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Congress Faces Make-or-Break Week on Stimulus, Government Funding, and Defense Bill

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  • Congress is facing three major deadlines this week: the stimulus bill, the government funding bill, and a defense bill that provides troop raises. All three, however, remain up in the air.
  • Democratic leaders and key Republican senators have said they will support the bipartisan $908 billion stimulus bill, but Senate Majority Leader McConnell has refused to sign on.
  • If lawmakers don’t finish hashing out the final details of the $1.4 trillion government funding bill, the government will shut down on Friday.
  • Lawmakers have floated a one-week extension that would give them more time to debate the government funding bill and the stimulus package, which will likely be tacked on to the omnibus spending legislation.
  • While both chambers are set to approve the annual defense spending bill this week, President Trump has threatened to veto the bipartisan legislation that has been signed into law for 59 straight years unless it repeals Section 230, an entirely unrelated law that grants legal protections for social media companies.

Stimulus Package

Congress is headed for a busy and chaotic week as lawmakers near key deadlines to pass another coronavirus relief stimulus package, government funding legislation, and the defense budget bill. 

Members have recently made some of the most concrete strides towards the approval of a stimulus bill after a bipartisan group of senators announced a $908 billion stimulus proposal last week.

Among other things, that proposal includes an additional $300 a week in expanded unemployment benefits, $288 billion for loans to small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program and other similar programs, $160 billion for state and local governments, $25 billion in housing assistance, and short-term federal protections for businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits.

While many senators have agreed to the idea in principle, the bipartisan group has not yet rolled out an official bill with formal language laying out these policies, though they are expected to do so by Monday night.

However, even if the group does reach an agreement among themselves, the question still remains: will leadership sign on?

Democratic leaders did throw their support behind the general bipartisan proposal last week, but they were careful with the phrasing of their endorsement. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-Ny.) both agreed to the plan as a basis for negotiations.

McConnell Refuses to Sign On

When it comes to the country’s top Republicans, it is a very different story. Even as more and more key rank and file Republican Senators have signaled their approval, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has still refused to embrace the bipartisan plan.

For months McConnell repeatedly claimed Democrats were the sole reason there was not a proposal because they would not compromise with Republicans. In reality, both sides were guilty of not budging from the plans they wanted.

Now that Democrats have agreed to make concessions and strike an agreement, McConnell is refusing to do the same. Still, the Senate leader continued to call for bipartisanship last week while also proposing his own plan that breaks drastically with top Democratic priorities.

McConnell’s plan, which is very similar to the previous bill he already brought to the floor in recent months that has now failed to pass twice, also lacks numerous provisions Democrats have made clear must be in any legislation they agree to.

Most significantly, McConnell’s proposal does not include any federal unemployment benefits, despite the fact that he knows that extending federal joblessness aid is a dealbreaker for Democrats.

Even more perplexing is the fact that extended joblessness is also something Republicans have generally agreed to, though they differ on how much benefits should be allocated.

Trump’s Role in Stimulus

Despite McConnell’s insistence, even some of the staunchest Republicans have said his plan is not a good idea.

On Thursday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-Sc.) told reporters that while he would support what the leader wants to propose but, “it doesn’t have any Democratic support. I’m tired of doing show votes here.”

Graham also said that he supports the $908 billion bipartisan deal. and added that he has talked to President Donald Trump about the plan “extensively.” As for Trump, he has been largely quiet and uninvolved in the most recent round of negotiations.

He has largely delegated the process to McConnell, who has used the position to push for the proposal he wants, arguing last week that Trump would veto the $908 billion deal. However, McConnell’s claims seem to be at odds with comments from Graham and other key Republicans.

On Sunday, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), one of the lawmakers leading the bipartisan deal, told Fox News that Trump has in fact indicated he would sign onto the $908 billion proposal. 

Trump, for his part, has offered vague mixed messages to the public. When asked by a reporter Thursday if he supported “this bill,” Trump said he would, though it was not clear which proposal he meant. A spokesperson later clarified that the president had meant McConnell’s plan, that does not mean he would veto a bigger one if it was sent to his desk.

Government Funding Bill

While many have said this week is basically make-or-break for any hopes of a stimulus before Biden takes office, there have also been talks among leadership of tacking the bill onto the massive year-end spending package.

At the end of every calendar year, Congress must pass a bill to fund the government through the next fiscal year. If they do not pass that legislation by the slotted deadline, which this year is Dec. 11, the federal government will shut down.

Congressional leaders have agreed in principle to a massive $1.4 trillion omnibus bill, but there are still some details that are being worked out, including President Trump’s demand for the border wall funding and disputes over a Veterans Affairs health funding cap, among other things.

Notably, given the number of differences remaining on this spending bill as well as a coronavirus relief bill, it has been reported that members will likely pass a one-week stopgap measure to avoid a government shutdown and give themselves another week to sort everything out.

Meaning that if the stimulus bill is incorporated into this much larger spending bill, Congress will also have another week to find common ground there as well. It’s unclear if an agreement will be reached after months of deadlock.

If they do not agree on something either this week or next week, assuming they approve this stopgap extension, it is almost certain there will not be another stimulus bill until president-elect Joe Biden takes office.

Biden has said it will be a priority of his to pass a stimulus package regardless of whether or not Congress approves this $908 billion one, that would still mean Americans would have to go more than a month without the desperately needed aid.

Unless federal unemployment programs and evictions moratoriums are extended, upwards of 12 million people are subject to lose all their benefits entirely by the end of the year, and as many as 6.7 million renter households — or roughly 19 million people — will risk being evicted in the coming months. 

Defense Funding Bill

While both the stimulus proposal and the government funding bill will likely be up in the air for another two weeks, there is at least one vote Congress is expected to hold soon, the annual bill that funds the Department of Defense.

That bill, known as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is set to be voted on by the House tomorrow and the Senate sometime later this week. While it is expected to pass both chambers with huge bipartisan majorities, the problem here lies with President Trump.

Despite the fact that the NDAA is a bipartisan bill that has been signed into law for 59 straight years, Trump has threatened to veto the $740 billion bill unless Congress agrees to repeal Section 230 — a completely unrelated 1996 law that gives social media companies the ability to moderate posts on their platforms without liability. 

Trump has recently argued that the section is a threat to national security. However, he has not provided any evidence for this claim. He also has not given any other reasons why he will veto the bill that funds the military and gives raises to troops and military readiness unless Congress repeals a totally unrelated legal shield for social media companies.

Many believe he simply is angry that Twitter has been flagging his tweets for spreading misinformation about the election, and as a result, no such repeal or amendment of the section is included in the current version of the NDAA set to be approved by both chambers this week.

Notably, if Trump does veto the bill, it is very possible he will be overridden. House Democrats have said they will have a two-thirds majority in the House to override the veto, and many Republicans in the Senate have also signaled they would vote to override.

Even if they fail to override the veto, the bill could easily be passed again when Biden takes office in January. Still, this will be a key moment to watch because if Trump’s veto is overridden, it would be a massive rebuke that comes right as he is no longer about to be president.

In addition to not including the Section 230 repeal, the bill contains other provisions that Trump has openly opposed. This is removing Confederate names from army bases — a measure Trump separately threatened to veto over in June but has not mentioned in recent months. The bill is also taking aim at other Trump policies like his troop withdrawals and border wall. 

Trump, for his part, has spent most of his free time railing against the election outcome and continuing to spread false claims, and it is currently unclear how he will ultimately fit into Congress’ schedule as it rushes to wrap up the session before the December holidays.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (Reuters)

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Biden Outlines $1.9 Trillion Stimulus Plan

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  • President-elect Joe Biden unveiled a sweeping $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief stimulus proposal on Thursday.
  • Under the plan, $1 trillion would go to direct relief for Americans. This includes a round of $1,400 stimulus checks, an extension and $400 weekly increase to federal unemployment benefits, and a $15 minimum wage.
  • The proposal would also allocate $440 billion for aid to local governments and businesses, as well as provide $400 billion to directly fight the coronavirus with more testing and vaccinations, among other efforts.

Biden Outlines Direct Aid in Stimulus Plan

President-elect Joe Biden announced the details of his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief stimulus package while speaking at an event in Wilmington, Delaware on Thursday.

Biden described the package, titled “American Rescue Plan,” as a set of emergency measures to immediately address the country’s economic and healthcare needs. The package will be followed by a second, broader relief package in February, which will aim to address more long-term economic recovery efforts.

Most significantly, $1 trillion — more than half of the funding allocated in the first package — will go to direct relief for Americans. Among other measures, the direct aid provisions in the plan include increasing federal unemployment benefits from $300 a week to $400 a week and extending them from March to September.

Biden’s plan also includes $1,400 stimulus checks to top off the $600 already approved in the December stimulus package. However, eligibility for the direct payments would be expanded to families of non-citizen immigrants as well as families with adult dependents.

Additionally, the proposal includes several other measures targeted at directly helping struggling Americans, such as raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, adding billions in funding for child care, and expanding the child tax credit to poor and middle-class families.

Broader Goals

As for the broader economic and pandemic-centered measures, Biden’s package would allocate $440 billion for aid to states, local governments, and businesses. It would also provide $400 billion to directly fight the coronavirus, with a major focus on expanding testing and accelerating vaccine distribution.

Biden has set the dual goals of delivering 100 million vaccines and reopening the majority of K-12 public schools in his first 100 days. To meet that objective, his plan includes $20 billion for a universal vaccination program, $50 billion to expand testing, and $130 billion to help schools reopen safely.

The proposal, overall, meets many of the demands for direct aid that Democrats have pushed for months but have been unable to approve with the Republican-controlled Senate. Now that Democrats hold the presidency and control of both chambers, many members have urged Biden to ask for an even higher price tag.

Biden, for his part, has said he would like to try for a bipartisan majority on his first piece of legislation, but given Republicans months-long resistance to many Democratic asks, that desire is likely a pipe-dream.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNN)

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Democrats Ask for Investigation into GOP Members Aiding Rioters

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  • More than 30 House Democrats signed a letter Wednesday demanding that security officials look into “suspicious behavior and access given to visitors” at the Capitol the day before last week’s insurrection.
  • The lawmakers claimed they “witnessed an extremely high number of outside groups” visiting, including guests who “appeared to be associated with the rally at the White House the following day.”
  • The letter comes one day after Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) accused her Republican colleagues of bringing rioters into the Capitol the day before for “reconnaissance.” 
  • Notably, neither the letter nor Sherill herself directly named any members, and these claims have not yet been verified.

Demands for Investigation

Congressional Democrats are demanding an investigation into whether Republican representatives aided the Capitol rioters who lead last Wednesday’s insurrection.

In a letter signed by 31 members Wednesday, lawmakers asked the acting House and Senate Sergeants at Arms to look into “suspicious behavior and access given to visitors” the day right before the attack. 

In that letter, the Democrats say that they as well as some of their staffers “witnessed an extremely high number of outside groups” visiting the Capitol.

They pointed out that was unusual because the building has restricted public access since March as part of pandemic protocols. Since then, tourists have only been allowed to enter the Capitol if they were brought in by a member of Congress.

The members found the tours “so concerning” that they reported them to the Sergeant at Arms the same day.

“The visitors encountered by some of the Members of Congress on this letter appeared to be associated with the rally at the White House the following day,” the letter continued. “Members of the group that attacked the Capitol seemed to have an unusually detailed knowledge of the layout of the Capitol Complex.” 

The demands come after Rep. Mikie Sherrill (R-NJ) claimed during a Facebook livestream Tuesday that she saw Republican representatives bringing now-identified rioters into the Capitol the day before the riots for “reconnaissance.” Sherrill also alleged that some of her GOP colleagues “abetted” Trump and “incited this violent crowd.”

Members Under Fire

Neither the letter nor Sherill have directly named any members, and none of these claims have yet been verified. However, over the last few days, a number of Republicans have been condemned for their perceived involvement in inciting the rioters.

In a now-deleted video, right-wing conspiracy theorist and “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander claimed he had planned the rally that took place before the riot with the help of three House Republicans: Paul Gosar (Az.), Andy Biggs (Az.), and Mo Brooks (Al.). All three men voted to undermine the will of the American people and throw out the electoral votes in Arizona following the insurrection. 

Biggs and Brooks have both denied that they have any involvement, but Gosar, who tagged Alexander in a tweet he posted just hours before the attack, has not responded to any requests for comment from several outlets.

“Biden should concede,” Gosar wrote. “I want his concession on my desk tomorrow morning. Don’t make me come over there. #StopTheSteaI2021”

While Brooks has denied any involvement in planning the rally, his remarks to the would-be domestic terrorists at the event have sparked widespread condemnation.

“Today is the day that American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass,” he told the crowd. “Are you willing to do what it takes to fight for America?”

Some House Democrats introduced resolutions to censure Brooks for his comments. Other members have also been pushing to invoke Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, a relic of the post-Civil War era which disqualifies people who “have engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the U.S. from holding public office. 

Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) has also received 47 co-sponsored on her proposed resolution that would start investigations for “removal of the members who attempted to overturn the results of the election and incited a white supremacist attempted coup.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNN)

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House Impeaches Trump By Largest Bipartisan Margin in History

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  • The House voted to impeach President Donald Trump on Wednesday for “inciting an insurrection,” making him the first-ever president to be impeached twice.
  • Ten Republicans broke party ranks to vote in favor of impeachment, which means this is the most bipartisan impeachment in U.S. history.
  • Ahead of the vote, sources close to Senate Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters he believes Trump committed impeachable offenses and that he was pleased Democrats were moving forward with a vote because it will make it easier to “purge” Trump from the party.
  • McConnel later said he has not yet decided whether he will vote to convict Trump. Still, he has refused to convene the Senate before Jan. 19, meaning that as of now, there is little chance that the Senate will conduct a trial and oust Trump before his term ends.

House Debates Impeachment

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 232 to 197 to impeach President Donald Trump on Wednesday for “inciting an insurrection,” making him the first-ever president to be impeached twice.

All Democrats voted in favor of the single article. They were also joined by 10 Republicans, which means this is the most bipartisan impeachment in U.S. history.

The decision was debated on the floor after Vice President Pence rejected Democrats’ calls to invoke the 25th amendment and remove Trump from office.

Most notable among the Republican members who voted to impeach was Liz Cheney (R-WY), the number three House Republican who announced her decision Tuesday night.

“There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution,” she said in a statement.

Questionable Path in Senate

No Republican Senators have publicly said they support removing Trump from office.

On Tuesday, The New York Times reported that sources close to Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said he “has told associates that he believes President Trump committed impeachable offenses and that he is pleased that Democrats are moving to impeach him, believing that it will make it easier to purge him from the party.”

Sources separately told Axios that “there’s a better than 50-50 chance” that McConnell would vote to convict Trump.

McConnell responded to the reports earlier on Wednesday but did not outright dispute many of the claims.

“While the press has been full of speculation, I have not made a final decision on how I will vote and I intend to listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate,” he said.

As for whether or not other members of the GOP would follow suit, a top Republican close to McConnell also told Axios that “Senate institutional loyalists are fomenting a counterrevolution” to Trump. 

Additionally, McConnell’s advisers have said that he has “privately speculated that a dozen Republican senators — and possibly more — could ultimately vote to convict.” Notably, it would most likely require 17 Republicans to join Democrats in order for Trump to be found guilty.

In regards to a timeline, the Senate is in recess and not set to reconvene until Jan. 19, the day before Joe Biden’s inauguration. McConnell has rejected calls to ask that members return before then, meaning that as of right now there is very little chance that the Senate will conduct a trial and oust Trump before he leaves office.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNN)

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