We’re in a DC ‘news void,’ but that's going to change after Congress returns from recess
It’s called “filling the void.”
Real estate speculation in Greenland. Brett Gardner and Aaron Boone going crazy and getting tossed from every game possible this month for the Yankees. Airport workers slipping travelers notes, telling them they are “ugly.”
We’re deep into the supposed Washington “news void.” It’s allegedly compelled by the lengthy Congressional recess and presidential vacation each August.
Congress is out of session until September 9. And so something else will have to pass for news.
The Capitol Rotunda teams with tourists. But you won’t find any lawmakers here. A handful of members parachute into Washington for business meetings and to do a day or two of work in their DC offices. A few show up to preside over abbreviated “pro forma” sessions of the House and Senate, which run anywhere from a few seconds to a couple of minutes.
But that’s it. Most lawmakers are back in their districts or states, traveling overseas or just on plain vacation.
President Trump, as always, dominates the news cycle, punctuated only by the shootings in El Paso and Dayton and fighting with Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) as they attempted to travel to Israel.
And so what fills the vacuum? Tripe about octopus selfies gone wrong and a television reboot of 90210.
And come September, lawmakers will return to session, partially recapturing the narrative. In fact, the House Judiciary Committee will swing back into action a bit early - September 5 to be precise – to prep legislation regarding “red flag” laws and prohibiting those convicted of hate crimes from accessing weapons.
There will be talk about impeachment and what steps are next for House Democrats as they ramp up their investigations.
It’s hard to imagine that the impeachment conversation won’t consume most news oxygen again soon, even though the testimony of Special Counsel Robert Mueller stares at us from the rearview mirror.
Pressure will mount for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to go for the jugular with the President – or, perhaps temper the probes. Pelosi may well have to respond to the impeachment question soon considering that more than half of all House Democrats now demand either impeachment or a “formal” impeachment inquiry. Judiciary Committee Democrats say they are doing an impeachment “investigation.” It’s unclear if the full House would ever vote to actually authorize an official impeachment inquiry, ala Watergate in 1974.
But, besides a man swallowing his dentures before surgery, there are lots of other things going on, too.
Lawmakers must figure out how to fund the government by September 30. Expect the House and Senate to knock out a few individual spending bills in September - perhaps covering defense, energy & water programs and funding for the Departments of Labor as well as Health and Human Services. Then, expect some sort of an interim spending measure to avoid a partial shutdown on October 1. Keep in mind that the spending caps/debt ceiling package Congress recently approved contains no money. The law only establishes spending levels for the next two years. That makes it easier to avoid a shutdown. But work remains ahead.
This month’s shootings could spur a spate of hearings (especially in the House) on background checks, “assault weapons” and white supremacy. There will be lots of talk. The White House has been working with some bipartisan lawmakers to see if there’s a way to muscle through the Senate a response to the gunplay. But at this writing, it is unclear if Congress has the political will to tackle anything related to firearms and ancillary factors.
Lurking in the background are negotiations on a new trade pact between the United States, Mexico and Canada, called the USMCA. A working group of Democrats appointed by Pelosi has toiled behind the scenes with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. The team of House Democrats is trying to secure changes in the USMCA to usher it to ratification sometime this fall. The Trump Administration hoped to advance the package this summer. But the plan just wasn’t ready. That’s why House Democrats are trying to contour the accord to their liking when it comes to enforcement, pharmaceuticals and intellectual property.
It's far from certain that lawmakers will actually address immigration/migration issues and the care of detainees at the border. The subject remains on the radar – without the political will on Capitol Hill to find a solution. A failure to wrestle with the root causes of the problems could very well force lawmakers to again cough up an emergency spending bill to address humanitarian problems at the border.
Then, there are elections. Lawmakers will return to Washington to see if there are additional Republican retirements and if any of those seats represent opportunities for Democratic pickups. The Democratic presidential field may well start to thin-out come September. Second and third-tier presidential hopefuls may start to drop out.
But watching the presidential field isn’t just about who’s in or out of the race. It’s about how Democratic members of Congress may start to endorse or jump on the bandwagons of various candidates. Moreover, lawmakers will increasingly have to comment on or respond to policy positions or statements made by those seeking the White House. In other words, Congress may be juggling policy issues like funding the government or the USMCA. But attention will drift to the presidential sweepstakes, 15 months away from the November 2020 election.
And what might dominate the news cycle for the balance of the month? The same thing which shapes the narrative during the other 11 months of the year: President Trump’s Twitter feed. Who he decides to challenge one morning. What city draws his ire. Who Mr. Trump may decide to pardon. What country could face a new slate of tariffs.
The President’s Twitter handle could well send policy wonks and lawmakers dashing off in a 1,000 different directions depending on what issues he decides to champion on a given day.
And if you want to keep track of all of this, better hope you live in Virginia. You can catch it on the TV news. That’s because someone in Virginia wearing a television mysteriously left 50 TV sets on the front porches of 50 different homes.