’s campaign and the Russian government. The news was applauded by most lawmakers on both sides, who consider Mueller to be a highly non-partisan and respected law enforcement official. President Trump responded through a White House statement last night saying that the new prosecutor will  “confirm what we already know — there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity,” and tweeted this morning that the ongoing investigation is “the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history.” While it remains unclear how Mueller will proceed with the investigation, his appointment adds legitimacy to the probe and guarantees that the issue will continue to garner attention from the press for an extended period of time.

The Comey controversy will impact the Senate’s agenda today as Rosenstein is scheduled to deliver an all-Senators briefing this afternoon. Prior to that meeting, the Senate will have a final up-or-down vote on Rachel Brand’s nomination to be Associate Attorney General, who, assuming she is confirmed, will serve as the Justice Department’s third-highest ranking official behind Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has also scheduled a cloture vote on Terry Branstad’s nomination to serve as Ambassador to China, which should prove significantly less contentious than the Justice Department nomination.

The House will continue its police-themed week today by considering a bill (H.R. 115) that would expand federal statute on death penalty determinations to include the killing or attempted killing of law enforcement and public safety officers. The measure has been opposed by some civil rights activists who argue that the bill is duplicative of existing state law and only constitutes political posturing. It passed with one Democrat voting in favor in a House Judiciary Committee markup earlier this month. Another suspension bill to be considered today (H.R. 1892) would authorize state governors and administrative heads of other U.S. territories to proclaim that the U.S. flag be flown at half-staff in the event of a first responder being killed in the line of duty.  

In significant committee action, the House Ways and Means Committee will be hold its first hearing on a possible tax reform package that House Republicans are hoping will be their next major legislative effort after advancing the American Health Care Act (AHCA). The hearing will be the first time congressional Republicans offer detailed thoughts on the plan put forward by the White House – calling for a drastic reduction in corporate and individual tax rates – last month. Watch to see if lawmakers from either side suggest there is space for a bipartisan compromise, with Democrats possibly hoping to include an infrastructure investment along with the overhaul of the tax code.