Lawmakers return to Washington as debt limit crisis looms
Lawmakers face a lengthy to-do list as they return to the Capitol after a two-week recess to confront a series of critical issues ranging from a looming debt limit crisis to the fallout from a leak of highly classified Pentagon documents.
There is still no agreement in sight to raise the debt ceiling despite the threat of economic catastrophe if the issue is not resolved in a matter of months and Republicans are eying passing their own debt ceiling increase paired with spending cuts in an effort to pressure the Biden administration to the negotiating table.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy will deliver a speech on the economy at the New York Stock Exchange on Monday, where he will address the looming crisis. A major challenge for House Republicans is whether they will be able to coalesce behind a detailed list of cuts.
House Republican leaders are moving behind the scenes to get their conference behind a plan that would raise the debt ceiling for one year with a slew of cuts and revenue raisers.
The goal is to put a bill on the House floor as soon as May that could pass the narrowly divided chamber and send a signal to President Joe Biden that any legislation raising the debt ceiling must have strings attached, according to GOP sources involved in the talks.
In a statement ahead of McCarthy’s speech, however, the White House said the debt limit issue should be addressed “promptly, without brinksmanship or hostage taking – as Republicans did three times in the last administration and as Presidents Trump and Reagan argued for in office,” pointing to a quote from former President Donald Trump.
How the speaker ushers his conference through the next several weeks will serve as a test of McCarthy’s leadership. It won’t be easy to find unity – as they hit a 100-day milestone, House Republicans have faced internal divisions over issues ranging from the budget to the border, and there is little room to navigate competing priorities amid a razor-thin majority.
On the other side of the Capitol, Senate Democrats face challenges of their own. Front and center is California Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s lengthy and ongoing absence due to illness, which has complicated efforts by Democrats to quickly confirm President Joe Biden’s judicial nominees and pass legislation in the chamber where Democrats hold a narrow 51-49 majority.
Many Democrats are anxious that her inability to show up at the Senate Judiciary Committee has slowed down judicial confirmations. Feinstein has said she will return to Washington as soon as she can, but made an unusual request to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer: Have her replaced temporarily by another Democrat on the committee so the narrowly divided panel won’t be deadlocked on some of Biden’s more controversial picks who are opposed by Republicans.
In order to replace her on Judiciary, Democrats will need all Republicans to go along or require a vote on a resolution that will still need the backing of a handful of Republicans. It’s still not clear whether GOP leaders or even rank-and-file members will back the move, especially because granting the request could speed confirmation of judicial nominees they strongly oppose.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has been out recovering after a fall, has said he will return to the chamber on Monday. Pennsylvania Democratic Sen. John Fetterman’s office has also said he will return to the Senate after the recess period following treatment for clinical depression.
Concern and frustration from lawmakers over highly classified Pentagon documents leaked online in recent weeks will also be center stage as congressional leaders press the administration for information and details about how the damaging leak happened and what the consequences will be for allies and adversaries of the US now that sensitive intelligence has been revealed.
McCarthy said on Friday that House committees will investigate the leak. All senators will receive a briefing on the leaked documents on Wednesday afternoon, according to a Senate Democratic aide. A classified briefing for all House members is also expected, possibly on Wednesday, sources have told CNN.
Separately, key lawmakers are continuing their review of classified documents found at the homes of Biden, former President Donald Trump, and former Vice President Mike Pence as they assess the potential fallout from those improperly stored materials.
Congress was not in session when Trump made history as he pleaded not guilty to 34 felony criminal charges of falsifying business records in a Manhattan criminal court. Lawmakers, and in particular Republicans, are sure to be pressed by reporters for their reaction to those developments back on Capitol Hill.
Among other legislative items, the House as early as Monday plans to vote on a bipartisan measure “condemning recent actions taken by the Russian military to down a United States Air Force drone.”
The House is also expected to take up a GOP-led resolution to block a DC policing bill. If the resolution passes the House, it would next go to the Senate.
This comes after both chambers of Congress voted to overturn a controversial DC crime bill – and Biden signed the measure, upsetting some Democrats who argued that debate over the bill had been distorted and the federal government should not interfere in the district’s affairs.
This time around, Biden would veto the GOP measure to overturn police reforms enacted in Washington, DC, if it reaches his desk, according to a White House official.
In addition, the House is expected to take up a GOP-led bill related to transgender athletes’ participation in women’s and girls’ sports, a measure Democrats have decried as an attack on trans youth.
The Senate this week is expected to pass a bill that provides grants to local fire departments and may confirm some non-controversial nominees.
A key Biden nominee, Julie Su to be labor secretary, will also face scrutiny in the weeks ahead as Republicans paint her as too liberal to head that department. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing Thursday to consider the nomination. The nominee’s performance during the hearing – and how lawmakers react – will be key to see if she can be confirmed.
The House Judiciary Committee will be in New York on Monday for a field hearing with Republicans expected to highlight violent crime in New York City as part of the GOP effort to discredit Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg amid the criminal case against Trump. A spokesperson for the DA’s office called the hearing “a political stunt.”
A high-profile legal battle over medication abortion has sparked anxiety among Democrats, who are likely to put a spotlight on the issue when they return to Washington. The Senate Judiciary Committee has announced plans to hold a hearing during the upcoming work period on the consequences and aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision last year to overturn Roe v. Wade.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has also announced plans to hold a hearing on what the Democrat-led panel describes as the need to restore confidence in the Supreme Court’s ethics standards. That comes in the wake of a ProPublica report that conservative Justice Clarence Thomas did not disclose that he and his wife have gone on several luxury trips involving travel subsidized by and stays at properties owned by a GOP megadonor.
The House Oversight Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday on the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan with Republicans expected to criticize fallout from the move.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing the same day examining alleged Russian war crimes and atrocities in Ukraine. The prosecutor general of Ukraine is set to testify.