Congress swings-and-misses at impeachment, foreign aid, federal telework

Can it get any more chaotic in Congress? This week will tell, as we might see another try at impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alexandro Mayorkas, foreign aid, and federal telework. It’s a broken record and you are the needle. For more, the Federal Drive with Tom Temin talked with WTOP Capitol Hill correspondent Mitchell Miller.

Interview Transcript:  

Tom Temin I’m not sure where we should start here, but let’s start with the mundane. And that is federal telework. Still an object of interest to at least Republicans, fair to say.

Mitchell Miller Yeah, absolutely. The House Oversight Committee really pressing the Office of Management and Budget now to provide more data, not just on telework, but what many have called work environment plans from the various agencies. In other words, what are agencies doing to actually look at how many people are returning to the office and the Oversight committee chair, Comer, as long as well as some other Republicans on the committee recently sent a letter to OMB Director Shalonda Young and said, basically, you have not provided the kind of data we need to show that people are either effectively working, telework or they are coming back to the office. And so, they are now calling on, not only OMB, but the OMB to basically get the agencies to give their timelines for getting people back. And as we’ve been talking over the last several months, this has been a real push by, particularly Republicans in Congress. But Democrats are concerned about it, too, trying to find out more information just about how everything has changed since the pandemic. So, the latest is that Comer and his committee have given OMB a deadline of this week, this Wednesday, to respond with this additional information, we’ll have to see, whether or not that information gets to them, and they get satisfied sometime soon.

Tom Temin Yeah. The question is, what would they do when they know all of this?

Mitchell Miller Right, exactly. I mean, they may take this information and then process it and say, okay, well, we’re looking at this and we don’t think you’ve done enough, and then we’ll see what the give and take is between OMB as well as some of these other agencies who have said that they have been doing a lot of things to try to get people back to work. But as you know, it’s been a very gradual process.

Tom Temin And switching gears here, ever since the first DC3 had a Marriott prepared boxed lunch on board, leaving National Field or whatever they called it, then Congress has been arguing over what can and cannot fly and to where from what is now Reagan National Airport. And this is still on the agenda, right?

Mitchell Miller This is still a big issue about how many flights can go in and out of Reagan National. You know, look at that quaint original building for the airport and think of this airfield. But it is the most busy runway of any airport in the country. And that’s simply because of the size. There’s just not a lot of capacity there. So, the latest renewed battle over this, I call it the flight fight, is over whether or not they should add five flights in and out of Reagan National. This has gone through the Senate Commerce Committee, and it raised the hackles of the Virginia and Maryland congressional delegations. I was on the phone recently with Senator Mark Warner, who is really upset about it. He just says that he does not believe there’s enough capacity to add these flights. Now, on the other side, lawmakers from other parts of the country, as we both well know, they want more direct flights, but they also argue that it would be better for their constituents that people could get more direct flights, and that if you provided more flights, it might potentially provide cheaper flights. I think there’s going to be a real big battle here. This is all, of course, tied into the FAA authorization bill. And the reason I call it Fight Flight two is because you’ll remember last year there was another fight, and that was when the house was taking up the FAA authorization bill. At one point, they were talking about adding as many as 28 flights in and out of Reagan National. That was eventually whittled down to seven. And then the local delegation here in the Washington area forced that amendment to go down. So, I think that we’re going to see another effort to try to do that. But there is some bipartisan support for expanding these flights. We’ll have to see what happens.

Tom Temin And the FAA authorization itself is still in limbo. And that’s kind of an important agency these days, right?

Mitchell Miller I mean, this is really interesting. The FAA authorization bill here we are now in February, closing in on mid-February, and it is still not done. And as I just mentioned, the House passed it a long time ago, but they are still grinding away with a lot of different things that, by the way, Senator Warner and some of the other members of the delegation, believe are good things that are included in the FAA authorization bill that they believe would, ultimately protect safety of air passengers. Obviously, that’s been a big attention getter since we had the door literally blow out of a Boeing plane recently. So, they’ll have to be trying to get that through as well as they move forward to March. Don’t forget, we’ve got that, government shutdown deadline coming just over three weeks away.

Tom Temin We’re speaking with Mitchell Miller, Capitol Hill correspondent for WTOP. And yes, on the airplane issue, I guess you could say maybe if I’m on a Max eight or whatever they call that plane. Can I have an extra seat belt just in case the doors don’t double up? Yeah, sure. But on the federal budget. Yeah. I mean, is anything happening now, or is that just because they don’t agree on what they want to do, whether a long-term CR or getting through the budget bills?

Mitchell Miller Right. What’s really troubling about this is when you look back at all that chaos that you alluded to earlier in connection with last week, with so many things falling apart and a lot of acrimony here on the Hill, even more so than there usually is. In the middle of all that, there really was no work done on any of the appropriations bills other than some minor things behind the scenes. So, they are really behind the eight ball yet again, I know it does sound like a broken record on that needle, but we are coming up here with weeks away, and they really haven’t made any kind of progress with this March 1st deadline. And then you have another one coming up on March 8th. And, the House speaker, Mike Johnson, clearly has had some problems and made some missteps recently. And frankly, there’s some concern, within his conference, as well as definitely among Democrats about whether or not he is going to be able to pull all of this together because they can’t just keep kicking the can down the road over and over again. So, there’s an argument about whether or not can they do a long-term CR that would go through the rest of the year. And as we’ve talked about before, a lot of people are opposed to that because they say it’s basically effectively a cut for many, agencies as well as the Pentagon, which is the big one. So, I’m really interested to see if they’re going to be is there going to be any progress as we move through this week, or are we just going to have these dates just sitting there waiting for them to really explode in the next three weeks or so?

Tom Temin It’s almost like there’s three parties on Capitol Hill. The Republicans have bifurcated into a big piece in a small piece, but the small piece has enough marbles to take the game away.

Mitchell Miller Right, exactly. It’s really fascinating, in terms of what has happened with the Republican Party, there was a time with the U.S. Senate, as you know, where it was kind of the big boy party, the big boy, part of legislation and that the House would always wrangle with things. But the Senate has really become more like the House lately. Clearly, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has lost his control of the Congress, at least to the extent that he used to have. He used to be able to tell members, this is what we’re going to do, and most of them would fall in line with some, complaints here and there. But now you basically, as you alluded to have two parties within the GOP. And the older part, the one that went for the foreign policy aid and, getting money for Ukraine, that one is really starting to fall apart. And the other side that is, promoted by former President Trump is really pushing hard now and really gaining an upper hand.

Tom Temin And then there is the border and Customs and Border Protection and Homeland Security and the situation with its leadership. They did not vote to impeach him last week. Mr. Mayorkas, that’s going to come up again. We’ve heard vows of. So that puts the department kind of a little bit in edge, you might say.

Mitchell Miller Right. The department is sort of in a little bit of a suspended animation here. Everybody just assumed that the impeachment, on the Hill was going to go through last week, obviously a miscount and a lot of acrimony in connection with the GOP on that. But now we have, what will be another impeachment vote, with, the Homeland Security secretary this week, one of the key things will be the House majority leader, Steve Scalise, coming back. He’s been getting treatment for cancer. I mean, the vote tight is so tight that they literally have to make sure one vote is going to be there or not. That was the difference last week, of course. When it was tied, after Democrat Al Green was literally wheeled in on a wheelchair, to get in, to get his vote. And that threw off the Republicans. So, I think for the department, it’s got to be, unsettling because, they’ve been seeing this back and forth. I do think this impeachment, though, is going to go through. But then what does that mean after that? It will go to the Senate, where it will likely die effectively. They will probably have to hold a trial. Or if they don’t, they may try some procedural moves to get an off ramp from that.

Tom Temin What a world. I guess maybe the Republicans strategically erred when they should have said, well, we’ll get rid of our guy that lied on his resume. If you get rid of your guy that pulled the fire alarm.

Mitchell Miller Who, by the way, George Santos, who was kicked out of Congress, as you alluded to, his special election is tomorrow.

Tom Temin Wow, what a world. And real quickly, RFK Stadium, which affects commuters crossing Washington. That’s back in the crosshairs.

Mitchell Miller Yeah, a lot of people, of course, drive by there and wonder what is going on with that big, deteriorating, once proud RFK Stadium building. And there is some movement now, for the first time in months, the House Natural Resources Committee advancing a bill to enter an agreement with the National Park Service. For a 99-year lease on the RFC site. The original proposal that comes out of Congressman Commerce Oversight Committee, initially had it being, the lease with the General Services Administration. But as you know, the GSA has been trying to, pull back on some of its, management of things, of properties and, office buildings that are getting emptier. At any rate, they approved this amendment. And that basically opens the door to development, ultimately, of this RFK campus site. Supporters of a new stadium for the Commanders hope that there will be a new stadium, or at least that will be, a carrot to potentially get the new ownership of the team there. And then there’s a lot of other proposals related to, that would affect, as you mentioned, commuters as well as just the overall, park and green space around that area and as well as a potential development, including retail in that area. So, a lot of things starting to bubble up after years of kind of nothing really happening there. In Congress.

Tom Temin Well, the Park Service could say, listen, we’ll give you a 25-year lease, but if you get a Super Bowl, then we’ll extended an option for 75 more years.

Mitchell Miller There you go.

And this program note every day this week, our special report will highlight the 85% of federal employees who work outside the Washington, D.C., region, led by 28 federal executive boards nationwide. Be sure to check it out at Federal News network.com.

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