'Chaotic' US Congress faces whirlwind of shutdown, impeachment, border
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[February 26, 2024]
By David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Congress lurches into a new week of
political chaos on Monday, as lawmakers struggle to avoid a partial
government shutdown in just five days, while pushing for an
election-year trial of President Joe Biden's top border official.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives is also grasping for
a way forward on vital U.S. aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, and plans
to hear closed-door testimony from Biden's son, Hunter Biden, in an
impeachment probe that has failed so far to turn up evidence of
wrongdoing by the president.
Congress has been characterized by Republican brinkmanship and muddled
priorities over the past year, more so since Republican presidential
front-runner Donald Trump undermined a bipartisan border deal in the
Senate and now wants aid to U.S. allies extended as loans.
Almost two months have passed since Republican House Speaker Mike
Johnson and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer agreed on a
$1.59 trillion discretionary spending level for the fiscal year that
began on Oct. 1.
Since then, Congress has failed to follow through with the detailed
legislation that would put that agreement into effect.
"It's becoming more chaotic," said Brian Riedl, senior fellow at the
right-leaning Manhattan Institute. "The longer Congress is
dysfunctional, the further they fall behind on very time-sensitive,
That dysfunction has eclipsed classic partisan bickering between
Republicans and Democrats, with hardliners now forming their own
opposition party within Republican ranks.
Major ratings agencies say the repeated brinkmanship is taking a toll on
the creditworthiness of a nation whose debt has surpassed $34 trillion.
In the latest sign of an ungovernable House Republican majority, some
hardliners are threatening to oust Johnson as speaker, if the Christian
conservative allows a vote on the $95 billion foreign aid bill that
passed the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support.
On another front, the White House has stepped up personal attacks on
Johnson for blocking bills Biden supports.
Biden plans to meet with Schumer, Johnson and other congressional
leaders on Tuesday.
The most urgent task for Congress is averting a partial shutdown when
funding runs out at midnight Friday.
Lawmakers currently do not have a plan to prevent that from happening.
Schumer said on Sunday that Republicans need more time to "sort
themselves out," while Johnson accused Democrats of imposing new
Representative Tom Cole, a top appropriator, hopes to see as many as
four packages with discretionary funding for the entire government. The
House is expected to move first, though its rules mean lawmakers might
not vote until Thursday — the day before funds expire.
Some lawmakers worry that hardline demands for policy riders that
restrict access to abortion, defund diversity programs and promote gun
rights could cause further delay.
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A man uses his mobile phone near the U.S. Capitol in Washington,
U.S., January 10, 2024. REUTERS/Nathan Howard
But Representative Mike Simpson, a senior Republican appropriator,
said Congress can steer clear of a shutdown.
"We cannot let unrealistic policy expectations get in the way of
effective governing. We must get these bills across the finish
line," Simpson said in a statement.
IMPEACHMENT TIMING UNCLEAR
Further complicating the path forward, senators are due to be sworn
in as jurors for the trial of U.S. Homeland Security Secretary
Alejandro Mayorkas, who the House impeached along partisan lines on
Feb. 13 on charges that he has failed to enforce immigration law and
made false statements to Congress.
But a Senate trial cannot begin until the House delivers the
articles of impeachment, and sources said the two chambers have not
yet agreed on a delivery date.
To avert a shutdown, Schumer may need unanimous consent from
senators, including raucous Republican hardliners, if the chamber is
to act on appropriations before the Friday deadline.
"It's going to be difficult to get it done on time," said Senator
John Boozman, a senior Republican appropriator. "Hopefully, we won't
have a government shutdown. But if we do, just a few days as we're
working in good faith to get it passed, that really wouldn't mean
The absence of time has led to speculation that lawmakers could opt
for a short-term stopgap measure to keep federal agencies open while
Johnson and other Republicans oppose a short-term stopgap, known as
a continuing resolution or CR. But circumstances may have the last
"If it's an option between a three-day shutdown and a three-day CR,
I'd do the CR," said Representative Don Bacon, who would otherwise
reject another stopgap.
The House Freedom Caucus has instead urged Johnson to pass a
continuing resolution for the remainder of 2024 that would trigger a
1% across-the-board spending cut under a 2023 deal between Biden and
Johnson's predecessor, Kevin McCarthy.
Republican Senator Rick Scott, a staunch conservative, favors the
same approach, but with U.S. aid to Israel included, along with a
full-year defense appropriations bill to protect the Pentagon from
Representative Kelly Armstrong thinks most lawmakers will support
the emerging appropriations legislation and avoid a shutdown. But he
also sounded a note of skepticism.
"It's 2024, and it's Congress, so we'll see," the North Dakota
Republican said. "I've been through enough of this to know that
until the ink is dry, I can't guarantee anything."
(Reporting by David Morgan; Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan;
Editing by Scott Malone)
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