Welcome to Congress’s final (scheduled) week in session of 2023. Lawmakers are anxious to head home for the holidays in the next few days, but there are a number of outstanding issues that could alter that timetable.
There’s a better-than-even chance that Congress will leave town without approving critical new aid for Ukraine and Israel, two staunch U.S. allies locked in bitter wars. And the House is on track to formalize its impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden.
These could turn out to be the most consequential decisions of this entire Congress.
On Ukraine: President Volodymyr Zelensky is traveling to Washington this week to deliver a last-minute plea for aid even as GOP opposition continues to grow. Zelensky will attend an all-senators meeting on Tuesday morning at the invitation of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. He’ll also meet face-to-face with Speaker Mike Johnson and Biden.
This is Zelensky’s third trip to the Capitol since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, and it’s not an overstatement to say these will be his most important conversations with U.S. officials since the war began. Biden and most lawmakers believe Ukraine’s fate is directly tied to Congress’ ability to approve a new aid package by year’s end.
The holdup remains the same — Republicans’ insistence that the migrant crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border be addressed in the same legislative package as any new Ukraine funding. For weeks, we’ve heard that the urgency of providing aid to Ukraine would push lawmakers to get a bipartisan border deal. Yet there’s been no breakthrough thus far.
The lead negotiators, Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), indicated during separate Sunday show appearances that little progress was made over the weekend. Murphy, however, said he expects the White House to get more engaged on the issue. This would need to happen quickly.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin called us Saturday from Guatemala. Durbin and a group of Democrats traveled there seeking to highlight the root causes of migration that have led to the record-breaking illegal crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border. Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, was blunt about what’s necessary to unlock a massive foreign aid bill for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.
Here’s Durbin on the migrant crisis:
It’s fair to ask at this point whether any of the $60 billion that Biden has requested for Ukraine is salvageable. Republicans who oppose this aid aren’t going to support a Ukraine package simply because it includes stricter immigration policies. And most progressives aren’t going to back restrictive border changes, either. Simply put, there may not be enough votes up for grabs in both chambers to pass anything.
What’s next: The Senate is on track to pass the annual defense authorization bill as soon as Wednesday. Then the chamber is supposed to recess on Thursday until January. The border negotiators will need to show a deal is possible by then in order to give Senate leaders a reason to stay in session. Durbin told us the Senate should stay put until the job is done.
Schumer could buy some time by working to approve the dozen or so 4-star military promotions that remain stalled.
Of course, if a border deal isn’t in the offing, Schumer could bring Biden’s supplemental funding bill back up for a vote and dare Republicans to filibuster it again. This would put Senate GOP defense hawks — especially McConnell — in a tough position following Zelensky’s visit.
Impeachment inquiry: The House Rules Committee has a Tuesday markup scheduled on a resolution formalizing the Biden impeachment inquiry, which is being run by the Oversight, Judiciary and Ways and Means committees.
This is a day before the president’s son, Hunter Biden, is scheduled to be deposed by the Oversight Committee. The younger Biden was indicted Thursday in California on tax evasion charges brought by special counsel David Weiss. Hunter Biden faces separate federal gun charges in Delaware. James Biden, the president’s brother, had a subpoena deadline last week.
It’s clear that moderate House Republicans — even those in districts that Biden won in 2020 — are ready to back a formal impeachment inquiry. Yet we continue to believe it’ll be very difficult for Johnson and House GOP leaders to avoid a Biden impeachment vote once an inquiry is opened. So the stakes here are enormous.
House floor this week: After the Senate passes the NDAA, the House will pick it up and try to clear it by the end of the week. Conservative House Republicans are in a bit of an uproar over Johnson’s decision to tie an extension of FISA authority to the annual Pentagon policy bill. We expect upwards of 50 GOP no votes on the NDAA.
There’s more: The House has an FAA extension bill on its suspension calendar. This bill would extend most federal aviation programs to March 8. The Senate will need unanimous consent to pass this quickly.
— Andrew Desiderio, Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan