House heads into holiday recess with long to-do list left undone

The Senate will delay its holiday recess and return next week.

December 14, 2023, 3:51 PM

The House kicked off its holiday recess Thursday while the Senate will return to Washington next week as Congress faces a long to-do list that includes aid to Ukraine and Israel, which President Joe Biden says is urgently needed.

A massive military aid package for Israel and Ukraine remains stalled in Congress, where Republicans are pushing for major changes to border policy.

As pressure mounts to strike a deal, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the Senate will delay its holiday recess and return next week to continue negotiating the Ukraine funding supplemental bill that would include border policy provisions. He announced that the Senate will vote on the national security aid package sometime next week. The Senate was expected to depart for the holidays Friday.

Schumer, who had said there was "significant progress" on a border talks, said negotiators will work through the weekend to "reach a framework agreement."

"This might be one of the most difficult things we have ever had to work through. But we all know that so much hangs on our success," Schumer said on the Senate floor.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks to reporters after a weekly policy luncheon with Senate Democrats at the U.S. Capitol Building on December 12, 2023 in Washington, DC.
Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The House cast its last vote Thursday morning, with members racing to the airport to catch flights home and begin their three-week-long holiday recess. It's not yet clear if the House would return next week.

Schumer called on Congress to stay and continue talking, but without an emerging deal on the border, his calls for action are likely futile.

"If Republicans are serious about getting something done, they should not be so eager to go home. This may be our last best chance to get this legislation done," Schumer said earlier Thursday.

"After weeks of deadlock, we have seen significant progress over the past few days, and we should take advantage of the opportunity, because we may not get one again for quite a while. It is not easy to reach an agreement on something this complicated, but so much hangs on our success, so we need to try with everything we have," he said.

Schumer said the world is watching what Congress is doing -- including adversaries such as Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"[Putin] is eager to see us abandon Ukraine and thinks he is getting that done, working, in part, through Donald Trump," Schumer said.

Putin said Thursday there would be no peace in Ukraine until Russia achieves its goals, which he says remain unchanged after nearly two years of fighting.

"I sure hope that those House Republicans, who have for months held hostage critical assistance to Ukraine, heard Putin's message loud and clear," National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said during the White House press briefing Thursday. "Instead, they're heading home for the holidays. While Ukrainians are heading right back into the fight."

Kirby said Ukraine needs help immediately, "not after the eggnog."

Earlier this week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met with Biden at the White House where they discussed the urgent need for aid for the Eastern European nation in its fight against Russia.

President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy attend a news conference in the Indian Treaty Room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House Campus, Dec. 12, 2023, in Washington.
Andrew Harnik/AP

"Putin is banking on the United States failing to deliver for Ukraine," Biden said. "We must, we must, we must prove him wrong. The United States Congress must act."

Biden said any stalling from Congress is a "gift" to Putin.

"Congress needs to pass the supplemental funding for Ukraine before they break for the holiday recess, before they give Putin the greatest Christmas gift they could possibly give him."

The White House has warned that failing to get aid to Ukraine before the year's end will "kneecap Ukraine on the battlefield" and benefit Russia.

Biden has asked Congress for a $110 billion package of wartime funding for Ukraine and Israel, along with other national security priorities. But the request is caught up in a debate over U.S. immigration policy and border security.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republicans said they are not budging on their border demands.

Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell speaks during a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony in honor of professional baseball player Larry Doby at the U.S. Capitol on December 13, 2023 in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

"A number of Senate Republicans have been working in good faith to make sure that supplemental legislation makes substantive policy changes at the border, instead of just throwing money at the problem. Meanwhile, we've had to explain to members of President Biden's own party why the border security issue he included in his proposal was not extraneous to America's national security," McConnell said on the floor Thursday.

"Here's the bottom line: The Senate cannot claim to address major national security challenges without a solution to the one we're facing on the southern border. We can't pretend to be serious about threats facing America and our allies without fixing the broken system that lets 10,000 illegal aliens cross our border in a single day," he added.

On Wednesday, the House formalized its ongoing impeachment inquiry into Biden. The resolution directs three House committees to continue their investigations, which have yet to yield any hard evidence to support Republicans' claims that Biden was directly involved and benefited from his son and brother's foreign business dealings.

Biden called the "impeachment stunt" a sign that Congress' priorities are out of whack. He said House Republicans should focus on aid to Ukraine and Israel, law enforcement at the southern border, progress on the economy and a looming government shutdown.

"There is a lot of work to be done," Biden said in a statement. "But after wasting weeks trying to find a new Speaker of the House and having to expel their own members, Republicans in Congress are leaving for a month without doing anything to address these pressing challenges."

One thing Congress can check off on its to-do list is the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act, the $886 billion defense bill that was considered must-pass legislation. It was the subject of bipartisan squabbles over policy.

It passed in the House Thursday by a vote of 310-188 with lawmakers up against the clock before recess. The legislation now heads to Biden's desk.

The version of the bill that passed the Senate also includes a temporary extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) -- a move that has frustrated some House Republicans. Sen. Rand Paul led an effort to strip the FISA extension from the Senate bill Wednesday night, but it failed to get the 60 votes needed to pass.

The temporary reauthorization of Section 702 of FISA allows the government, without a warrant, to collect vast swaths of communications of non-Americans overseas who message on U.S.-based platforms.

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson speaks to reporters after meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the U.S. Capitol to meet with Congressional leadership on December 12, 2023 in Washington, DC.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

When Congress returns after the holiday break, it will have about two weeks to thwart a looming government shutdown. Speaker Mike Johnson's "laddered CR" -- or continuing resolution -- that passed in November extended government funding until Jan. 19 for the Veterans Affairs, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Energy departments, as well as for military construction. The rest of the government is funded until Feb. 2.

Johnson has said he is confident in his ability to lead his conference -- even as his margin of error narrows with the resignation of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy at the end of the year. Johnson will only be able to lose three GOP votes on each measure before falling below a simple majority.

"Our conference is working well together. And I'm confident in that," Johnson said after the announcement of McCarthy's resignation.

Related Topics