With the FISA fight over, what’s next for Congress?

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson continues the balancing act within his own party. One week it's all about FISA. Then, there's aid to Israel and Ukraine.

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson continues the balancing act within his own party. One week it’s all about FISA. Then, of course, there are the lingering questions about helping Israel and Ukraine. For an update on what’s going on in Congress this week, Federal News Network’s Eric White talked with Bloomberg Government’s Loren Duggan on the Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

Interview Transcript: 

Eric White All right. So let’s talk FISA. It was all the rage yesterday. And a lot of members of Congress giving some impassioned takes about it. Where does FISA currently stand. And, you know, maybe even just give us a brief definition of what the FISA enactment would mean this go around.

Loren Duggan Sure. So there’s this Friday, April 19th deadline to do something about what parts of the FISA law and specific section 702, which allows the collection of. It’s supposed to be outside the U.S., but can at times sweep up U.S. persons information as well. So this is a big civil rights civil liberties debate, couched within a larger debate about national security. And what we’ve seen here is an issue that can divide the parties in unusual ways, where some of the most liberal and most conservative members band together, and you kind of have this tier of national security establishment, people on the other side and trying to thread that needle to get this reauthorized. Law enforcement FBI Director Chris Wray would say it’s hugely important to get this done. And there’s been some debate about whether they can get it done by the deadline and how to thread that needle. But a big issue with many consequences.

Eric White Yeah, you said it. You know, this is one of those issues that members of whatever party love to be able to take a stand. Like you said, against folks even in their own party. You know, are we looking at some of the same usual folks, the Rand Paul’s and the civil liberties folks who are banding together on this fight against the section 702 absolutely.

Loren Duggan Rand Paul, somebody who’s done this traditionally years ago, he forced a debate on a Sunday. I think it was two because there was another deadline, and he wanted to have a discussion on the Senate floor about this. So some of the civil liberties types you’d see on both sides of the aisle have banded together here, like I said. And, you know, even people who before might have been against it once they get more information as a leader, like Speaker Johnson have said, well, now I’m I have a slightly different perspective on this, given what I’ve know and what I’ve heard. So, yeah, it’s a really it’s a different sort of issue where, you know, party can come in, as we saw it was Republicans who changed the rule last week that slowed down this debate. But once they got it going again and could get the compromise to the floor, we saw some action happening.

Eric White One issue where, party lines definitely do matter is the issue of the impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas. Where does that currently stand? And is this impeachment that we’ve been hearing about for, I don’t know, how long now is it going to actually take place?

Loren Duggan Well, we expect this week to see the House managers, the people that the House of Representatives have sent over to prosecute the case will go over to the Senate, have their charges read, and then they will swear in the senators as a jury in a trial. The question is, will there be a trial? Some Democrats want to just dismiss it right away. But there is a large group of Republicans, I think, more than you know, almost all of them signed a letter saying we should have a trial. So there could be a lot of debate and discussion around that. Democrats, if they marshal the votes, could bring it to a pretty swift conclusion. But what Republicans have said is if you do that, we might hold up other business and deny you unanimous consent to take up things you want to do or to move them quickly at least. So, I think we’re not likely to see a long trial if a trial at all. And, this charges will likely end in dismissal because there’s not two thirds to remove him from office and convict him of the charges being sent over. Yeah.

Eric White And Mayorkas has done a pretty good job of just trying to stay out of the whole issue altogether. Has he said anything or given any inclination of how he feels about this?

Loren Duggan I mean, I think you’ve said it. He was up on the Hill talking to appropriators. He’s due to go up to the Hill and meet with Homeland Security Committee members this on Tuesday. I think it is the same day they would march across and prosecute their case against him. So he’s trying to do his job. He’s trying to run all the things in the department and, suffer. I guess he would say the slings and arrows of what’s coming at him from Capitol Hill. But, you know, I don’t think the dynamic has changed. The criticisms of him from House Republicans, regardless of the trial, will remain for, you know, and as long as he’s in office, I would say.

Eric White One of the agencies that doesn’t really make a lot of headlines. We’ll also be seeing several bills that could have an effect on the way they do business. And that’s the Energy Department. What kind of legislation, is up for debate now that is potentially going to affect enforcement rules for the Energy Department.

Loren Duggan So the House is looking at taking up a number of bills this week dealing with energy efficiency standards for appliances. There’s one broad bill that would, remove a requirement that they do what I think it is every six years, but instead, if there’s a petition or something, you could redo these standards, but they would have to meet all sorts of criteria, including one that would make it really hard to ban gas stoves, which has been a debate that’s come up here and there. Then there’s several smaller bills that deal with individual requirements for things like washers, dryers, dishwashers, air conditioners. So taking aim at sanders, that could be put in place there. So it’s a chance for Republicans to to talk about what they see as ill advised efficiency standards. And Democrats will probably take the opposite position and say that these are the right things to do to ensure that these appliances are better for the environment. So, you know, kind of a classic debate on those issues.

Eric White Will we hear testimony from the Maytag repairman?

Loren Duggan He might be cited. You’ll never know.

Eric White Loren Duggan is with Bloomberg government. And so also, Loren, there are some other budgetary issues that are going to be taking place next week. Are there any other budget hearings that we can look forward to?

Loren Duggan There are a lot, and this is the hearings for fiscal 2025, which starts October 1st. I know we just finished the fiscal 2024 debates and in some ways are continuing them. But these we’re going to see more cabinet secretaries go up, whether it’s Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, AG Secretary Tom Vilsack, Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su, who’s still filling in for that role while her confirmation is pending. And they will defend the budget and take questions from appropriators and authorizers on both sides of Capitol Hill. So that’s really where we are with this, budget season for the next year. Appropriators haven’t really kicked into gear yet that maybe we’ll see that in May and once they’re back from this upcoming one week break. But a long way to go. But this is an important early step.

Eric White And speaking of congressional fiscal decisions, there is still the lingering question of whether or not we’re going to free up money for the nation of Ukraine and keep providing aid to Israel despite some, you know, pretty troubling headlines of, that have angered a few members of Congress. What is the latest as far as, foreign aid goes, especially for those two nations?

Loren Duggan There could be a push this week to do that. The Senate passed its bill several months ago. Now that, had money for Ukraine and Israel and the Indo-Pacific. That’s been frozen in the house for now. There’s this discharge petition to try and break it loose, but it doesn’t have the requisite majority it would need. And some of those, signatures would have to come from Republicans who at this stage seem unlikely to do so. So if if Speaker Johnson can thread the needle on this, I use that phrase a lot. But it’s it’s a tough path. If he can come up with some sort of package that can win enough support. Maybe we’ll see a vote this week before they head out for a one week recess that’s scheduled. But if not, then we could see another week or several go without action on this. And if the House doesn’t pass what the Senate did, it has to go back to the Senate. And they would have to resolve that, too. So, we could still be a little ways away from a resolution on this question.

Eric White Yeah. You like you said, you keep on having to use the phrase thread the needle. No real honeymoon period at all for speaker Mike Johnson. I mean, he has been facing some tough debates, like you said, between his own party and of course, with Democrats. I mean, in the historical context, has there been a speaker that has been ran through the gamut as fast as speaker Mike Johnson?

Loren Duggan I think he’s got an unusual, lineage here. And, of course, there’s a threat hanging over his head from Marjorie Taylor Greene to possibly oust him, or at least force a vote on ousting him. Five months or whatever, into the job. And when we just had the first speaker ever thrown out by his own party in the middle of a Congress, as we saw with Kevin McCarthy. So it’s been a really tough conference to manage, maybe even impossible at times. I’m sure it feels that way, but that’s the dynamic that’s been real in this very narrowly divided house with, you know, we’ve kind of overlooked a very narrowly divided Senate, but it’s a really unusual kind of time in Congress.

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