Outlook: Trump Delivers His First State of the Union

After the president’s speech, congressional Republicans will head out for their annual policy retreat.

President Trump addresses a joint session of Congress on Feb. 28.
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
Daniel Newhauser
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Daniel Newhauser
Jan. 28, 2018, 8 p.m.

Congress is in for a short but busy week as President Trump is set to give his first State of the Union address Tuesday, just a week after Democrats and Republicans called a truce after a three-day government shutdown over immigration policy and defense spending.

Before Trump’s arrival Tuesday, the House is set to vote on a year-long defense-spending bill, their third vote on such a bill in the past year. The legislation is not expected to become law, but leaders promised the vote to defense-minded House Republicans in exchange for their votes on a continuing resolution in a failed attempt to avoid a shutdown. Republicans are also hoping that the measure will put pressure on the Senate to act on appropriations.

The House is also scheduled to take up a bipartisan legislative response to the U.S. Gymnastics sexual-abuse scandal. The measure would institute mandatory training and require adults working at a sports-governing body to report all allegations of sexual abuse of minors to law enforcement. The Senate passed the bill last year.

The Senate will hold a procedural vote Monday on Sen. Lindsey Graham’s Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would make it a crime to perform an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, unless it’s necessary to save the life of the mother or if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.

The Senate will then vote to advance the nomination of David Ryan Stras to be a judge for the court of appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Republicans moved forward with the nomination last year despite the opposition of then-Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, who did not return his “blue slip” to the Judiciary committee hearing, citing the Minnesota Supreme Court Justice’s “deeply conservative” ideology.

After the State of the Union speech, Republicans will leave town for their annual policy retreat, which will be hosted this year at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia.

Here’s what else is on tap this week:

DEFENSE AND FOREIGN POLICY

Monday marks the next deadline for the administration to impose sanctions against Russia that were part of a legislative package that Congress approved last summer—and Trump reluctantly signed into law. In October, the administration missed the first deadline in the implementation process, which was to issue guidance on the entities and individuals that would be subject to the sanctions. So lawmakers are keeping a close eye on the next moves.

Sens. Ben Cardin and Sherrod Brown, the ranking members of the Foreign Relations and Banking committees, respectively, joined House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Eliot Engel in sending a letter to the president Friday outlining their expectations for the sanctions.

Cardin told reporters at the Capitol last week that the administration had been keeping lawmakers much more informed on the matter compared to the last deadline. “There’s reason for optimism, but until I see the specific results, I think I’ll be reserved in my comments,” Cardin said.

Meanwhile, there are several hearings to keep an eye on Tuesday. The Senate Armed Services Committee will meet about the situation on the Korean Peninsula and strategy in the Indo-Pacific region. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will discuss the economic relationship between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. And the House Armed Services Committee will gather for a hearing on preparing the military for future warfare. All three will feature testimony from outside experts.

That same day, the Senate Intelligence Committee will meet for a closed briefing.

ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, a prominent adversary for Democrats, will testify at the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Tuesday, marking his first public appearance in that chamber since his confirmation process. Republicans generally support current EPA policies, and Chairman John Barrasso is likely to praise Pruitt’s repeal of the Clean Power Plan, among other controversial regulatory moves.

The Senate energy committee, meanwhile, is set Tuesday to advance the several Interior and Energy Department nominees, including Susan Combs, who is tapped to be the next policy and budget point person at Interior.

Meanwhile, Trump is expected to unveil more details to a White House infrastructure plan in his State of the Union address. Republicans are skipping town the next day for an annual retreat, and high-ranking administration officials will attend to, in part, chart a path on infrastructure.

On the House side, the Natural Resources Committee will again hold a hearing on legislation to create two monuments within the Bears Ears area of Utah. The legislation would codify the Trump administration’s decision to roll back a large part of the Obama-era Bears Ears monument designation.

HEALTH

Congress has finally taken care of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, more than 100 days after funding for the program expired. As part of the continuing resolution passed last week, the program will be extended for six years.

But lawmakers still have a host of health care items that are overdue, including funds for community health centers. In the meantime, pieces of legislation that aim to lower premiums in the Obamacare marketplace are getting another look. Sen. Susan Collins said the goal is to attach the bills, which provide cost-sharing subsidies and reinsurance funding, to the forthcoming omnibus.

As Congress gears up for another funding showdown in early February, members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee Health Subcommittee will be checking up on issues relating to compounded medicine. On Tuesday, lawmakers will look at the Food and Drug Administration’s implementation of the Drug Quality and Security Act, which was enacted after a fungal meningitis outbreak at a compounding center.

The Senate health committee’s Primary Health and Retirement Security Subcommittee will have a roundtable on small-business health plans.

TAXES

The House is back in session and some tax onlookers are asking one question: “What about the tax extenders?”

A day after Congress passed its sweeping tax overhaul in December, the Senate Finance Committee released legislation renewing dozens of expired tax breaks, collectively known as extenders. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady has said he’s not a fan of tax extenders, but didn’t decline to advance a bill renewing the breaks.

The last extenders legislation rode a government-funding bill in late 2015. Another funding deadline is coming up in early February, but so far lawmakers haven’t spoken publicly about attaching an extenders package to the measure.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Finance Committee member, told a South Dakota radio station last week that extenders were intentionally left out of last year’s tax overhaul, based on the promise from GOP leadership—including House Speaker Paul Ryan—that Congress would act on an extenders bill as well. “We’ve done it every time it needed to be done in the past, and I expect that it will be done again, but, you know, we’ve been promised, and promises are cheap in this town,” Grassley said.

Corporate America continues to announce bonuses and pay raises, citing the tax law passed last year. Home Depot said last week it would offer hourly employees up to a $1,000 bonus, while Disney said it would give 125,000 employees a $1,000 cash bonus as well.

Anti-tax group Americans for Tax Reform has been keeping a running tally of companies crediting the law with bonuses and investment, which is at 262 as of Friday.

But some analysts said the bill’s impact on the economy may not have as much impact as GOP backers say. Moody’s said in a report Thursday that companies are still more likely to reward shareholders than to invest in growth as a result of the tax bill, and that means the law will have a limited effect on the economy, MarketWatch reported.

Democrats are taking those reports to heart, and are continuing their public-relations campaign against the tax bill in rhetoric that will likely continue through the 2018 midterms.

“When the American people learn that some of them are not getting anything, some of them are getting raises, and the rest are getting crumbs, and big corporations and wealthy individuals are getting nice, fat pieces of pie, they’re going to be outraged. They are already,” Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor Thursday.

The Ways and Means Committee’s oversight subcommittee has a Tuesday hearing on ways to improve tax administration, a continuation of plans to introduce legislation overhauling the Internal Revenue Service this year. The Finance Committee has no hearings this week.

TECHNOLOGY

Trump is expected to lay out the White House’s plans for a massive infrastructure bill during the State of the Union address, and money for broadband-internet projects could be included in his list of priorities. The president signed an executive order this month that eased restrictions on the deployment of broadband equipment in rural areas, and in a speech told a group of farmers that rural broadband deployment is a priority for his administration. The House Energy and Commerce Committee will get a jump start on the issue earlier Tuesday, holding a hearing with representatives from the telecom industry on how to best deploy broadband infrastructure to rural and underserved areas.

The Federal Communications Commission’s open meeting Tuesday will begin with the presentation of the commission’s preliminary report on the false ballistic-missile alert issued in Hawaii this month. In a congressional hearing last week, FCC Public Safety and Homeland Security chief Lisa Fowlkes said the investigation was progressing but that the individual who transmitted the false alert was refusing to cooperate with FCC investigators. The commission will also vote on a previously scheduled report and order to upgrade the Wireless Emergency Alerts system so that participating providers can deliver geo-targeted information to citizens facing area-specific threats. And the commission will vote on the establishment of an FCC Office of Economics and Analytics, a longtime goal of Republican Chairman Ajit Pai.

The Senate Commerce Committee is set to meet Tuesday to assess the impact of the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act, which was enacted last year. The law directed the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology to take a series of steps to enhance federal efforts to improve cybersecurity and cryptography, particular through research. The heads of both agencies are slated to testify.

WHITE HOUSE

President Trump’s week is dominated by his first State of the Union address Tuesday before a joint session of Congress and a national television audience. Unlike most presidents, he will not hit the road after the speech to stress its themes. Instead, he will meet Wednesday with American workers to show that they benefit from his tax cut. On On Thursday, he will make remarks to the House and Senate Republican conferences and will speak at the Republican National Committee winter meeting. On Friday, he will travel to suburban Sterling, Virginia, to visit the Customs and Border Patrol National Targeting Center, which screens travelers and cargo on incoming planes. He will then leave for his Florida resort.

Alex Rogers, Adam Wollner, Brian Dabbs, Erin Durkin, Casey Wooten, Brendan Bordelon and George E. Condon Jr. contributed to this article.
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