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National Govt & Politics
10 things to watch as Congress returns to work
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10 things to watch as Congress returns to work

10 things to watch as Congress returns to work
Photo Credit: Jamie Dupree

10 things to watch as Congress returns to work

After a week back home, lawmakers in Congress return to Capitol Hill this week with unfinished work and promised legislative action piling up on a variety of fronts, as White House calls for action on immigration are getting little traction, and the two parties continue to clash over investigations of the Trump Cabinet and Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

Let's take a look at what's on the agenda for Congress, and what lawmakers missed while they were out town.

1. More Stormy weather ahead? Since members weren't on Capitol Hill last week, one thing GOP lawmakers didn't have to talk about much were the latest revelations involving President Donald Trump, and legal settlement payments to porn star Stormy Daniels. But once members are back in the halls of Congress, reporters will be swarming them like bugs chasing you around the yard on a warm, humid, summer day. After comments made by Rudy Giuliani, it's still not clear what President Donald Trump knew about the payments to Daniels and when. And Giuliani didn't seem to clear that up on Sunday, either.

2. Immigration legislation? What immigration legislation? While lawmakers were gone, President Donald Trump again called for action in Congress on immigration. But while many GOP lawmakers have said they want to do something to tighten laws dealing with illegal immigrants in the U.S., there is not a majority in the House for a get-tough measure backed by the President - just as there wasn't close to a majority in the Senate for an immigration plan backed by Mr. Trump. Meanwhile, supporters of DACA in both parties are trying to get votes on a bill they want - but GOP leaders have resisted such a move. The White House keeps arguing for action - but nothing is expected any time soon - if at all.

3. The drip, drip, drip continues on Scott Pruitt. I'm sure it's happened before, but the number of critical stories that keep emerging about EPA chief Scott Pruitt doesn't seem to stop. Last week, four top officials left the EPA - some under scrutiny, some not, as Republicans led by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) said they would keep pressing for answers about how Pruitt has dealt with personal security costs, raises for employees and more. Meanwhile, the lobbyist couple who rented Pruitt a room for $50 a night, last week paid a $2,034 fine to the District of Columbia, for not having a license to rent the room. Pruitt will be back on Capitol Hill later this month for more hearings with lawmakers. So far, his job still seems secure.

4. A revised House GOP Intel report. If you missed it on Friday night, Republicans put out a slightly different version of their GOP report on Russian interference in the 2016 elections, removing blacked-out portions of text from a couple of pages in the report. The biggest news from the new information may well be that the FBI had a counter-intelligence probe going during the Trump Transition on top Trump aide Michael Flynn, who ultimately became National Security Adviser. While FBI agents who interviewed Flynn on January 24, 2017 didn't think he was lying about his contacts with Russia, transcripts from wiretaps of Flynn's conversations with the Russian Ambassador showed a much different story - which is what's spelled out in Flynn's guilty plea.

5. Expect more battles over Russia probe documents. Republicans in the Congress keep pushing the Justice Department to turn over documents related to the current investigation on Russian interference in the 2016 election. Last week, members of the House Freedom Caucus made it known that they might press for the impeachment Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, in a dispute over documents. On Sunday, there were further reports that GOP lawmakers might threaten Attorney General Jeff Sessions with contempt of Congress for not handing over documents from ongoing investigations. Many Democrats argue this goes hand-in-hand with attacks by the White House on the probe of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

6. Uranium One probe fades away. For months, Republicans vowed to uncover wrongdoing involving the Clinton Foundation and the sale of Uranium reserves to Russia. According to GOP lawmakers, the big ace-in-the-hole was said to be an FBI informant, who was going to blow the whistle on all sorts of wrongdoing. That informant, William Campbell, was brought in for a closed door interview. Democrats said it was a disaster for the GOP, that Campbell had no "evidence of a quid pro quo" that involved Hillary Clinton and Democrats in any way. After Democrats put out a scathing review of the testimony, Congressional Republicans pretty much dropped the Uranium One subject, as Campbell won't be appearing in any public hearing any time soon. The response of the House Oversight Committee - run by the GOP - was telling, in that it didn't sound like something explosive was about to be unveiled. For now, it's like Uranium One was never a big deal for the GOP.

7. The House chaplain mess. As members of the House left Capitol Hill in late April, word was just out that Speaker Paul Ryan was pushing out House Chaplain Patrick Conroy - for reasons that never really were clear. Was it a prayer that weighed in on how tax reform might impact the poor? Was it an inability to minister to more-southern GOP lawmakers? There were some rumblings from within GOP circles of a dissatisfaction with Conroy, and rumblings of dissatisfaction with having a Catholic in that post, because that person would not be married and/or have a family. What's ironic about that is the House never had a Catholic and/or Jesuit chaplain until 2000. Last week, the Speaker reversed his decision on Father Conroy, but it raised a lot of questions about why it was happening in the first place.

8. Congress waits on a new VA Secretary. While the attempted ouster of the House Chaplain was a mess, that paled in comparison to the turmoil involved in President Trump's choice for someone new to head the VA. With White House doctor Ronny Jackson no longer in the running, the President has evidently been reviewing a new batch of candidates - one of them includes former Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), who retired from the Congress after the 2016 elections. Miller was chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, but while he was popular with members of both parties, the politics of the VA are going to be rough - no matter what. These two tweets are a perfect example.

9. One less case, maybe one more for the Ethics Committee. With the surprise resignation of Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA), who was under an ethics probe related to a sexual harassment settlement involving a former employee, the House Ethics Committee no longer has jurisdiction over the Meehan matter. When Meehan resigned, he said he would repay a $39,000 taxpayer funded settlement within thirty days. (One should note that ex-Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) promised to repay an $84,000 settlement, but has not.) While the ethics panel no longer has jurisdiction over either of those cases, now there are calls to review a matter involving Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-CA). Last week, Cardenas said that he is the unnamed politician accused in a new lawsuit, which says that a then-teenage girl was possibly drugged and fondled in 2007. Top Democrats immediately called for an ethics review on Saturday.

10. Countdown to another shutdown showdown? Yes, the work is underway in the House and Senate Appropriations Committees on funding bills for 2019 - but it seems unlikely that Congress will be able to finish those spending measures on time, by September 30. Since Congress overhauled the budget process in the mid-1970's, lawmakers have finished their budget work on time just four different times - 1976, 1988, 1994 and 1996. That's it. While there is an agreement on the budget limits for next year, the clock is ticking. Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) has been on Twitter for weeks making that point, urging lawmakers to revamp the budget process.   My recommendation to fellow reporters on Capitol Hill would be to avoid planning major vacation time in early October.

 

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The Latest Headlines You Need To Know

  • A man who was shot and killed in an officer-involved shooting outside of a South Florida Mosque Friday afternoon was wanted in Osceola County for attempted murder. According to the Osceola County Sheriff's Office, Police in Broward County and U.S. Marshals had been looking for Hamid Ould-Rouis,58, who was accused of beating up a man and stabbing a woman nearly to death in a Kissimmee home early Thursday. The woman remains hospitalized in critical condition.  Members of the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force tracked him to the parking lot near the Masjid Al Iman mosque, in Fort Lauderdale. When he got out of a black SUV with a weapon, several officers opened fire. He died on the scene.  There is no indication that the mosque is related to the incident, officials said.  The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating the shooting.
  • Game dates and kickoff times for Orlando’s Camping World Bowl and Citrus Bowl games were announced Thursday as part of ESPN’s 2019-20 college football bowl schedule. This year, the Camping World Bowl, which traditionally features teams from the ACC and Big 12 conference will be broadcast on ABC for the first time in the bowl’s 30-year history.  It is set for Saturday, December 28 at Noon.  Last year’s contest saw Syracuse beat West Virginia 34-18 which helped guide the Orange to a 10-3 record, the team’s best finish since 2001.  The Citrus Bowl, which typically features teams from the ACC, SEC and Big Ten conference will continues its News Years Day tradition, kicking off at 1 o' clock on January 1, 2020.  It will also be broadcast on ABC.  In last year’s game, Kentucky defeated Penn State 27-24.  “We are thrilled to present two big-time bowl games from Orlando on national television this season,” Florida Citrus Sports CEO Steve Hogan said. “It’s an amazing opportunity to showcase the Central Florida community twice in five days this postseason.”  The Cure Bowl, Orlando’s third bowl game, had already announced that this years game will be played at Orlando City Stadium, on Saturday, Dec. 21.
  • A judge sentenced the man who admitted to killing a Wisconsin couple last year before holding their 13-year-old daughter captive for three months to life in prison without the possibility of supervised release. >> Read more trending news Jake Thomas Patterson, 21, appeared before a Barron County judge for sentencing in the killing of James and Denise Closs and the kidnapping of their daughter, Jayme, according to the Duluth News Tribune. He pleaded guilty in March to two counts of intentional homicide for gunning down James Closs, 56, and Denise Closs, 46, in the early morning hours of Oct. 15. He also pleaded guilty to one count of kidnapping for abducting Jayme. >> Man pleads guilty to kidnapping Wisconsin teen Jayme Closs, killing her parents Update 4:30 p.m. EDT May 24: A judge sentenced Patterson to life in prison without the possibility of parole for each of the intentional homicide charges to which Patterson pleaded guilty. The judge also gave Patterson the maximum sentence -- 40 years -- for kidnapping Jayme. Update 4:20 p.m. EDT May 24: In a brief, tearful statement in court, Patterson said he “would do like, absolutely anything to take back what I did.” “I would die,” he said. “I would.” Patterson’s attorneys asked a judge to sentence him to life in prison without the possibility of parole until 2072 for the killings of James and Denise Closs. The sentencing hearing is ongoing. Update 3:30 p.m. EDT May 24: In a statement read by an attorney Friday in court, Jayme said Patterson took many things from her but that, “He can never take my spirit away.” “He thought he could make me like him, but he was wrong,” she said. “He can’t stop me from being happy and moving forward with my life. I will go on to do great things in my life, and he will not. Jake Patterson will never have any power over me.” Chris Gramstrup, an attorney representing Jayme, read the victim impact statement in court. “He stole my parents from me,” Jayme said in the statement. “He stole almost everything I loved from me. For 88 days, he tried to steal me, and he didn’t care who he hurt or who he killed to do that. He should stay locked up forever.” Prosecutors said Jayme and her mother heard Patterson shoot and kill James Closs as they huddled together in a bathtub. Denise Closs called 911 as Patterson tried to batter down the bathroom door. Once he broke down the door, he wrestled the phone from Denise Closs and ordered her to tape Jayme’s mouth, hands and feet, prosecutors said. He told authorities that he thought she was doing a bad job, so he put down his shotgun to do it himself. Once Jayme was restrained, authorities said he picked up his shotgun again and, with Jayme feet from her mother, shot Denise Closs in the head. He then dragged Jayme to his car, threw her in the trunk and drove her to his home, where she was held captive for 88 days. Through Gramstrup, Jayme said her parents “did all they could to make me happy and protect me.” “He took them away from me forever,” Jayme said. “I felt safe in my home and I love my room and all of my belongings. He took all of that too. I don’t want to even see my home or my stuff because of the memory of that night. My parents and my home were the most important things in my life.” She said that since her escape in January, “It’s too hard for me to go out in public.” “I get scared and I get anxious,” she said. Prosecutors said Jayme escaped from Patterson’s home Jan. 10 after he left her alone. Original report: Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald said members of Jayme’s family are expected to give statements at Friday’s hearing, MPR News reported. The court proceeding is expected to last several hours, according to CNN. Under Wisconsin law, Patterson will face a mandatory life sentence for each of the homicide convictions, the Duluth News Tribune reported. The main question for Friday will be whether Patterson will eventually be eligible for parole, according to the newspaper. >> Who is Jake Thomas Patterson? Suspect in Jayme Closs kidnapping identified Authorities said Patterson admitted to targeting Jayme after seeing her get on a school bus while he was driving home from work one day. He told investigators he did not know the Closses before the attack. Jayme told authorities she woke early on the morning of Oct. 15 when the family dog started barking. She woke her parents and then hid with her mother in a bathroom. Investigators said Patterson shot and killed James Closs before he found Jayme and Denise Closs in the bathroom. >> Jayme Closs kidnapping: Suspect charged in Closs murders, bail set at $5 million Jayme said Patterson killed her mother before dragging her to his car and driving her to what would turn out to be his home in Douglas County. He was arrested after Jayme escaped Jan. 10 from his home and flagged down a woman walking her dog. >> Jayme Closs to be given $25K reward after she saved herself from accused kidnapper Jayme told investigators Patterson made her hide under the bed in his bedroom for as many as 12 hours at a time without food, water or bathroom breaks. She escaped after Patterson left her alone in the home 88 days after he first abducted her. Jayme is living with her aunt and uncle, the Stevens Point Journal reported.
  • House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler said he was OK on Friday after he appeared to nearly faint during a news conference in New York City. >> Read more trending news Nadler, D-N.Y., was appearing Friday at a news conference about plans to expand the city’s use of speed cameras in school zones when New York Mayor Bill de Blasio appeared to notice he looked pale, WABC-TV reported. Video from the news conference showed Nadler looking ill and weak as the mayor asked him if he wanted some water.  The New York Daily News reported that paramedics called a code blue emergency after Nadler appeared to suffer from a brief dizzy spell. He was given water and an orange and later taken by ambulance to Lenox Hill Hospital, according to the Daily News. “Appreciate everyone’s concern,” Nadler said in a statement posted later Friday on Twitter. “Was very warm in the room this morning, was obviously dehydrated and felt a bit ill. Glad to receive fluids and am feeling much better. Thank you for your thoughts.”
  • A Colorado man arrested in Utah earlier this year for threatening to “kill as many girls as (he saw)” has been sentenced to serve up to five years in prison, despite prosecutors’ recommendation that he serve probation.  Christopher Wayne Cleary, 27, of Denver, pleaded guilty to a charge of attempt to make a terroristic threat as part of a plea deal with Utah County prosecutors, according to The Deseret News. Cleary, who was arrested in Provo in January, was already on probation in Colorado on two previous convictions of stalking women, the newspaper reported.  Cleary expressed remorse over his words. “I’m just sorry for what happened,” Cleary told the court, according to the News.  Prosecutors in Utah negotiated a plea deal with Cleary for a third-degree felony charge instead of the second-degree felony with which he was initially charged, the News reported. In exchange for his plea -- which would let them secure a felony conviction -- they agreed to recommend no jail time. The plea bargain was aimed at helping Colorado authorities send Cleary to prison for violating his probation in the stalking cases, the News reported.  >> Related story: Man upset over not having girlfriend accused of mass shooting threat to girls Fourth District Judge Christine Johnson on Thursday declined to take the state up on its recommendation, citing her uncertainty of whether Cleary would serve any jail time for probation violation in Colorado, the newspaper said. “I don’t want to be in the position of guessing what Colorado is going to do,” Johnson said during Cleary’s sentencing hearing.  Cleary was arrested Jan. 19, the same day multiple women’s marches were being held in Utah and throughout the country, based on an alarming Facebook post he wrote the night before, the News said. In the post, he bemoaned his lack of romantic prospects and, like several mass shooters who have targeted women, blamed the opposite sex for his plight. “All I wanted was a girlfriend,” Cleary wrote, according to a police affidavit obtained by The Denver Post. “All I wanted was to be loved, yet no one cares about me. I’m 27 years old and I’ve never had a girlfriend before, and I’m still a virgin. This is why I’m planning on shooting up a public place soon and being the next mass shooter ‘cause I’m ready to die and all the girls the turned me down is going to make it right by killing as many girls as I see.” Another post stated, “There’s nothing more dangerous than (a) man ready to die,” the Post reported.  Cleary’s threats alarmed state and federal authorities in Colorado and neighboring Utah, where they traced his cellphone the following day. He was arrested at a McDonald’s in Provo and charged with making a terroristic threat.  Following his arrest, Cleary told investigators he was “upset and not thinking clearly” when he wrote the Facebook posts. According to the Post, he deleted the threats after other people called him and threatened him. Court records obtained by multiple newspapers paint a disturbing portrait of Cleary, who was accused of stalking and harassment by at least eight women and girls dating back at least seven years. The News reported that Cleary was also accused of threatening to bomb a grocery store in 2013 and threatened to commit a mass shooting at a mental health facility in 2016.  >> Read more trending news An 18-year-old Arvada woman called police on New Year’s Eve 2015 and reported that Cleary, with whom she’d been chatting on Facebook, began harassing her online and over the phone after she declined to go on a date with him. According to the Post, the woman told detectives he would use aliases, including one alias on Facebook named John Coleman. “I’ve been watching you,” the person claiming to be Coleman wrote to her on Facebook. “Soon here, you’ll be lying in your deathbed.” During that investigation, Arvada detectives found details of a previous criminal investigation in which Cleary told another woman who spurned his advances she should kill herself, the Post reported. He also posted her name and phone number in an online sex ad, offering her services for $20, court records show. In a prior misdemeanor harassment case from earlier in 2015, Cleary was convicted after talking a woman into posing naked for him and then posting the picture to a fake Facebook page in her name, the newspaper reported.  A harassment case from Denver found Cleary accused of writing threatening messages to a 17-year-old girl, including a message that said, “I own multipul (sic) guns. I can have u dead in a second. One day I’ma snap and kill everyone,” according to court documents. A second Denver case involved a 19-year-old woman who said she lived with Cleary in a hotel room for two weeks, during which time he choked her and urinated on her, the court documents said.  Cleary was convicted in October 2016 on two counts of stalking and harassment involving two of the three alleged victims in Arvada, the Post said. He was sentenced to two years of probation.  Cleary was arrested in yet another stalking case less than a year later. A 43-year-old Lakewood woman who had dated him called 911 Aug. 5, 2017, to report Cleary was stalking her. He was arrested outside the woman’s house. According to the Post, Cleary told investigators the woman was the only person who loved him and he was lonely without her. The woman told police she and Cleary had a sexual relationship -- contradicting Cleary’s claim earlier this year that he was a virgin. The victim told police Cleary, who began stalking her when she broke off the relationship, had called her 45 times that day, threatening her and telling her he hoped she would die.  “I am going to burn your house down,” Cleary told her, according to court records. “I am going to send people to your house to kill you.” Cleary also posted her phone number and address on Craigslist “soliciting sexual acts and rape,” according to a probable cause statement in the case. The woman said she’d received multiple phone calls from strangers due to the ad. The woman told police she lost 20 pounds and began having nightmares and anxiety attacks because of the stalking, the Post reported.  Cleary pleaded guilty to charges of felony stalking and making threats, the newspaper said. A judge in Jefferson County sentenced him last May to three years of probation.  Despite having violated his probation on the Arvada cases, he was not jailed following his guilty plea in the case involving the Lakewood woman, the Post reported. Pam Russell, a spokeswoman for the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office, said Cleary’s mental health played a part in his sentencing in that case, as well as in his 2016 stalking conviction, which was handled in Adult Mental Health Court.  “The courts decided to let his mental health issues be a big component of his treatment,” Russell told the Post.  Cleary’s defense attorney in the most recent case, Dustin Parmley, said this week that his client’s violent words are related to his mental illness, which he was reportedly diagnosed with at age 10. Cleary told investigators he takes medication for an impulse control disorder.  Parmley said Cleary’s words have never turned to action. Investigators found no evidence that Cleary had weapons or attempted to obtain any, the Post said.  The newspaper reported that four of the criminal investigations into Cleary ended without charges filed against him.  Cleary will serve his time in Utah before being transferred to Colorado to face probation violation charges there, the News reported. An official with the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole told the paper his earliest hearing could take place as soon as September. The News said the board could potentially set a release date at that time, or members could decide to keep him in prison. Cleary could serve the entire five years of his sentence before being returned to Colorado. 

Washington Insider

  • Victims of Hurricanes, floods, wildfires, and other natural disasters will have to wait into next month for Congress to give final approval to a $19.1 billion relief bill, as final passage of the plan in the House was blocked on Friday by a lone Republican lawmaker, forcing a delay until Congress returns for legislative business in the first week of June.   “I respectfully object,” said Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), a more conservative Republicans who stayed in town after the House had completed its legislative business on Thursday, and came to the floor Friday morning to object to acting on the plan without a full roll call vote.   The House had approved $19.1 billion in disaster aid in early May; the Senate on Thursday amended the plan with the backing of President Trump – but it wasn’t good enough to get unanimous consent for approval in the House. “If I do not object, Congress will have passed into law a bill that spends $19 billion of taxpayer money without members of Congress being present here in our nation’s capital,” Roy said on the House floor, forcing a further delay on the disaster aid measure. One of Roy’s objections was that no money was included in the plan for the immigrant surge along the southern border - President Trump had backed off of that in order to secure a deal on Thursday. Roy’s maneuver drew the scorn of fellow Republicans from states which are need of aid - like Georgia - where farmers suffered devastating losses from Hurricane Michael. Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA) tweeted that “our farmers need aid today,” as this move by his GOP colleague will delay that process into June, leaving a bad taste in the mouths of fellow Republicans with farmers in need of assistance.   Democrats were furious. “House Republicans’ last-minute sabotage of an overwhelmingly bipartisan disaster relief bill is an act of staggering political cynicism,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  “Countless American families hit by devastating natural disasters across the country will now be denied the relief they urgently need,” Pelosi added in a statement. “This is a rotten thing to do,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), who noted to reporters that Roy was blocking aid for his own home state of Texas. “We should have passed this months ago,” said Rep. Donna Shalala (D-FL), who asked for approval of the measure on the House floor. “I am beyond fed up. This is wrong,” said Rep. Cindy Axne (D-IA).  “This bill is about helping people – not about playing Washington politics.” “Republican politicians are playing games while people’s homes are literally underwater,” said Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH).   Unless Republicans relent next week, the House would not be able to set up a vote on the disaster aid measure until the week of June 3. “There are people who are really hurting, and he’s objecting,” Shalala said.  “He’s holding hostage thousands of people.”  The House has two ‘pro forma’ meetings scheduled for next week - on Tuesday and Friday.  Republicans could object to passing the bill at those times as well.