Congress is on a long recess, so nothing too bad can happen

Not for lack of things to do is Congress on a two week recess. But the first three months of the 118th Congress have produced some results of note. The Federal Drive got a quick review, and a look at what’s ahead from Bloomberg Government deputy news director Loren Duggan.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin And Loren, members might have been disappointed that they’re not in session for the indictment of former President Donald Trump, because not that it’s exactly a Congress’s affair here, but it’s the kind of thing both sides would have liked to weigh in on heavily, and some of them have. But anything Congress can actually do at this point?

Loren Duggan That remains to be seen. They had already left town last Thursday for this recess when the indictment news was breaking on Thursday night. But what we saw in the aftermath, from the top of the House, speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) saying that Congress would potentially investigate the indictment of the ex-president, and Democrats saying that they’d probably keep their hands off of it. So I think there will be further discussion on the Hill, even before they come back chairmens certainly can weigh in from wherever there might be for the next couple of weeks. But I would especially think that we’ll hear from Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the chair of the Judiciary Committee, and James Comer (R-Ky.), the chair of the Oversight Committee, because they’ve already been looking into this, even when they were down in Orlando a couple of weeks ago when Trump tweeted he might be arrested or indicted. They were already talking about what their potential role might be in investigating it. So they might not be able to stop it, but they could certainly ask questions and try and get Alvin Bragg, the D.A., from Manhattan, to come down there and answer questions or answer questions by letter. So I think there will be a lot of discussion about this, I’m not sure what the action would be, though.

Tom Temin And getting back to what they have done in the first three months as Congress, it’s hard to point to anything as momentous as what happened in the end of the 117th Congress, in terms of some big, huge bills worth trillions. But what would you say the 118th can look back at, at least after three months and say, yeah, we did that.

Loren Duggan It’s always going to be difficult when you have divided control. You have a Republican House, Democratic Senate. They’re not going to see eye to eye on a lot. Both of those chambers have very narrow majorities, too. So that makes things difficult. But from the House perspective, they would certainly triumph their ability to pass an energy package last week that combines a lot of provisions that Republicans really want to combat. The Biden administration repeal some of the climate change provisions. They’ve also passed what they call the Parents Bill of Rights that they say would give parents more right in education. Those are two big things I think they are happy to head into this recess talking about. On the Senate side, they passed a bill to repeal the Iraq war authorizations from three decades and two decades ago, trying to get those off the books. And they did that in a bipartisan fashion, which was pretty notable. In terms of what’s actually made it onto the statute books, what’s become law, there aren’t a lot of examples there. And frankly, there are things that Joe Biden may not have necessarily agreed with at first. One, is to cancel DC’s crime law that they had passed to change some of the criminal code provisions, and the other is to declassify covert intelligence, which President Biden signed that as well. And he’s on the verge of when it gets to him signing a piece of legislation that would end the COVID national emergency. So those might not have started off being things Biden wanted to do, but there are things that will be on the law books and are an example of what Congress got through.

Tom Temin That Iraq authorization, that’s almost like this generation’s Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.

Loren Duggan I guess, in some sense. It’s the thing that has kept the war going and has provided authority. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who had really been pushing for that for a long time, and Todd Young (R-Ind.) together they have worked to try and get this done. It doesn’t affect the 2001 authorization, which was the one passed right after 9/11. So there’s still authority in place, even if this gets through. We’ll be watching to see when the House comes back, after the two week recess, what the Foreign Affairs Committee and others do on this. Because I think there’s openness to passing this legislation, but maybe a different approach will be taken. But that’s a long time ago seeming debate that was re-upped in recent weeks, as we talked about Iraq, again, for the first time in a while, in some cases.

Tom Temin And you’ve got three senators that will be coming back after this cherry blossom era recess. And together they have a combined age of about 225. And so some really experience and some not so much experience coming back.

Loren Duggan That’s right. This has been one of the challenges for Senate Democrats as they’ve been without two of their members for quite a while. John Fetterman (D-Pa.), who’s receiving inpatient care for depression, and then Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who had shingles back in California, has been then first in the hospital and then at home. On the Republican side, it’s then Mitch McConnell (R-Ala.), the minority leader who has been able to get to Capitol Hill because he fell and had a concussion, and maybe a broken rib, and had to deal with the convalescence from that. But it sounds like all three of them are in a good position to return, get the Senate back to 100 members, which makes the math closer to what they would like to see it. And one of the impacts of that, Dianne Feinstein’s absence has been the Judiciary Committee unable to approve more judicial nominees and get them to the floor, which, of course, is one of the top priorities for the Biden administration and Senate Democrats, to get more judges through and confirmed. So it has affected the Senate’s ability to do a few things, but they have been passing some legislation, even like the Iraq War Resolution or Congressional Review Act resolutions, to cancel rules. So they have been busy in doing things, but some of the priorities they’d like to get through have had to been on the back burner for the last couple of weeks.

Tom Temin We were speaking with Loren Duggan, deputy news director at Bloomberg Government. And when they do get back, as you mentioned, some judge nominations they’ll get back to what do they call it, the conveyor belt. The other party is what calls what the other party is doing, getting these judges through that way. And what about the Labor Department nominee, Julie Su (D-Wis.)?

Loren Duggan She’s due to get a hearing nominated to replace Marty Walsh (D-Mass.), who was Biden’s first labor secretary and left to join the hockey players union. So we’ll see how her hearing goes and how people line up for her. I’m sure she’ll get tough questions, because the Labor Department has its reach in a number of places in the working world. So I’m sure that will be a top priority, though, to try and get somebody through and confirmed to that department. Another nomination that has to be re-nominated now, is for the Federal Aviation Administration after Phil Washington withdrew his nomination. And they’ll be looking to name somebody from the administration and then get through Congress as well, given all the attention that’s on the FAA in recent months, and the need to reauthorize the agency later this year. So that’ll be another top priority. And judges, judges, judges is always something that Democrats are going to try and pursue.

Tom Temin And a final question on Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) of Alabama, has got a issue with some of the military high level nominees.

Loren Duggan Yes, that’s true. He’s putting a hold on some flag officer nominations that he doesn’t want to go through in protest of the Pentagon’s policy on abortion travel for service members. So he’s using his prerogative as a senator to hold these up. He’s made the point that Democrats could push these through if they wanted to, but it’s a question of using floor time efficiently, because you could set up cloture votes and then have confirmation votes on each of these nominees. But that can take days and really drag out the debate. So they’re kind of in a little bit of a standoff here. We’ll see what happens when they come back after this two week recess. But I don’t think he’s necessarily going to budge right away, because he does have a policy he’d like to see change and he’s using the leverage he has as a senator.

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