Lawmakers return to the nation's capital Monday, primed to kick off a frantic three-week legislative period during which they will try to tackle some of the most pressing political concerns facing the country. But if a divided Congress guarantees anything in today's political climate, it's likely to produce a lot of finger-pointing and more partisan gridlock.
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Shutdown showdown 2.0
Perhaps the most-crucial, must-pass legislative item for Congress to send to the president's desk in the coming weeks is a bill to fund the government beyond the end of the fiscal year. Without a funding bill, the federal government will shutter nonessential operations on Oct. 1, following a record-setting shutdown last December that dragged on into the new year over the president's demand for Congress to fund the border wall.
The House of Representatives has made significant headway on its appropriations bills, having passed 10 of 12 measures to fund the government. Thwarting negotiations from proceeding, and concurrently frustrating Democrats, the Senate has not introduced even a single appropriations bill -- though the committee is expected to mark up four bills in the coming weeks.
"While the House did its work and sent ten appropriations bills to the Senate, covering 96% of government funding, I am disappointed that the Senate failed to introduce a single appropriations bill for the first time in more than three decades," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., wrote in a Dear Colleague letter last Thursday. "As we wait for them to complete their work so that we can begin conference negotiations, a continuing resolution will be necessary to prevent another government shutdown like the one we experienced earlier this year, which harmed thousands of American families."
So far, President Donald Trump is not demanding additional money for the border wall, seemingly satisfied by his success at diverting $3.6 billion of military construction appropriations to pay for the wall. In the coming days, House Democrats are expected to consider whether to take another vote to disapprove of the president's national emergency declaration at the border.
Additionally, Hoyer is still considering the length of a stop-gap measure -- funding the government until just before Thanksgiving or early December.
While the summer recess bore witness to three horrific mass shootings in El Paso and Odessa, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, lawmakers are struggling mightily to coalesce around any measures to curb gun violence or address mental illness.
For weeks, Democrats have urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to allow a vote on HR 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019. But McConnell's rhetoric -- acknowledging the need to address the country's gun violence epidemic while simultaneously deferring leadership to the president, who coincidentally defers the issue to lawmakers -- leaves the issue up in the air for the foreseeable future.
In the meantime, the House -- having already passed gun sale universal background check legislation -- will work to advance several other measures, including a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines, legislation that provides incentives through grants for states to adopt laws providing for Extreme Risk Protection Orders to prevent those deemed a risk to themselves or others from accessing firearms and a measure to add anyone convicted of misdemeanor hate crimes to the list of individuals who are prohibited from possessing firearms.
If there's any bipartisan cooperation on the horizon this fall, it will more likely be on trade, not gun control.
As calls to begin a formal impeachment inquiry continue to trickle out, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is under increased pressure to change course from her strategy of allowing the investigative process to play out, irrespective of political pressure and progressives who are eager to play offense against the president.
This week, the House Judiciary Committee is expected to mark up and vote on a resolution outlining impeachment procedures.
More than half of House Democrats are on the record supporting impeachment, as the clock runs out on the president's first term and as the window of time needed to complete an impeachment inquiry grows closer to closing. Pelosi has pointed at the lack of public sentiment in favor of impeachment, as well as a GOP majority in the Senate to justify her "follow the facts" approach. Democratic insiders say Pelosi seems as though she's pretty firm in terms of allowing the investigations to move forward before a potential impeachment vote.
House Republicans have a challenging task ahead to recapture the majority in the 2020 elections, and their mission has become more difficult after a wave of veteran GOPers decided to retire rather than seek reelection.
Twelve House Republicans have already announced they're not seeking reelection, while just three House Democrats have announced their retirement so far.
In the upper chamber, Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, whose moderate votes often determine the fate of legislation in the Senate, has signaled that she will make a decision on her political future in the fall.
The Democratic freshman foursome continued to generate headlines throughout the recess, although not always in the most flattering light.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez maintained a relatively muted posture throughout the recess, disappearing from Twitter for almost a full week last month. After parting ways with at least three high-profile congressional staffers, AOC has resumed her battle against her haters on Twitter -- taking on Republican freshman Rep. Dan Crenshaw over background checks for the purchase of firearms.
Minnesota Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar, whose personal drama has splashed out in local media reports and court documents, has faced repeated death threats and was the center of controversy after Israel blocked her and fellow freshman Rep. Rashida Tlaib, both Muslim representatives, from visiting the Holy Land over their support for the Palestinian-led boycott movement.
Tlaib was later approved by the Israeli government to travel on a "humanitarian visit" to see her family, but ultimately decided not to go.
Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Ayanna Pressley clashed with Boston's police union after she promoted a fund covering the legal costs incurred by so-called "anti-Straight Pride protesters."
The quartet takes center stage once again on Capitol Hill, as the shutdown showdown and debates over guns and impeachment heat up this fall.