Outlook: Chaos Reigns in House Immigration Debate

President Trump threw Republicans into turmoil by saying he wouldn't sign the compromise bill.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and fellow Republicans leave a news conference following a closed-door GOP meeting on immigration on Wednesday.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
June 17, 2018, 8 p.m.

House Speaker Paul Ryan has said he wants to avoid an exercise in futility when bringing immigration bills to the floor, but that may well be what this week becomes.

The House is set to vote on two competing immigration bills: A hard-line bill sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte and a compromise bill crafted by leaders in consultation with their moderate and conservative wings.

The Goodlatte bill has long been thought a near impossibility to pass because many moderate Republicans believe its provisions dealing with guest workers to be too extreme, particularly in the agricultural sector. Yet leaders had high hopes for the compromise bill, especially since the White House had input in its writing.

That changed Friday when President Trump said he would not sign the compromise bill. The president’s comment that he “certainly wouldn’t sign the more moderate one” sent House Republican leaders into a tailspin. They had planned to whip the bill last week, but will now wait until this week in order to clarify the president’s comments. The first few days of this week will determine whether the bill can still pass or if leaders will even still move ahead with the vote.

The Senate aims to pass the National Defense Authorization Act on Monday, following failed attempts by Sen. Bob Corker to add an amendment that would limit the president’s power over imposing tariffs and another effort by Sen. Rand Paul to prohibit indefinitely detaining American citizens without trial. The bill is named after Sen. John McCain, the Armed Services chairman, who is undergoing treatment to fight brain cancer.

The Senate will then take up an appropriations bill related to energy, water, and veterans-affairs policy.

Here’s what else is on tap this week:

DEFENSE AND FOREIGN POLICY

The Senate is set to vote on final passage of the $716 billion NDAA on Monday. While a manager’s package of about 45 amendments was tacked onto the must-pass legislation, several controversial provisions—notably Corker’s measure to limit the president’s ability to impose tariffs for national security reasons, requiring congressional approval before they go into effect—got shut down last week.

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a nomination hearing Tuesday for Lt. Gen. Austin Miller to replace Gen. John Nicholson, the current U.S. commander in Afghanistan.

The Senate Intelligence Committee will convene for one of its rare open hearings on Wednesday morning to discuss the policy response to Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections. Victoria Nuland, the former assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, and Michael Daniel, former White House cybersecurity coordinator and special assistant to President Obama, will testify. Members will also have two closed briefings this week, on Tuesday afternoon and on Wednesday immediately after the morning hearing ends.

On Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee gathers for a hearing on the United States Agency for International Development’s resources and redesign. USAID Administrator Mark Green will testify on the status of his ambitious plans to revamp the development agency.

Unlike former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s failed and unpopular plan to overhaul that department, Green’s proposal has been largely well-received by the aid community, lawmakers, and the Trump administration. But the White House’s plan to make deep cuts to the agency has been met with widespread criticism, and lawmakers from both parties have blasted the drastic budget proposal.

It’s a busy day on Wednesday for the House Foreign Affairs Committee. That morning, the full committee will convene a hearing on U.S. policy toward Afghanistan, with testimony from Alice Wells, principal deputy assistant secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs.

In the afternoon, the Asia and the Pacific Subcommittee will bring in think-tank experts for a hearing to examine the outcomes of last week’s summit between Trump and Kim Jong-un. Outside experts will also gather for a separate hearing that day on human rights concerns in Sri Lanka. And on Thursday, the Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade Subcommittee will meet for a hearing on Russian and Chinese nuclear arsenals.

The House Armed Services Committee gathers on Thursday to look at military-technology transfer policy, and that afternoon, the Readiness Subcommittee meets for a hearing on aviation-mishap prevention, featuring officials from the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Army.

On Friday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, and Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, will appear before the House Science subcommittee on space and the HASC Strategic Forces Subcommittee at a joint hearing on the U.S. government's role in space. They'll focus on the issue of space situational awareness, which includes intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, environmental monitoring, and warning functions.

That will cap off a packed week on the space-policy front, with the National Space Council kicking things off at a White House meeting Monday. Trump may sign the next space-policy directive as soon as this week, to designate agencies’ roles and responsibilities on the issue of space situational awareness.

ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT

Energy Department funding is likely to bring the knives out on the Senate floor this week. That portion of the House-passed minibus is most controversial, and the vast majority of Democrats in the lower chamber opposed the package over its contents.

The legislation repeals the Obama-era Clean Water Rule, which would have expanded the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory jurisdiction over U.S. bodies of water. Courts had blocked implementation of the rule prior to Trump's inauguration, and now EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is moving through the motions of replacing it.

Democrats also argue the minibus cuts clean-energy programs and endangered-species protections.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday on nominations for two top posts at the EPA, including the office that crafts policy on Superfund. That part of the EPA portfolio, which focuses on cleaning up the most contaminated industrial sites across the country, is a top EPA priority for Pruitt and the White House. A longtime official at Dow Chemical Company, Peter Wright, is tapped to lead the Superfund office. Dow is a responsible party in many Superfund sites.

On the House side of the Capitol, an Energy and Commerce subpanel will hold a hearing on the 2017 Republican tax bill’s impact on electricity bills. Republicans often tout lower consumer prices tied to the tax cuts, which slashed corporate rates. Meanwhile, a tentative Energy Department plan to bail out struggling coal and nuclear plants threatens to raise electricity prices, according to observers.

HEALTH

The House will continue considering legislative packages that address the opioid epidemic, including a bill that would require states to suspend, rather than terminate, Medicaid coverage for juveniles when they are incarcerated. It would also increase the screenings of new Medicare beneficiaries for opioid-use disorder.

Members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee are holding their third hearing on the 340B Drug Pricing Program, which provides certain hospitals and clinics with discounted prescription drugs by working with pharmaceutical manufacturers. These entities can bill the insurance provider or Medicare a higher price and keep the difference.

The Senate Special Committee on Aging will have a hearing on reducing the risk, detecting early signs, and improving data on Alzheimer’s.

On Wednesday, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will look at fraud and overpayments in the Medicaid system with Government Accountability Office Comptroller General Gene Dodaro and Health and Human Services Inspector General Daniel Levinson testifying.

The House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee will look at the GAO’s audit of HHS cybersecurity.

The HASC Military Personnel Subcommittee will hold a hearing on military-health-system reform, including a look at pain management, opioids prescription management, and reporting transparency.

TAXES

The clock is ticking on the Supreme Court’s decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair, which could decide whether states can impose online sales taxes on sellers outside of their jurisdiction. Analysts expect a decision in June, so tax world could see an answer in the next two weeks. After that, the focus will turn to the states and how their legislatures react to the ruling.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady told reporters last week that talks with other Republicans on the tax-writing panel have picked up as they continue work on what’s been dubbed Tax Reform 2.0, a broad plan for more tax legislation before the year is out. The core of the package would likely make permanent the individual tax breaks established in last year’s tax overhaul, which are set to expire in 2025.

“We certainly have some more work to do, but we certainly plan to engage the rest of the House Republicans in July,” Brady said Wednesday, adding that he expects to produce an outline before the August recess.

Tax writers haven’t decided whether the legislation will include spending offsets, Brady said.

Trump announced 25 percent tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods Friday, touching off another front in what’s shaping up to be a major trade conflict with multiple countries. China hit back with its own proposed tariffs shortly after the announcement.

Brady said in a statement that targeting China was the right course of action, but he was “concerned” that the tariffs would hurt U.S. workers. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch gave a similar response.

Hatch had already announced a June 20 hearing this week on the recently announced steel and aluminum tariffs. Commerce Secretary Ross is set to testify. Hatch has criticized the administration’s use of a national security exception to impose the tariffs.

Other conservatives are reaching out to the administration as well. Rep. Mark Walker, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, told reporters Friday that he and about 10 other members planned a trip to the White House this week to discuss the issue.

TECHNOLOGY

The Senate confrontation with the White House over the fate of Chinese telecommunications firm ZTE is barreling onward, with the upper chamber slated to vote Monday night on the NDAA. A provision in the NDAA would conceivably make it tougher for the White House to lift crippling sanctions on ZTE. While the White House hopes to save ZTE as part of a broader trade deal with China, senators from both sides of the aisle say the company’s operations in the United States constitute a national security threat and it should be barred from working with American firms.

The NDAA is widely expected to pass on Monday, and if the ZTE language remains unchanged, the issue will be kicked over to the House. Several top Republicans in the lower chamber have expressed their support for the administration’s position on ZTE, and the amendment may be stripped out or watered down in conference.

There are several additional provisions in the NDAA related to tech and cybersecurity, including one that prohibits any agency in the U.S. government from using ZTE products. Senate Intelligence Committee ranking member Mark Warner also introduced an amendment last week that would amend U.S. cyber-doctrine to require an in-kind response to a foreign cyberattack on an American election.

The researcher who built the app that passed on Facebook users’ personal data to British political consultancy Cambridge Analytica is coming to Capitol Hill. Aleksandr Kogan will testify Tuesday before the Senate Commerce Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance, and Data Security Subcommittee. The hearing, which lawmakers are billing as a follow-up to April’s meeting with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, will also include testimony from a former chief technologist at the Federal Trade Commission.

The Senate is looking to get the Federal Communications Commission back to full strength following the recent departure of Democratic Commissioner Mignon Clyburn. On Wednesday, the Commerce Committee will hold a nomination hearing for Geoffrey Starks, whom Trump has nominated to fill one of two Democratic slots on the commission.

WHITE HOUSE

After two weeks of foreign travel and light White House schedules, President Trump spends most of this week at home, leaving only for a Wednesday night political rally in Duluth, Minn. On Monday, he meets with the National Space Council, a group he resurrected from decades past to coordinate national programs in outer space. On Tuesday, he will speak to the National Federation of Independent Businesses. According to the White House, he will “tout the benefits we are seeing from tax reform and deregulation.” He also will meet with King Felipe IV and Queen Letizia of Spain and end the day meeting with supporters. On Thursday, he will hold a Cabinet meeting and host the Congressional Picnic.

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