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CAPITOL HILL – This could be the week that broke Congress.
The ambition of the schedule reflects what usually goes down in December. The 12th month is almost always the most hectic on the calendar on Capitol Hill as lawmakers race to finish things before the end of the year. The crush is often a byproduct of a lack of focus and procrastination by lawmakers. This week’s docket certainly reflects that on some fronts.
However, the most significant factor this week is impeachment. That would be enough to tackle in any one week, but the complexity of the coming week takes things to a new level.
In chronological order:
Avoiding a government shutdown
Fox News expects the text of spending packages to avoid a government shutdown to be filed midday Monday. The plan would be to break the 12 annual spending bills into two “mini-buses” – as opposed to an omnibus, in which they rope all of the bills into one stash. President Trump has opposed an omnibus, so lawmakers would tether a batch of appropriations bills together as one minibus. The rest of the bills would be in the other pile. It’s unclear which of the 12 bills will fall where.
The House Rules Committee likely will meet late Monday to prepare these spending bills and send them to the floor for debate Tuesday.
It’s key for the House to get a jump on appropriations. The Senate requires time to process the spending bills later in the week.
Also, check the holiday spirit of Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. Paul and other senators may try to require that the bills clear various procedural traps. If everyone agrees, the Senate can move fast, but all it takes is one senator to slow things down. The deadline to fund the government is 11:59 p.m. ET Dec. 20. These bills would fund the government for the rest of Fiscal Year 2020 – ending Sept. 30, 2020.
On Tuesday, the House Rules Committee is set to meet at 11 a.m. to prepare the parameters of debate for the articles of impeachment. The Rules Committee is the gateway to the House floor for many bills, and, in this case, articles of impeachment.
The “rule” authored by the Rules Committee would establish how much time the House would devote to the articles and if any amendments would be in order for debate.
The House did not go to the Rules Committee for the articles of impeachment written for then-President Clinton in 1998. The Judiciary Committee summoned the articles to the floor in that instance through a parliamentary phenomenon known as “privilege.” The House then forged a unanimous consent agreement, in which all 435 members agreed to debate the articles over a two-day period. In all, 283 House members participated in the impeachment debate.
It would be nearly impossible to secure a similar unanimous consent agreement in today’s hyper-toxic climate. Receiving a “rule” from the Rules Committee would establish the structure for the debate and give Democrats more control over the process on the floor.
Going to the Rules Committee on Tuesday generally would mean the issue hitting the floor Wednesday. However, a senior House Democratic source would not rule out debate on the articles – and thus, a final vote, drifting into Thursday.
The House is expected to vote on two distinct articles of impeachment: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Expect separate periods of debate and votes on both articles of impeachment.
If the House, in fact, votes on the articles Thursday, Dec. 19, that would come 21 years to the day that the House impeached Clinton.
Once the House adopts articles of impeachment, a couple of things must happen. The House must approve a separate resolution that dispatches the articles to the Senate – and names the “impeachment managers.” Impeachment managers are seen as “prosecutors” whom the House sends to the Senate to present the case. Historically, impeachment managers have been House members, but the rules are silent on whether the managers are required to be House members.
The selection of impeachment managers would be a big deal, and it’s likely their identities will be revealed later this week. The impeachment managers usually come from the Judiciary Committee, but it’s possible others could score this plum assignment – like Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif. Keep an eye on Reps. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and even Justin Amash, I-Mich., who left the Republican Party earlier this year.
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The House still has two impeachment managers left over from Clinton’s impeachment trial: Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and Steve Chabot, R-Ohio. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., was an impeachment manager for the Clinton trial when he served in the House.
Schiff came to Congress in 2001 after defeating another Clinton impeachment manager, former Rep. James Rogan, R-Calif. Democrats specifically targeted Rogan for defeat after he helped prosecute Clinton in the Senate.
The House does not have to send the separate resolution to the Senate right away. It could hold the resolution if it wanted to do so. That could be weird — but anything can happen in this environment. The resolution is “privileged.” That means other members could try to force a vote to advance the measure to the Senate, but one wonders if the House may hold the paper to see if there’s an agreement on the structure of a Senate trial between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
In 1998, the House approved the secondary resolution moments after adopting the articles of impeachment against Clinton. Consequently, the Senate must also approve a separate resolution, indicating it’s ready to receive the House materials. It is unclear if the Senate action could happen immediately or after the first of the year when a Senate trial is expected to begin in earnest.
Regardless, it’s doubtful anything significant will happen in the Senate until after the first of the year, or, as McConnell said the other day, when the “bowl games end.”
The House Ways and Means Committee – which has had jurisdiction over trade – scheduled a “markup” session to prepare the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement for the House floor on Thursday. The USCMA has enjoyed wide bipartisan support. The markup is set to take place in room 1100 of the Longworth House Office Building, the same spot where the House held impeachment hearings and markups for weeks.
After the markup, the USMCA package likely will go to the Rules Committee for a “rule” and then to the floor for adoption late in the week, maybe Thursday or Friday. The USMCA could be the exclamation point for the House at the end of a challenging week.
McConnell has indicated he won’t consider the USMCA until a Senate trial is complete.
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He’s kind of playing 3-D chess with the USCMA. On one hand, McConnell is challenging Trump about the length of a Senate trial. By holding out passage of the USCMA, McConnell is subtly pushing for a shorter trial so the Senate can advance the package as quickly as possible in early 2020. By the same token, McConnell is also trying to score points against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. McConnell is simultaneously suggesting that the Senate could take up the USCMA expeditiously – if it weren’t bogged down in an impeachment trial foisted on the Senate by House liberals.
This is likely the week that broke Congress – perhaps in more ways than one. And, if the workload doesn’t break Congress this week, it can always break on Christmas week, too, if lawmakers don’t wrap by by Friday.
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