Lawmakers look to avert shutdown as Biden delivers State of the Union

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The sprint to stave off a partial government shutdown is set to collide with President Biden’s State of the Union address this week, as the president prepares to go face-to-face with some of his fiercest GOP opponents — who have sharply criticized his handling of spending matters — one day before the funding deadline.

Biden’s State of the Union address is scheduled for Thursday evening, and Congress is staring down a midnight Friday government funding deadline, two dates that are laying the foundation for a high-stakes 24 hours on Capitol Hill.

Congressional leaders rolled out a package of six spending bills Sunday that will keep some departments and agencies funded for the rest of the fiscal year. Both chambers are slated to consider the legislation this week, but conservatives on both sides of the Capitol are already voicing their strong opposition to the package.

Also this week, Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee are eyeing a vote on a resolution to hold Secretary of State Antony Blinken in contempt of Congress, the latest move by GOP lawmakers pushing to obtain documents related to the U.S.’s messy withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021.

On the Senate side, the race to succeed Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) as the top lawmaker in the conference is expected to continue this week, with some of the Kentuckian’s deputies — and a few dark horses — mulling bids to succeed the longtime GOP leader.

Lawmakers stare down government funding deadline

Lawmakers this week will consider six spending bills to stave off a partial government shutdown by Friday’s funding deadline, the fifth time this Congress that members are scrambling to keep the lights on in Washington.

Congressional leaders unveiled a package of the spending bills — known as a “minibus” — Sunday, laying out legislative text that will fund the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, Interior, Veterans Affairs, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, in addition to other programs and agencies.

The legislation spans 1,050 pages and includes more than $450 billion in funding for fiscal 2024. The remaining six bills are due March 22.

The minibus was the product of bipartisan, bicameral discussions between congressional leaders and appropriators, which have gone on for months amid negotiations over government funding. Leaders in both parties touted wins in the legislation in an effort to court support for the floor votes Sunday.

“House Republicans secured key conservative policy victories, rejected left-wing proposals, and imposed sharp cuts to agencies and programs critical to the President Biden’s agenda,” Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) wrote in a statement.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), meanwhile, said in a statement: “We are proud to be keeping the government open without cuts or poison pill riders,” adding that the minibus “maintains the aggressive investments Democrats secured for American families, American workers, and America’s national defense.”

Conservatives, however, were quick to criticize the legislation — a reaction that was expected but could spell trouble for Johnson as he gets ready to put the measure on the floor for a vote. Hard-liners have urged Johnson to instead hold a vote on a continuing resolution through the rest of the fiscal year — which would trigger a 1-percent cut across the board — a move that Democrats and some Republicans are strongly opposed to.

Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) dubbed the legislation “The Swamp’s first spending package” in a post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. And Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) responded to a post from Elon Musk that said America needs secure borders, safe cities and sensible cities, writing on the platform, “the Omni bills this week aren’t this.”

The bill will first be considered in the House, where GOP leadership is expected to bring the measure to the floor under suspension of the rules, a fast-track process that requires two-thirds support for passage and eliminates the need to first pass a procedural rule, which conservatives would likely torpedo.

That course of action, however, will certainly incense hard-line Republicans who oppose the spending plan and loathe GOP leadership’s strategy of considering must-pass legislation under suspension of the rules — putting Johnson in the hot seat even further as conservatives become increasingly fed up with his handling of government funding.

Biden to deliver State of the Union to divided Congress

The sprint to avert a partial shutdown this week comes as President Biden is preparing to deliver his State of the Union address, a speech that comes hours before the funding deadline, months before Election Day, and amid a GOP-led impeachment inquiry into the president.

The address, before a joint session of Congress, is slated to begin at 9 p.m. EST.

The speech will put Biden head-to-head with some of his most outspoken GOP critics who have called for his impeachment, denounced his handling of international matters and slammed his policies at the southern border — a dynamic that will be on full display as Republicans float boycotting the address.

Rep. Anna Paulina Luna (R-Fla.) announced last week that she would not be attending the constitutionally mandated event, writing on X, “Make no mistake, the world is in turmoil because of Joe Biden. I will not be a part of the puppet show.”

A White House official told The Hill last week that Biden will utilize the speech to highlight his achievements thus far in office and lay out his vision for the future, themes that are particularly salient as the president looks to shore up support for his reelection bid.

But the remarks may also touch on government funding and the threat of a shutdown, which has loomed over Congress for the past seven months and at the top of lawmakers’ to-do list this week.

House panel eyes contempt vote against Blinken

The House Foreign Affairs Committee is eyeing a vote to hold Secretary of State Antony Blinken in contempt of Congress this week, the culmination of a months-long battle by the GOP-led committee to obtain documents from the State Department as part of its investigation into the 2021 U.S.’s messy withdrawal from Afghanistan, which left 13 U.S. service members dead.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Michael McCaul (R-Texas) warned Blinken in a letter last week that if the State Department does not hand over specific documents by March 6, Wednesday, the panel will move to hold him in contempt of Congress. A markup for the contempt of Congress resolution is scheduled for Thursday at 10 a.m.

The threat of contempt comes as the panel pushes to obtain interview notes taken by the team led by Ambassador Daniel Smith, who spearheaded the State Department’s review of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, which was titled the After Action Review of Afghanistan.

Smith told the committee during an interview in August that the report was in part based on conversations conducted with officials at the department, which the panel has requested on a number of occasions to no avail.

In October, the department said providing the committee with the documents would have a “significant chilling effect on the Department’s ability to conduct thorough and impactful lessons learned efforts to improve our foreign policy-making,” and in November it said the items requested by the panel — including the notes — ”either belong to a third agency or implicate significant Executive Branch confidentiality interests.”

McCaul is now presenting Blinken and the State Department with an ultimatum: hand over the interview notes or risk being held in contempt of Congress.

“The Department’s stated reasons for withholding the interview notes are not rooted in law and, in fact, contravene Congress’s constitutional and statutory oversight authority,” McCaul wrote to Blinken last week. “The law does not afford the State Department blanket authority to hide behind ‘Executive Branch confidentiality interests’ to obstruct Congress’s access to the truth.”

“It is appalling that over two years after the deadly and chaotic withdrawal, the Department continues to choose politics over policy,” he added.

Jockeying to succeed McConnell continues

The jockeying to succeed McConnell as leader of the Senate GOP conference is poised to continue this week, as a handful of Republicans eye bids to fill the leadership void McConnell will leave when he steps down from his post in November.

Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), the former Republican whip, was the first to jump into the race last week, writing in a letter to colleagues: “I believe the Senate is broken” and “I intend to play a major role in fixing it.”

Other Republicans, however, are expected to join him in the field, including Senate GOP Whip John Thune (S.D.) and Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.), the chair of the Senate GOP conference. That trio — known in the Capitol as the “three Johns” — has worked closely with McConnell in recent years.

Other dark horse candidates could emerge, including Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who mounted an unsuccessful challenge to McConnell’s leadership after the 2022 midterm elections, failing in a 37-10 vote. Scott last week said he is “seriously considering” another run for the top job in the Senate GOP conference, telling “The Charlie Kirk Show” in an interview, “This is a big opportunity.”

Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), who said he is supporting Thune in the race, said other Republicans are looking into a bid for the top job.

“We’ve got some other folks that are going to take a look at it,” Rounds told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “They are good people. It’s not a matter of having a bad choice out there for those of us in the Senate, but we’ve got some really good choices.”

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