CONGRESS HEADS OUT OF TOWN, TO-DO LIST … HOUSE APPROPS PROCESS GRINDING TO A HALT … TRUMP REACHES MAGIC NUMBER … BERNIE REALLY, REALLY WANTS TO DEBATE TRUMP … IG SLAMS HILLARY … RED POPPIES AND MEMORIAL DAY AND ONE OF THE MOST MEMORABLE WAR POEMS EVER WRITTEN … and other news of the week.
Joyce Rubenstein and the Capstone Team (John Rogers, Alan MacLeod, Will Stone, Diane Rogers, Erik Oksala and Kayla Baca)
165 days to Election Day
CONGRESS HEADS OUT OF TOWN for Memorial Day recess, but lawmakers still have plenty of items on their to-do lists. Members on both sides of the aisle have pushed for action to address issues ranging from the Zika virus to authorizing defense programs. With roughly 60 legislative days left in 2016, here’s a look at what’s going on with some of the top issues in Congress (Roll Call):
“The mosquitos are coming” has been a frequent message in urging action on emergency funds to combat the Zika virus, which is spread through mosquitoes and has been proven to cause birth defects . In February, President Barack Obama requested that Congress allocate $1.9 billion for the effort. The Senate approved a compromise $1.1 billion measure on May 17, and the House approved a $622 million package the next day. House and Senate lawmakers will now go to conference on the appropriations measures that encompass the Zika packages, where Democrats and Republicans will have to find some consensus on how much should be spent to combat the virus, and whether and how that money should be offset with cuts.
The U.S. territory is facing a July 1 deadline to pay off some of its $72 billion in debt, as the island’s financial situation continues to spiral downward. The Puerto Rican governor has warned that the island could default on its payment unless Congress agrees on legislation to restructure its debt. A House committee approved a bipartisan bill this week to address the debt crisis, including creation of a fiscal control board. But the bill still faces opposition from some Democrats, with Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., pledging Thursday to “actively” work to defeat the bill, arguing it infringes on Puerto Rican’s rights. Other House Democrats say the bill is the best they could get. Its fate is not clear in the Senate, where leaders are reserving judgement until the House passes its bill. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he expects the Senate to take up the Puerto Rico legislation in mid or late June. But several Democratic senators raised concerns during their policy lunch about the House bill.
House and Senate lawmakers are preparing to go to conference on differing measures to combat the opioid epidemic. The Senate overwhelmingly approved the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act in March, and the House passed 18 separate bills on the epidemic two months later. As they work to reconcile the measures, Democrats in both chambers are also calling for Congress to pass emergency funding to address the crisis, but that effort has yet to go anywhere.
FLINT WATER CRISIS
Lawmakers have been working for at least six months to assist the people of Flint, Michigan, who are dealing with a water contamination crisis that began in 2014. A $220 million aid package was included in the text of a water development bill in the Senate, which a Senate committee approved in late April. As the bill awaits floor time in the Senate, Michigan Rep. Dan Kildee, a Democrat from Flint, tried unsuccessfully to call up a federal aid package this week. House Democrats plan to look for a vehicle to provide aid for Flint as the House takes up additional spending bills.
The Senate continues to grind through spending bills, approving three of the 12 this month. The House approved one, while a second bill went down in a dramatic fashion over controversial amendments, throwing the future of the appropriations process into question. (See more below)
Last week the House passed a measure authorizing defense programs, and this week the Senate began the process to bring its own measure to the floor. Senate Democrats have slowed consideration of the bill, arguing they need more time to examine the more than 1,600-page measure that was marked up in closed sessions. Republicans chided Democrats for slow-walking the measure, particularly just before Memorial Day. Contentious floor fights over issues such as women in the draft and the Guantanamo Bay detention center are also expected as the Senate continues work in June.
CRIMINAL JUSTICE OVERHAUL
Improving the criminal justice system has rare bipartisan support in Congress. House Judiciary Chairman Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., was optimistic Thursday that the House would take up some criminal justice measures soon, according to The Wall Street Journal. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Thursday that House action could spur the Senate to move on a bipartisan sentencing bil . Though Sen. Tom Cotton, R-AK., a key opponent of the Senate bill, has declared it ‘dead.’
AFTER BREAK HERE’S WHAT THE SCHEDULE LOOKS LIKE So, Congress has plenty to do when lawmakers return from Memorial Day weekend. They face a shortened legislative calendar: Two weeks off in July for the presidential conventions, the entire month of August and most of October off. “Everybody’s aware that the window is closing,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Thursday. “But it’s always been that way, and sometimes that creates a sense of urgency and it helps get things done.”
NOW WE’VE GOT PROBLEMS – HOUSE APPROPS PROCESS COMES TO A GRINDING HALT MorningD “The House appropriations process stalled on Thursday over the energy and water bill, and while House leaders vowed to keep the bills moving, it could spell trouble for the defense appropriations measure, which was likely the next in line when the House returns from its week-long Memorial Day recess in June.” “House conservatives on Thursday blocked passage of a relatively uncontroversial energy and water spending measure after Democrats attached an amendment that would bar federal contractors from discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The appropriations bill failed 305-112, with a majority of Republicans opposed because of the gay rights provision, which would have the effect of enacting into law a 2014 executive order by President Barack Obama. Democrats also heavily voted against it over objections to other GOP-sponsored add-ons, including one related to immigration. The death of an appropriations bill on the House floor underscores the challenges ahead for Speaker Paul Ryan if he wants to continue his commitment to so-called regular order, a process under which lawmakers have more say in what’s voted on.”
WORTH NOTING FOR DEFENSE WATCHERS: The fight over LGBT discrimination and contractors started with the National Defense Authorization Act two weeks ago. But the issue didn’t blow up on that bill like it has on two appropriations measures for one key reason: The House Rules Committee controlled what went to the floor on the NDAA, while the appropriations bills are an open amendment process. On Thursday, Ryan said he would not rule out changes to the “open” amendment process.
WHO YOU GONNA BLAME? Roll Call “Who is to blame when a free-for-all amendment process causes a $37.4 billion spending bill to collapse on the House floor? The inclination may be to point the finger at Speaker Paul D. Ryan, who assumed the House’s top job in October promising to open up more bills to amendments from both sides of the aisle. The Wisconsin Republican blamed Democrats for Thursday’s rare failure of an appropriations measure. He said they “sabotaged” the process by pushing for adoption of an LGBT anti-discrimination amendment and then voted against the larger energy and water bill, which went down 112-305 with 175 Democrats and 130 Republicans voting no. WHAT REALLY,HAPPENED The GOP conference effectively ousted former Speaker John A. Boehner for his top-down leadership style when he controlled what amendments and bills would be allowed in floor votes. … The speaker has said over and over again that leadership would not predetermine the outcome of legislation, and largely followed that mantra except when it comes to a budget resolution Republicans have refused to bring up for a vote because they know it will fail. The inability to pass the energy and water bill, Ryan said, shows that an open legislative process means more unpredictability and can lead to bills failing. “That’s what happened here today,” he said. “It’s unfortunate because this is a very good bill.”
SENATE TEES UP NDAA DEBATE: The Senate … agreed to formally begin debate on the annual defense policy bill on Monday, June 6. The Senate will also take up and vote then on an amendment from Republican Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska to modify provisions in the bill aimed at maintaining military health care providers’ wartime medical readiness skills. The NDAA stalled on the Senate floor this week after Democrats, led by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, objected to formally considering it, accusing Republicans of trying to rush through the 1,666-page measure. So far, 241 amendments have been filed for floor consideration, as of Thursday evening, with dozens of the notable amendments here, for Pros.
THE WOMEN-IN-THE-DRAFT DEBATE: A group of Republican senators is pushing to strip a provision in the NDAA requiring women to register for a military draft. Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah has filed an amendment to remove the controversial provision, replacing it with a requirement for the Pentagon to report to Congress on the continued need for the Selective Service System.”
TRUMP REACHES MAGIC NUMBER AP “It takes 1,237 delegates to win the Republican nomination. Trump has reached 1,239 … With 303 delegates at stake in five state primaries on June 7, Trump will easily pad his total, avoiding a contested convention in Cleveland.”
TRUMP IS BORROWING THE GOP BRAND WashPost “The constituency he has attracted is certainly more conservative than liberal and far more Republican than Democratic. But the core issues that have brought him to this position – immigration, national identity, trade and jobs … speak to a candidate who looks at the electorate far differently than the typical Republican or Democrat. …
“Clinton’s campaign … sees the electorate as a series of constituencies to be wooed and won: women, Latinos, African Americans, millennials. Her messaging and advertising will target them one by one by one. Her overall message, that the country is stronger together, projects a desire for greater national unity, but she and her advisers have particular groups of voters in mind …
“Trump’s campaign … seems oblivious to all that. He certainly has a core constituency: white voters without college degrees. But through the primaries, his appeal was crosscutting, something that surprised and befuddled his opponents. Trump cut into the evangelical vote in ways no one had predicted he could. He did well among very conservative Republicans, among somewhat conservative Republicans and among the party’s moderate block. …
“[W]hen confronted with evidence that he’s potentially tanking among women and Hispanics, … [he] predicts he will do better … than polling suggests, but he’s doing nothing to suggest he has a strategy for doing so. Quite the opposite.”
NEW POLL HAS BAD NEWS FOR TRUMP IN MIDWEST The Fix “There are three arguments that Donald Trump has made over time to explain how he’ll win the White House. He began with vague assurances that he’d win, without providing many specifics. Then he evolved into naming states, seemingly at random. (He has, at times, mentioned deep-blue states like his home state of New York, which he will not win.) Of late, he’s homed in on a few more-feasible options: winning the Rust Belt states of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan in November. More feasible, but not entirely feasible. Pennsylvania and Michigan have voted Democratic in every election since 1988. (Ohio is a swing state, of course, so that’s a bit more realistic.) Central to Trump’s argument is that he’ll increase turnout and support from working-class white voters, enough to counteract votes from heavily Democratic (and less-white) parts of each state. NOT SO FAST On Thursday, Bloomberg Politics released a poll that cast some doubt on that happening. Pollster Purple Strategies surveyed voters in Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan who earn between $30,000 and $75,000 a year — what they call “middle income.” Their choice for president? Hillary Clinton, by 7 points.”
BERNIE REALLY, REALLY WANTS TO DEBATE TRUMP Jimmy Kimmel brokered the deal, asking Trump … on his show if he’d debate Sanders, and Trump said he would if it was done for charity. Sanders tweeted, “Game on.”
TOP TWEET — @SopanDeb, Trump reporter for CBS News: “Multiple sources tell @Cbsnews that Trump was kidding about debating Sanders & it will never happen. (H/t @stevechaggaris and @MajorCBS).”
IG IREPORT SLAMS CLINTON EMAIL USE VOX “On Wednesday, the State Department’s inspector general released a long-awaited report on the email practices of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, other former secretaries of state, and the State Department more broadly. The report … pretty clearly concludes that Clinton’s practices around using a personal email account for all her State Department business were not “appropriate.” Now, this inspector general’s report isn’t the main event in the Clinton email scandal — that’s the FBI probe into whether any criminal activity, such as mishandling of classified information, took place. That’s still underway, though there are reports that it may be nearing completion.”
JOHN HEILEMANN on “Morning Joe”: “I think there’s a pretty good chance Elizabeth Warren’s going to wind up on the ticket. … I actually think it might happen.”
OBAMA IN HIROSHIMA Playbook “With a hug of a hibakusha survivor and a long rumination on the ‘core contradiction’ between creative imagination and destruction that runs through human history, President Barack Obama came here Friday in front of the city’s iconic A-bomb dome and urged a rethinking of what happened. Neither apologizing for nor re-examining the decision to drop the bombs here and at Nagasaki, Obama said the shared pain must now become a shared responsibility to wake up again to the nuclear threat – not a flowery call for peace for the sake of peace, but for the sake of stopping any more parents and children from the suffering unleashed here seven decades ago.”
RED POPPIES ON MEMORIAL DAY Most individuals are familiar with the symbolism of the red poppy. Worn in commemoration of American veterans, the cheerful, cherry-colored flowers are a traditional emblem. The tradition began with a poem In Flanders Fields, written by Lt. Col. John McCrae and published on December 8, 1915. It remains to this day one of the most memorable war poems ever written. It is a lasting legacy of the terrible battle in the Ypres salient in the spring of 1915.
In Flanders Fields
By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.