(WASHINGTON) — Members of Congress are scrambling to complete a packed to-do list to cap off a hectic year on Capitol Hill.
Republicans and Democrats in Congress are continuing negotiations on a massive foreign aid and security bill, reauthorizing the annual defense authorization bill and reauthorizing a national security surveillance measure. Republicans in the House are also expected to vote this week to formalize an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden, a divisive effort that could endanger swing-district lawmakers.
The hectic year-end agenda marks a fitting finale to a year that started with a 15-round speakership vote for Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who was ultimately ousted from his position months later, near-misses on a government shutdown and a wave of retirements, in part fueled by frustrations over the rancor plaguing both chambers of Congress.
The House of Representatives’ last work day in Washington is Thursday, Dec. 14.
Here’s what to know about Congress’ year-end goals.
Foreign security aid, plus immigration reforms
Bipartisan negotiators are at loggerheads over a sprawling plan that would send security assistance to Ukraine, Israel and the Indo-Pacific while also shoring up law enforcement at the southern border.
Republicans are largely supportive of sending aid to America’s allies in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, but they are looking to extract steep concessions from the White House and Democrats in Congress on border security before forking over the votes to hand Biden a major foreign policy win.
Senate Republicans want major revisions to parole and asylum provisions. House Republicans want even more, and Speaker Mike Johnson has advocated that the Senate work to keep the border provisions as close to those outlined in the House’s even-stricter bill.
Senate Republicans have begun calling on Biden to step in himself to help break the impasse, though immigration is notoriously fraught with political risk, especially as the presidential race ramps up.
“When you’re making law, the President has got to be involved,” Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., who has been leading negotiations for Republicans, said last week. “I’ll let him be able to determine what that really means for him but obviously the White House has got to be engaged in this. If the White House is not engaged into the negotiations, then nothing is going to get done on it.”
Defense bill reauthorization
The National Defense Authorization Act, the $886 billion defense bill that has been passed every year for decades, is also caught up in partisan squabbles over policy.
The compromise bill language does not include a Republican effort to revoke the Pentagon’s policy of paying for servicemembers’ travel to obtain abortions if the procedure is not available in the state in which they’re stationed. The bill also does not include GOP-backed language blocking funding for transition surgeries and hormone treatments for transgender troops.
“This was a total sell-out of conservative principles and a huge win for Democrats,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., wrote on X.
Some Republicans also have concerns with the NDAA over how the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) is being attached to it.
Perhaps one of the trickiest debates is over whether to temporarily reauthorize Section 702 of FISA, which allows the government, without a warrant, to collect vast swaths of communications of non-Americans overseas who message on U.S.-based platforms.
Some members of both parties support the reauthorization as a key national security tool — but others also worry about the civil rights implications given that Americans’ communications can get caught up in the surveillance.
“This is not a nice-to-have. This is Americans lives. This is our allies’ lives. This is continuing the fight in Ukraine, continuing to push Xi [Jinping] back, continuing to put fentanyl manufacturers on their heels. This NDAA has to contain a short-term extension of 702 surveillance authorities,” Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., said last week. “If there is not a short-term extension of 702 in the NDAA, and if there is a three-week period in January in which 702 was shut down, Americans will die.”
“The privacy of Americans should be of the utmost importance to our government, and yet, we have seen too many examples of unchecked, warrantless surveillance of Americans,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., said in a statement last month. “An overhaul is necessary to protect Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights and their sensitive, personal data.”
To satisfy all flanks of the GOP, Johnson is planning to take up competing bills from the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees on FISA. A main difference between the two is how broad to make a warrant mandate.
“My intention is to bring the bills reported by the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees to the floor under a special rule that provides members a fair opportunity to vote in favor of their preferred measure,” Johnson wrote to members.
Biden impeachment inquiry
Republicans are also expected to hold a vote to formalize the impeachment inquiry into Biden over still-unproven claims that he improperly benefited from his family members’ business ventures overseas.
Johnson said he plans to hold a vote to help bolster Republicans’ argument in court should witnesses challenge subpoenas.
McCarthy refused to hold such a vote when he was speaker partially over worries it would put Republican lawmakers representing districts Biden won in 2020 in a bind — but now, swing-district Republicans are coming around to the idea of formalizing the investigations, which are already ongoing.
“It is the legislative branch’s responsibility to assert our responsibility,” Rep. Marc Molinaro, R-N.Y., said last week. “Without question there are issues of impropriety, and they have to be confronted.”
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