Outlook: Comey Returns to the Hill

The Russia investigation will again take center stage as Congress comes back to town with a busy agenda.

Then-FBI Director James Comey testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on May 3.
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
June 4, 2017, 8 p.m.

As they return from recess, GOP members of Congress face a daunting to-do list before the August break, with health care, tax reform, and the budget among the more pressing items. But this week, another issue is sure to suck up most of the oxygen on the Hill once again: Russia.

Nearly a month to the day after President Trump unceremoniously fired James Comey, the former FBI director is set to testify Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. Comey's highly anticipated appearance will be his first in public since his ouster.

Over the past few weeks, multiple news outlets have reported that Trump demanded loyalty from Comey and urged him to end his investigation into Michael Flynn, the president's former national security adviser. Senators are sure to ask Comey about his conversations with Trump regarding the Justice Department's Russia probe and the circumstances surrounding his departure, as the White House's reasoning for Comey's firing has been inconsistent.

The open hearing is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Thursday, followed by a closed session at 1 p.m.

Meanwhile, the House this week will take congressional Republicans’ first concrete steps toward repealing the Dodd-Frank financial-regulation bill. The lower chamber will vote on a measure that would repeal the Volcker Rule, which bans speculative trading by consumer banks, rescind the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s ability to intervene if financial institutions are failing, and do away with the concept of “too big to fail,” among other regulatory rollbacks.

The House is also set to take up a bill that would allow U.S. Customs and Border Protection to waive the mandatory administration of a lie-detector test to applicants for law enforcement jobs in the agency if they have previously worked in law enforcement or the armed services.

On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate is scheduled to take a roll-call vote Monday evening on a resolution regarding the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem. And on Tuesday, the upper chamber will hold roll-call votes on the CIA's general counsel nominee, attorney Courtney Elwood, and the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability Act.

Here’s what else is on tap:

DEFENSE AND FOREIGN POLICY

Aside from the Comey hearing, the Senate Intelligence Committee will also hold an open hearing on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Wednesday (see more below), as well as two other closed hearings this week.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is set to hold a closed hearing on ISIS Monday evening. On Thursday, the Senate Armed Services Committee will meet for a hearing focused on the Navy's budget in the next National Defense Authorization Act, while the House Foreign Affairs Committee has a hearing scheduled on Hezbollah's financial network.

And on Tuesday, Sen. Christopher Coons, a Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, will address the Council on Foreign Relations on the subject of U.S. policy in Africa.

ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will return to his old stomping grounds Thursday to defend his agency’s proposed budget before the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee. The proposed budget cuts the department’s funding by 12 percent and would lay the groundwork for increased energy production on federal lands, policies that are sure to be controversial on the Hill. The Appropriations Committee will also consider NASA’s budget at a Thursday hearing, while the Senate Appropriations Committee will have separate hearings Wednesday on budgets for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Forest Service.

The Trump administration’s sluggish nomination process takes another step forward when the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee votes Tuesday on two appointments to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the nominations of David Bernhardt as deputy Interior secretary and Dan Brouillette as deputy Energy secretary. Bernhardt’s nomination has especially attracted concern from Democrats, who say his private-sector history should exclude him from key Interior Department work. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will also meet Wednesday for a hearing on three appointments to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and on Susan Bodine’s bid to head the Environmental Protection Agency’s office of enforcement and compliance assurance.

Heading into wildfire season, the House Natural Resources Committee meets Thursday for a hearing on bureaucratic roadblocks to forest management, which Republicans have said are preventing the kind of maintenance that could reduce the effects and cost of wildfires.

HEALTH

GOP senators and aides have been busy for weeks trying to assemble their version of Obamacare-repeal legislation. But lawmakers still face multiple policy dilemmas before getting to a vote, including how to handle the rollback of the Medicaid expansion and ensure protections for people with preexisting conditions.

In the midst of these negotiations, the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday will consider Eric Hargan to be Health and Human Services deputy secretary.

At the same time, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee will have a hearing to examine whether the Veterans Affairs Department effectively supports veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

On Wednesday afternoon, the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee is holding a hearing on promoting integrated and coordinated care for Medicare Advantage beneficiaries.

On Thursday morning, the Senate Finance Committee is having a hearing on the president’s 2018 budget with Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. The budget includes large cuts to Medicaid’s funding, among other changes. The secretary will then head over to the House Ways and Means Committee in the afternoon to discuss the budget request.

Also on Thursday is a hearing by the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee on HHS's role in health care cybersecurity.

On Friday, the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee will examine legislation to revise the nutritional information that restaurants and retail food establishments must disclose. This comes after the Trump administration issued a one-year delay of the Food and Drug Administration’s menu-labeling rule.

TECHNOLOGY

The Senate Intelligence Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday regarding the future of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which contains multiple amendments that will expire by the end of 2017 without congressional reauthorization.

Several lawmakers from both parties have expressed concern that Section 702 of the law—which authorizes the electronic surveillance of overseas targets and allows for the incidental collection of data on U.S. citizens—could violate Americans’ civil liberties. Those lawmakers, including Republican Sen. Rand Paul and Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, have called for a review of the surveillance authority that Section 702 provides, and have signaled their willingness to curtail that authority before signing off on a broader FISA reauthorization. The Trump administration and other lawmakers—including Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr—support a “clean” reauthorization that leaves Section 702 unchanged. The heads of the FBI, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the National Security Agency, as well as Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, are all slated to testify.

The Senate Commerce Committee will meet Thursday to consider the nomination of David Redl to be assistant Commerce secretary for communications and information.

The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on Thursday to review NASA's fiscal 2018 budget request. The House Energy and Commerce's Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection Subcommittee will also meet Thursday to discuss ways in which technology can improve financial options for American consumers.

TRANSPORTATION

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao will give her first substantive statement on whether the nation’s air-traffic controllers should be spun off from government control when she testifies at a Wednesday Senate Commerce Committee hearing on Federal Aviation Administration reforms. The White House backed a plan to shift air-traffic control to an independent board in its budget, but the plan still faces an uphill battle on the Hill. The hearing will also likely touch on concerns related to the FAA’s drone-registration program and the agency’s broader strategy when it comes to drone testing and deployment in the United States.

WHITE HOUSE

This is Infrastructure Week for Trump, starting on Monday with him unveiling a proposal to privatize the air traffic control system, taking primary responsibility away from the Federal Aviation Administration. On Tuesday, he will host members of Congress at the White House. On Wednesday, he will travel to Kentucky to hold an event along the Ohio River to highlight the need to improve inland waterways. On Thursday, he will meet with groups of governors and mayor to talk about infrastructure needs. On Friday, he will travel to the Department of Transportation to talk about speeding the granting of federal permit for projects. He will also meet that day with President Klaus Iohannis of Romania.

Jason Plautz, Erin Durkin, Brendan Bordelon, George E. Condon Jr., Alex Rogers and Daniel Newhauser contributed to this article.
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