GAVEL DOWN: Closing out the Week in Congress (May 30 – Jun 2, 2017)

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Gavel Down - Closing out the week in Congress

It was a short but busy recess week

President Trump announced Thursday that the US would withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord. The backbeat of the Russia investigation continued. While members were away, staffers huddled to work on the Senate health care bill and lay the groundwork for Congressional budget bills.


Withdrawal from Paris Climate Accords


On Thursday, President Trump announced that the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, which 195 countries agreed to in 2015. Though withdrawal from the agreement had been a theme of the Trump campaign, the president received considerable pressure arguing both to stay and to leave. This included twenty senators who sent a letter supporting withdrawal, while world leaders, scientists, and business leaders opposed the move.

Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, and Disney CEO, Robert Iger, resigned from the president’s business councils in response to the Paris announcement; JP Morgan’s Jamie Dimon is staying.

In wake of the announcement, French President Macron issued an invitation – in English – to Americans, saying, "the world believes in you," and inviting entrepreneurs, scientists, and engineers to a “second homeland” in France.

What comes next?

The administration will formally announce its withdrawal, starting a four-year legal process and official exit on Nov. 4, 2020. (Read more on the process from the New York Times)

Health Care Update

Will they or won't they (pass a health care bill)? That is a question with many different answers in Washington these days.

As many have acknowledged, the House-passed bill can't pass the Senate in its current form, so senators have begun work on their own bill. According to reports, drafting of that bill got started in earnest over this recess week. Something else started this week, however: lowering expectations. While Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn [R, TX] surprised many by saying a health bill would pass before the end of July, other senators were less optimistic. Iowa senators Ernst [R] and Grassley [R] said full repeal of the Affordable Care Act was unlikely. On Friday, Senator Burr [R, NC] joined that assessment, saying he did not think repeal would happen this year. 

The president is clearly frustrated with the pace, re-upping his call (via tweet) for the Senate to do away with the legislative filibuster so that it could proceed with health care and tax reform outside of the budget reconciliation process,  without the limit of the 60-vote cloture requirement. So far, the Senate seems unlikely to take that route.

Budget Deadlines Looming

In what Politico called "a new level of dysfunction for Capitol Hill," the budget process this year is way behind schedule. It's been twenty years since Congress passed a budget and appropriations bills on time, but this year's schedule is much tighter.

Here's where we are:

    April 15: Date by which budget supposed to be passed to set federal spending levels

    April – September: Appropriations subcommittees work on the twelve spending bills that need to pass by September 30.

Since Congress has not yet passed a budget for this year, the appropriations subcommittees don't know how much money they have to work with. While under normal circumstances they might just move forward assuming spending at last year's levels, they can't really do that this year because of Sequestration, which caps and reduces the amount of money that can be spent year-over-year, unless Congress acts to change those levels. You may remember the automatic budget-slashing law that passed in 2011 in response to that budget battle and government shutdown. (Take a walk down BCA memory lane).

While President Trump released his own budget last week, it was not well received on Capitol Hill, where Congress does not intend to use it as a baseline from which to craft its own budget (which is actually not that unusual). At this point, the House and Senate budget committees plan to release their proposals this month. So, look for the budget to be a big topic in the weeks ahead!

The Russia Investigation

Though Congress was away, the developments in the ongoing Russia investigation continued, in what has become the steady backbeat for the Trump administration. Here are the highlights from the week:

Russia investigation developments:

    Former FBI Director Comey will testify next week in the Senate Intelligence Committee; the White House could block some disclosures

    Former CIA Acting Director cautions against “over-connecting” dots on Russia/Kushner, while identifying the key questions looming

    Rep. Schiff called for a review of Trump advisor/son-in-law’s security clearance in light of reports he sought unsanctioned covert communication with the Russians

    Chairman Nunes signed the House Intelligence Committee subpoenas issued this week in the Russia investigation, highlighting that he is not technically recused

    Former leader of British Ukip party, Nigel Farage, reportedly now a “person of interest” in FBI’s Russia investigation

    With Rep Chaffetz’s resignation, House Oversight’s Russia investigation likely to be led by the Reps. Gowdy-Cummings combo from Benghazi days

    The Russia investigation turf battle is on in the Senate

Russia-related developments:

    According to reports, the incoming Trump administration immediately began efforts to roll back Russia sanctions upon taking office

    Russia is stepping up its spy game – including recruiting on Capitol Hill

    Reportedly getting nothing in exchange, the Trump Administration plans to return Russian diplomatic compounds seized in December in response to election interference

    Bipartisan Senate Banking members propose tougher Russia sanctions

    In an interview with NBC's Megan Kelly, Russian President Vladimir Putin denied Russian election interference, joking that even her "underage daughter" could be responsible for the hacking

In Case You Missed It (ICYMI) / DC


  • The Trump administration has rewritten or rolled back dozens of regulations… with more planned
  • Trump administration reviewing rule to allow conscience exception to requirement that health plans cover contraception

  • Federal employees are lawyering up

  • Can a president be indicted while in office?

  • Sen. Franken embraces “The Funny” in new book – and shares one sure way to annoy someone in public office

  • Sen. Sasse didn’t want the word “senator” on his book cover

  • Many in Congress not fans of the Appalachian Regional Commission cuts proposed by the president

  • Trump administration dismantling civil rights enforcement offices across agencies

  • The president tweeted that the Senate should “switch to 51 votes” to get health care and tax reform

  • Notably, both efforts expected to move as “reconciliation” bills, which already only require 51 votes in the Senate

  • Presidential push for change to legislative filibuster rule so far not moving the Senate

  • President Trump has submitted nominations for 117 of 559 positions that require Senate confirmation

  • Travel ban appeal to U.S. Supreme Court could offer opportunity for justices to revisit one of the most controversial cases still on the books: Korematsu v. United States

  • Congressional staffing down 45% since 1975

  • SCOTUS posed for a new class photo

  • U.S. Park Police are investigating noose found in public exhibit at the National Museum of African American History and Culture

  • OMB Director Mulvaney criticized CBO’s scoring of the GOP health bill saying, “The days of relying on some nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office to do that work for us has probably come and gone”

  • White House released information on the 14 ethics waivers it has issued

  • HHS Inspector General report to Sen. Grassley says taxpayers have overpaid Epipen by over $1.2 billion

  • President Trump says, “Our tax bill is moving along in Congress and I believe it’s doing very well” …. thing is, there is no bill

  • House vote coming next week on the Financial CHOICE Act, which would repeal parts of Dodd-Frank, including the Volker Rule and the Durbin Amendment (swipe fee cap)

  • New proposed HHS rule would allow employers to opt out of providing contraceptive coverage due to religious or moral objections

  • The White House has instructed agencies to not respond to oversight requests from Democratic lawmakers

  • New visa vetting questionnaire will ask for five years of social media handles and bio information going back 15 years

  • Eight good pieces of news about Congress (really!)

In Case You Missed It (ICYMI) /Nation


  • Federal employees are lawyering up

  • Two men died and another in serious condition after standing up to man shouting racial slurs at a woman wearing a hijab in Portland

  • One of the Portland heroes' last words will stay with you

  • New Texas bill clears road for Uber and Lyft return to Austin

  • US successfully intercepted and destroyed test missile (video)

  • The most misspelled words in each state are… interesting

  • Real life is trumping demand for political dramas

  • House of Cards: Any similarity to actual events are purely coincidental… but pretty crazy nonetheless (spoiler alert)

  • Where Letters To Hillary Clinton Go

    Opioid epidemic can be traced back to one doctor’s 1980 letter

  • Ohio suing five drugmakers alleging they misrepresented the addictive qualities of their drugs

  • The weather watchers at NWS and NOAA are burned out

  • Hurricane season started this week, still with no one at the helm of FEMA or NOAA

    The 98-year-old who has sent over 7,000 handwritten letters to troops overseas to say “thank you”

  • Shareholder rebelled at Exxon, voting against management recommendations, to require the company to report on climate change efforts

  • 12-year-old Californian won Scripps National Spelling Bee successfully spelling marocain

In Case You Missed It (ICYMI) / World

  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel said days of Europe being able to count on others were “over to a certain extent”

  • UN Ambassador Nikki Haley says the US “has the backs” of our allies

  • Ukraine and Russia got into it on Twitter (really)

  • In Australia, Sen. McCain said America is “going through a rough period”

  • McCain also called Russian President Vladimir Putin the “most important threat, more so than ISIS”

  • There is a very good reason the Russian president’s name is changed to a Canadian potato concoction when translated to French

  • Does Putin like poutaine?

  • According to reports, Trump administration considering rolling back the Obama Cuba policy

  • Heads of the Nordic countries poked fun at the glowing orb photo from Trump’s Saudi Arabia trip

  • How the Saudi arms deal will work

  • Macron, macaron, macaroon – not the same thing

  • Sen. Cardin (Foreign Relation Ranking Member) and Rep. Royce (Foreign Affairs Chairman) are concerned with planned weapons sale to Turkey after security guards attacked protesters outside the embassy in DC

  • An ice shelf the size of Delaware is about to break off from Antarctica

  • Building a city from scratch for 11 million people

Please keep in mind that highlighting specific legislation does not imply POPVOX endorsement in any way. As always, our goal is to offer one more way to help you stay informed about the complex U.S. legislative system.