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Mayorkas trial begins

Mayorkas, Ukraine, Israel and FISA top the list as Congress returns

We’re back! The Senate returns today after a two-week recess, while the House is back Tuesday.

President Joe Biden heads to Madison, Wis., and Chicago today, and then hosts Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida for a state dinner on Wednesday. On Thursday, Kishida will address a joint meeting of Congress. Kishida and Biden will also meet with Philippines President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.

Lawmakers return to the Capitol with a lot on their plates. Ukraine, FISA, Israel, data privacy and other sensitive topics are dominating the headlines. These issues cut across party lines, although the partisanship — and intra-party in-fighting — on each is intense.

We’re going to start with the Senate impeachment trial for Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

Trial or no trial? House Republicans will formally present their articles of impeachment against Mayorkas to the Senate on Wednesday. The DHS secretary was impeached nearly two months ago. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), as president pro tem, will swear in senators on Thursday. And then the fireworks begin.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is expected to offer a motion seeking the immediate dismissal of the case against Mayorkas. That only requires a simple majority to pass. If Democrats stick together, they can bypass a trial entirely, bringing a quick end to what has been a sputtering effort against Mayokas from the start. On the off-chance that one or two Democrats defect, Republicans are trying to stay united to force a full trial.

The Senate GOP messaging on this is straightforward — Mayorkas must be held accountable for his handling of the migrant crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, so a trial is necessary. Notably, the messaging memo doesn’t weigh in on the actual question of whether Mayorkas should be convicted and removed from office.

For his part, Mayorkas says he’s paying very little attention to the Hill proceedings.

“I am focused on the work,” Mayorkas told reporters on Friday. “When I say I’m doing my work, I’m going to be testifying before two committees on Wednesday. That is perfectly reflective of my approach.” Mayorkas will be appearing before the House and Senate Appropriations panels this week to discuss the department’s FY2025 budget request.

Mayorkas has dismissed the GOP allegations as “baseless,” as have other top Democrats and the White House. Here’s a memo from DHS rebutting the attacks on Mayorkas.

It’s possible that Democrats could win the dismissal vote even if they don’t have all 51 in favor. A handful of Republican votes could be in play, like Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who has spoken favorably of a dismissal.

FISA: Across the Capitol, Speaker Mike Johnson and House GOP leaders will attempt once again to pass a FISA reauthorization bill. The third time’s a charm! Maybe!

On Tuesday, the Rules Committee is marking up a modified version of Rep. Laurel Lee’s (R-Fla.) bill from February. This version doesn’t include Rep. Warren Davidson’s (R-Ohio) provision barring federal agencies from buying info on Americans from private data companies. The House Intelligence Committee strongly objected to this language back in February, forcing the bill to be pulled.

A small number of amendments will be made in order at the Rules Committee. These include a proposal from the Judiciary Committee that requires national security agencies to obtain a warrant when they seek to query information on any U.S. person caught up in surveillance.

We’re told that Judiciary and Intelligence members will all vote for the rule. Whether these members vote for the underlying legislation once the amendments are considered on the floor is a different matter. This is chiefly aimed at the House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), the ranking member, and their colleagues. The Judiciary panel has overwhelmingly supported the inclusion of the warrant requirement in any FISA reauthorization bill.

But the reality is that if this modified version of FISA isn’t passed this week, Johnson may be forced to put a clean reauthorization bill on the floor next week under suspension before FISA Section 702 lapses on April 19 — and it could pass. So FISA opponents have to pick their poison here.

Jordan and Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Turner (R-Ohio) are scheduled to hold forums with the Republican Main Street Caucus and the Republican Governance Group this week to discuss FISA legislation, per a source.

Israel: To mark the six-month anniversary of the Gaza war, the House may take up a resolution bashing Biden over Israel. The GOP resolution — which doesn’t have a sponsor yet — says the House “opposes efforts to place one-sided pressure on Israel with respect to Gaza, including calls for an immediate cease-fire….”

This isn’t likely to impact Biden too much politically after the death of seven World Central Kitchen aid workers last week in an Israeli airstrike sparked international outrage.

Ukraine: On perhaps the toughest issue Johnson faces, he’ll meet with members all week. We expect to see his Ukraine aid proposal sometime in the next few days. As we’ve spelled out, it could include the REPO Act, language overturning Biden’s ban on new LNG export applications and more.

— John Bresnahan, Jake Sherman and Andrew Desiderio

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