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GOP races to pass Trump-backed bills in lame duck session of Congress.

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WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 06: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and members of his staff head to the floor of the Senate for the confirmation vote for Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh U.S. Capitol October 06, 2018 in Washington, DC. After days of testimony, weeks of protest and an additional five days of FBI investigation into accusations of sexual assault, Kavanaugh was confirmed by the Senate, 50-48. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Chip
Somodevilla/Getty Images


  • Republicans have to tackle a handful of must-pass legislation
    in the lame duck session or risk not being able to keep President
    Trump’s word on his campaign promises.
  • Congress has to fund the government and reauthorize the Farm
    Bill, or risk a partial shutdown.
  • There are also a number of key bipartisan issues facing
    resistance from leadership and the White House that senators are
    looking to push through in the final weeks of 2018.

WASHINGTON — During the lame duck session, the period after the
election but before the new Congress convenes in January,
lawmakers typically have a long list of legislation they want to
push through in the final two months of work.

This year’s lame duck session has a handful of things Republicans
want to get to President Donald Trump’s desk before Democrats
take back the majority control they earned on Election Day. But
first, Republicans will have to pass the remaining funding to
avoid another partial government shutdown — and even that is tied
to highly controversial proposals.

While funding the government is must-pass legislation, many
Republicans see the end of the year push as the final chance to
secure the funds to build Trump’s long-promised wall along the
US-Mexico border.


Read more: 


Jeff
Flake threatens to block Trump’s judicial nominees until Senate
votes on bill to protect Mueller

To make matters worse, Trump has repeatedly threatened to veto a
funding bill if it does not have money for his border wall
included.

“Could
 happen, yeah. Over border
security,” Trump told reporters on Thanksgiving when asked about
the prospect of a government shutdown. “The wall is just a part
of border security — a very important part. Probably the most
important part.
But 

could
 
there
 be

shutdown

There
 
certainly
 
could
.
And it will be about border security, of which the wall is a
part.”

The threats from Trump to cause a government shutdown over
wall funding are nothing new, but Republicans often fear finding
an agreeable path forward until Trump gives his blessing. And at
the current moment, the House and Senate funding bills look very
different, with the House plan offering $5 billion to beef up
border security compared to $1.6 billion in the Senate
bill.

Last minute initiatives

A major criminal justice reform proposal is being
considered as well, but has also been the cause of a lot of
Republican infighting over the bill’s specifics.

While proponents of the First Step Act want to see it
passed before the Congress disbands at the end of the year — and
Trump himself has pushed for the bill to be considered — Senate
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has remained hesistant to move
anything forward out of fear the Republicans opposed to it could
create divisions in the conference.

Spearheading the White House’s effort to move the bill has
been Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who also
attended the Senate Republicans’ closed door lunch on Tuesday
alongside Vice President Mike Pence in an effort to cultivate
support.

According to multiple senators in the room, Kushner did not
speak, but Pence did, offering vigorous support for the
bill.

When lawmakers emerged, McConnell told reporters that
Republicans “

had an extensive discussion” about
criminal justice reform. In addition, McConnell said they would
begin whipping the conference to gauge support for “not only the
substance, but the timing of moving forward with [the
legislation].”

A farm bill reauthorization hangs in the balance as well,
with major differences between the House and Senate versions
creating a jam.

The House version wants work requirements for able-bodied
individuals receiving food stamps. While Trump and most
Republicans back that proposal, the Senate’s version does not
have it included, making it particularly difficult to get through
when you also need to pass a 60-vote threshold with only 51
Republicans.

Controversial legislation hanging in the balance

The fate of US support for Saudi Arabia’s military intervention
in Yemen makes its way to the Senate floor this week, with many
Republicans and Democrats looking to invoke the War Powers
Resolution and offer their first rebuke to the Trump
administration for its tepid response to the killing of
Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Both Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State
Mike Pompeo are briefing senators on the US-Saudi relationship on
Wednesday, but some have find this unsatisfactory and are looking
for further answers from CIA Director Gina Haspel.

“I want somebody from the intel committee to come debrief
the Congress about what the gang of eight and the president have
heard about [Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman],” Sen.
Lindsey Graham told reporters on Tuesday. “The strategic
relationship is important, but the conduct of butchering a man in
your consulate violates every norm of civilized society. And what
makes the world a more dangerous place is when there are no more
rules left — when America looks the other way.”

Graham, who is not backing the effort to invoke the War
Powers Resolution, also noted Trump’s response to the killing of
Khashoggi, saying that while he understands the White House role
is about a “strategic relationship,” there is more at stake than
just business.

“The difference I have is I think to give MBS a pass if he
clearly is complicit — if — is a huge mistake for regional
stability, sets us back in terms of our ability to hold the world
together, and takes our voice off the table in a credible
fashion.”

Another pressing issue, which has created headaches for
McConnell, is retiring Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake’s
pledge to not support judicial confirmations
until he
receives a floor vote for the bipartisan bill aimed at putting
protections in place in the event Trump tries to fire Robert
Mueller, who is heading the special counsel tasked with
investigating Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

McConnell has the ultimate say on what makes it to the floor and
has signaled he would block any attempts to bring the special
counsel protections to a vote. But Republicans who are uneasy
with Flake’s tactics have showed some signs of breaking.

During an interview with conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt
early Tuesday morning, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn
acknowledged the Mueller protection bill could potentially get a
vote in the coming weeks.

“There is a possibility we will have a vote on the Mueller,
so-called Mueller protection bill, but I think there really is
some serious Constitutional issues on that, and I certainly don’t
support it,” Cornyn said.

It is still a long shot, and Republicans can still confirm
the large slate of Trump’s judicial nominations without Flake’s
support. But it certainly makes it difficult having to bring in
Pence for tie-breakers over and over again.

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