With the 2020 race for President already bubbling in the background, lawmakers in the House and Senate return to Capitol Hill Monday after a two week break for Easter, with little to suggest that any bipartisan agreements are near on a range of issues from billions of dollars in disaster relief, to new steps on illegal immigration, health care, and more.
"Congress has to fix these horrible immigration laws," President Trump said at a campaign rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin, on Saturday night.
The House and Senate now have a four week work session that runs to a Memorial Day break - here's some of what we can expect (or not expect) to see done in the halls of Congress:
1. No sign of legislative action on illegal immigration. While President Trump repeatedly calls for action on immigration in the Congress, lawmakers return to work with no votes planned on any changes in immigration laws, which Mr. Trump has repeatedly labeled as 'weak' and 'pathetic.' "Democrats must change our immigration laws right now," the President said in a speech to the National Rifle Association on Friday. "Right now." But absent from those calls for action is any talk about Republicans in the Senate taking the lead for the White House on immigration - as just like on the issue of repealing and replacing the Obama health law - Senate Republicans certainly support the President's goal, but aren't in agreement on a bill to get that job done. The last time the Senate dealt with the President's immigration ideas in February of 2018, only 39 Senators voted for the Trump immigration package. We'll see how much heat the President tries to create on Congress - or if his talk is aimed more at Democrats than anything else.
2. Still no deal on disaster relief bill. The House passed a $14 billion disaster relief bill back in January to help those hit by hurricanes in Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas, by wildfires in California, and continuing aid for Puerto Rico from hurricane damage in 2017. But the Senate has never been able to come to an agreement on a plan - spurred in part by opposition from the Trump Administration to some of the aid for Puerto Rico. With no signs of a deal in the Senate, the House is going to bring up another bill for a vote in May - a $17.2 billion disaster relief package, which now includes aid for areas hit by recent flooding in the Midwest, as Democrats hope that can help the deadlock on disaster aid in the Senate. The Acting head of FEMA will testify before a House panel on Tuesday - his message is that the White House isn't budging on extra aid for Puerto Rico.
3. Top Democrats to meet with Trump on infrastructure. If there is one issue which has a chance to bring some bipartisan deal making, it would be on more money for new roads and bridges - and on Tuesday, President Trump will meet with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer on that matter. But over two years into Mr. Trump's time in office, he has talked repeatedly about an infrastructure plan, and then balked at the idea of the feds funding more than $200 billion in new road money. The problem is that the federal gas tax hasn't been raised since 1993 - and unless both parties can come up with a plan to funnel new money into the highway trust fund, that remains the big hurdle to an infrastructure deal. Some would like to see Congress pass a bill to let the states again put tolls on interstate highways as a funding option.
4. Still waiting on the US-Mexico-Canada trade deal. If you listen closely to top Trump Administration officials and President Trump, they talk an awful lot about Congress approving the new version of the NAFTA trade deal between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. "It's a great deal and it's going to be very really good for manufacturers and really, really good for the farmers," the President said Saturday night to a campaign rally in Wisconsin. "That's what we wanted to put a lot of pressure on your Congressmen and your Senators because they have to ratify it," Mr. Trump added. But the Congress can't vote on it when it hasn't been submitted to lawmakers for a vote as yet. Look at this tweet below from Vice President Mike Pence - he makes it sound like the deal has been sent to the House and Senate for action - but, again - it hasn't been submitted.
5. Democrats joust over hearing on "Medicare For All." You will hear a lot in coming days about a House hearing on the idea of expanding the Medicare program. Supporters say this would be a way to provide access to health care coverage - opponents say it's nothing but an assault on the health care industry, and the wild dreams of a bunch of Socialist Democrats. But behind the scenes about this Tuesday hearing in Democratic circles is some angst among more liberal activists, who aren't convinced that Speaker Pelosi and other top Democrats in Congress are really going to try to pass a Medicare for All bill. One recent story quoted a top Pelosi health care aide as calling this a 'check the box' hearing - which has some currency, given that it's happening before the House Rules Committee, not exactly considered the prime committee of jurisdiction for major health care legislation.
6. The tussle over the Obama health law continues. While a lot of battling is to be expected over the Mueller Report and the Russia Investigation, Democratic lawmakers fully believe their playbook for success in 2020 lies in confronting Republicans over health care policy. In a video confrontation which got a lot of attention from Iowa over the break, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) was on the defensive when asked why he had voted repeatedly to repeal the Obama health law and its protections for those with pre-existing medical conditions - an item that Democrats used to great advantage in the 2018 mid-terms. On Friday in a speech to the National Rifle Association, President Trump again proclaimed that he was ready to get rid of the Obama health law, and Democrats were ready with their replies, as the GOP talks about making big health care policy changes, but has produced no bill that has a chance of being approved in the Senate - let alone both houses of Congress.
7. Democrats to bring up climate change plan for vote. The featured bill on the schedule in the House this week is on climate change, known as the "Climate Action Now Act." While it's a big deal for party activists, the plan doesn't make any direct changes in how the nation deals with climate change, pollution, and global warming - other than trying to hamstring President Trump's efforts to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change. The bill would also force the Trump Administration to put forward "a plan for the United States to meet its nationally determined contribution under the Paris Agreement" within 120 days. While this will generate a lot of heat on the floor of the House, this bill will be dead on arrival in the U.S. Senate.