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Chuck Schumer

What to watch in the December legislating rush

The House and Senate are back in session this week, kicking off a December sprint until Christmas and the New Year’s holiday.

For the first time in years, there won’t be a year-end government funding showdown this month. That will come in mid-January. It’s a Christmas miracle!

Instead, over the next few weeks, congressional leaders will focus on Israel, Ukraine, the annual defense authorization bill, FISA and other issues. These are some very difficult topics with no guarantee that lawmakers will find consensus.

But first, let’s talk about the one thing most members seem to agree on – the looming House expulsion vote on Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.). We expect this vote could happen as early as Wednesday. But the GOP leadership insists no final decisions have been made yet on timing.

The House hasn’t expelled one of its own members in more than 20 years. And there have only been five expulsions in the entire history of the institution. This is a big deal, to put it mildly.

Republicans hold only a four-seat edge. Giving away one of those seats — which Democrats are likely to recapture in a special election — is a concern for many Republicans. Celeste Maloy, the former House GOP staffer who won the Utah 2nd District special election, will be sworn in this week, temporarily giving Republicans 222 members (and bringing the House back to its full 435 members).

Yet the weight of evidence against the criminally indicted Santos is overwhelming, as the House Ethics Committee noted recently in its report on the freshman lawmaker.

And Rep. Michael Guest (R-Miss.), the Ethics Committee chair, is the one who introduced the expulsion resolution, giving it even more heft.

Guest didn’t file this resolution as privileged, however. A member has to go to the floor and raise the issue of privilege — a key procedural step — to trigger a vote this week.

Santos held a press conference on the social media site X on Friday. We’re not getting into all of his inanity except to note that Santos said he isn’t resigning. Yet even Santos is aware that the outlook is poor for him.

The supplemental: The next few weeks are make or break for President Joe Biden’s push for tens of billions of dollars in aid to Ukraine, Israel and Indo-Pacific allies. The Senate is taking the lead here. Everything will come down to whether senators can strike a deal on changes to asylum policies and border-security measures to address the migrant crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border.

That needs to happen this week if there’s any chance of action before January, so Democratic leaders are starting the clock on this high-stakes showdown. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer released a letter to senators Sunday saying he’ll put Biden’s supplemental request on the Senate floor as soon as next week.

Several senators told their foreign counterparts last week that it’ll be impossible to pass more foreign aid if these talks stretch past December. And a top House Republican predicted Sunday that Congress won’t act on the supplemental until January, which ties it once again to government funding. This has all the makings of a big problem for the White House.

Schumer slammed Senate Republicans for conditioning the aid package on a border fix but said Democrats “stand ready to work on common-sense solutions.” Schumer reiterated that “hard-right” demands on border and immigration policy in return for Ukraine aid will jeopardize the entire package.

The Senate’s bipartisan border group is planning on meeting when they return to the Capitol today. Republicans are holding firm on their insistence that changes to both asylum and parole policies need to be attached to any aid package.

Democrats are preparing for the likelihood that they’ll have to accept significant border policy changes. Sen. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), a staunch progressive, told us that it’s “not sustainable” for Democrats to maintain the status quo at the border.

Democrats will also have to grapple with a widening rift in their party over Biden’s handling of Israel’s military campaign against Hamas in Gaza. The White House has played up Biden’s role in the recent hostage exchange and ceasefire, yet some Democrats are openly calling for restrictions on aid to Israel due to high Palestinian civilian casualties.

Meanwhile, aid to Israel is stalled in the House because Speaker Mike Johnson tied the funding to IRS spending cuts that the Democratic-run Senate and White House oppose.

Tuberville rules resolution: The Senate is also aiming to resolve the months-long standoff over Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s (R-Ala.) blockade of nearly 400 military promotions. The Rules Committee passed a resolution allowing most of the promotions to be voted on at the same time, but it lacks requisite GOP support. Schumer said he plans to bring the resolution to the floor “in the coming weeks” with the goal of approving the long-stalled promotions by year’s end.

NDAA: Senate GOP hawks secured a conference committee for the defense authorization bill as part of an agreement to pass the laddered CR before Thanksgiving.

We’re told that the formal NDAA conference will be held this week, and the compromise bill could be filed as soon as next week.

FISA: Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and other provisions expire at the end of the year. That section permits U.S. intelligence agencies to conduct warrantless surveillance on non-American citizens who are outside the United States. But both conservative and progressive lawmakers are concerned about U.S. citizens caught up in these probes and have called for even more safeguards. There will be extensive action on this issue during the next few weeks.

— John Bresnahan, Andrew Desiderio and Jake Sherman

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Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.