Congress has a lot to do, first impeachment though

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Congress has a lot of measures in mind for federal agencies and federal employees. But they’ve also got to get through an impeachment trial and lots of pandemic spending. Federal Drive with Tom Temin got the week’s outlook from WTOP Capitol Hill correspondent Mitchell Miller.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: Mitchell, let’s begin with their big schedule. Another week till they get underway in the Senate with that trial, but what will the House be doing in the meantime?

Mitchell Miller: Well, they’re going to be coming back after a week back in their districts, and there’s a lot of work as you well know. And much of it, of course, centers around President Biden’s plan for the COVID relief legislation. And as we learned late last week, it really does look like the House and Senate are moving toward the budget reconciliation way to go. And that will, of course, allow the Senate to work around Republicans on the Democratic side, and they will not have to get the 60 votes that they would normally need for the filibuster. I talked about that with Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen. And he said, like a lot of other Democrats, they would like buy in from the Republicans, but Republicans have a lot of concern about the size of the legislation, and also whether it should be targeted more toward maybe vaccinations and other types of things. But it does look like Democrats are just going to plow ahead on this. And they’re going to try to write up the legislation this week so that they can get it in place. And then they really wanted to try to get it passed in the coming weeks, they’re not going to be able to get it passed before the impeachment starts, but they want to get it right on track so that they can do that so it doesn’t get derailed during impeachment. And as you know, there’s a lot of talk about trying to keep the impeachment trial relatively confined in terms of how long it may be. It’s really unclear. Everybody seems to agree it’s going to be less than the 21 days than the first impeachment trial was, but we’ll have to see what happens. And that’s why there is such a push, obviously, to get so much done in this coming week.

Tom Temin: And with respect to that pandemic bill, when Van Hollen says we’d like to get Republican buy in, that doesn’t mean we’re going to negotiate with them, either buy it in or we’ll go around you with reconciliation.

Mitchell Miller: Exactly. And House speaker Nancy Pelosi was actually fairly blunt about that in her news conference last week when she was repeatedly asked about it. She said, well, let’s face it, it gives us leverage so that if they don’t get the buy in that they claim to want, then they can go this other route. Now, of course, we know that Republicans used reconciliation under former President Trump as well in connection with tax reform. So it’s, again, one of those situations where both parties will use it, use the political leverage when they can.

Tom Temin: Yes, well, we love the unity Washington style while the rest of the world is scratching their head. Alright, and there is that measure to give a couple of things for federal employees. One is that new expanded leave policy, what’s in that and what are people handicapping the chances of it happening?

Mitchell Miller: Well, it does look like it has a pretty good chance. So this would be building on the legislation for federal leave that passed in 2019. This past week, a pretty high powered group of House Democrats, including Carolyn Maloney, who’s the chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, proposed that they would expand the paid leave for federal employees, not just for somebody who’s pregnant or paternity leave, but also for medical reasons. They felt that this was an area that they really needed to, it wasn’t necessarily a loophole, but they just wanted to expand it and make sure that that was covered, and also it will cover Postal Service Workers if it were to pass. Another issue that came up which is interesting is was raised by Virginia congressman Gerry Connolly. He’s a co-sponsor, along with Virginia congressman Don Beyer, along with DC delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton in terms of the regional support, but basically, he pointed out that with the baby boomers all starting to retire, there’s close to a third of the federal workforce ready to retire next year. And he said, unless the federal government matches what the private sector is doing in terms of paid leave, that they are going to continue to have a brain drain and continue to have the loss of federal employees and not younger employees to replace them. So that’s another kind of strategic part of what they’re trying to do. But this would again, provide people with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave related to various medical situations.

Tom Temin: And a couple of weeks ago, Gerry Connolly from Virginia had a gambit to give federal employees, next year that is for 2022 I believe, a 3% raise once we knew that the Biden administration would be coming in. Any movement on that that you’ve seen?

Mitchell Miller: Well, we haven’t seen a lot of specific movements since the House has been out but I think it is going to move forward. You have really widespread support for this, obviously among Democrats, and there’s been a lot of talk about getting this pay raise through so and Gerry Connolly obviously an influential member in connection with the House Democrats there. So I think we’re gonna see more progress on that in the coming weeks, so federal employees looking for a little bump in pay may be expected to get that at some point.

Tom Temin: And of course, everyone has noted the flurry of executive orders and actions that have come out of the Biden White House. I think the count as of late last week was 40, 25 executive orders and a bunch of executive actions. But some of those do impinge on activities of federal agencies. I’m thinking of the banning of new drilling on federal lands. Anything in the legislative brew that you’ve seen so far that would follow up those by say, for example, directing the Bureau of Land Management or Interior Department to begin rulemaking on any of that?

Mitchell Miller: Well, it’s interesting. We’ll have to see what the nitty gritty is on that, because there is clearly a lot of opposition from that, especially on the Republican side. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell really railed against this on the Senate floor last week, pulling back basically saying that the Biden administration is just going to cost thousands of jobs related to that rule. And there’s a lot of other executive orders that Republicans are pushing back on, of course, there’s only so much that they can do at this point, so we’ll have to see if they try to tweak any of these alterations. And then we’ll also have to see what happens in connection with some of the other types of things that actually get taken up in the courts, for example, there’s been pushback on some certain issues that the Biden ministration has already moved on in connection with immigration. And so everything is not necessarily going to move forward just because the President has signed the executive order,

Tom Temin: Right. And I guess we won’t know the complete extent of the Biden priorities until we get that skinny budget, and that could still be some weeks off.

Mitchell Miller: Right. They still have a lot of work to do on that. There’s been so many things going on, as they try to basically try to reassert themselves on as we’ve seen kind of a daily basis where it’s a much more traditional White House than obviously during the former President Trump’s tenure where they try to bring out something every day and have a particular issue to stress, which goes back really to former President Reagan, which that administration really did that brilliantly where they would just give you something each day. But in terms of the overall budget, we haven’t really heard a lot about that, because they’ve been so concentrated on this COVID relief legislation. And they really want to make sure that they get that passed within the first 100 days, because they feel like they’re just going to lose a lot of momentum if they don’t get it done.

Tom Temin: And of course, we do have one match to the Trump administration, and that is Joe Biden did on a few occasions use that little tiny table, and not just the Resolute desk, I noted that one, but he looks quite fine at it, especially the pocket handkerchief with three points. And the riots, I mean, the aftermath of that. We’ll see the video over and over again during that impeachment trial. Aside from that, what is Congress doing to follow up on the oversight of all of that?

Mitchell Miller: Well, there are a lot of different investigations, as you know, underway already. And then you have a lot of internal things going on in connection with the acting police chief announcing last week that they want to basically put in, at least temporarily, a lot of the fencing that’s already around the Capitol and look into the fact of well does it need to be permanent? There’s been already a lot of pushback from Mayor Bowser in DC, who does not want it permanent. And when I talked to Senator Van Hollen, he said, yes I want investigations into what went wrong and how the problems were with communications and intelligence, but in terms of the actual hardware and what physically goes around the Capitol, he said that needs a longer view, because that’s a really big, obviously, symbolic thing that would be taking place. But also I asked him if there’s concern about just the fear of the lawmakers now that we’re a few weeks out from January 6. And certainly there is concern, I was on a call with Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia. And he mentioned that a Capitol Police Officer actually said to him, be careful. And that was a day after they found a man with a loaded gun and 20 rounds of ammunition not far from from the Rayburn building. So it’s still a very real feeling here on the Hill, concerns about the safety and unfortunately, there’s also a lot of doubt between the two parties, especially on the House side, a lot of angry lawmakers in connection with Democrats pointing the finger at Republicans who some of them have brought guns in and tried to go around metal detectors. Republicans on the other side saying the democrats are making too much of this. So a lot of distrust really sewn just by what happened on January 6.

Tom Temin: So if you see a lawmaker carrying a cane, watch out.

Mitchell Miller: That’s right. We’ll have to go back to those wild debates from the 1800s.

Tom Temin: Mitchell Miller is Capitol Hill correspondent for WTOP. Thanks so much.

Mitchell Miller: You bet.

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