It’s been a dynamic December in Congress. As House members and staff depart Washington, D.C., for the holidays—and the Senate braces itself for another week of contentious negotiating—here’s a recap of the state of play on the Hill and developments to watch in the new year.
2024 NDAA: Not Quite Everything on the Christmas List
The $886 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) has been sent by the House of Representatives to President Joe Biden’s desk for signature. Although the House is Republican-controlled, the compromise bill passed with more Democrat support than Republican. In the process of negotiations with the Senate, the bill was stripped of numerous would-be conservative policy wins that appeared in the version passed by the House in July. Many conservatives opposed a provision in the bill to extend the federal surveillance powers in Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), a law that opponents like Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) say has been abused and weaponized to execute warrantless searches of U.S. citizens’ private communications. Republicans managed to maintain provisions to undercut the promotion of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and critical race theory in the military.
While the NDAA authorizes the defense budget, it does not actually allocate funding. Congress will still be required to hammer out a full-year appropriations bill for the Pentagon when members return in January.
Schumer Cracks the Whip on Christmas Vacation
Senate Majority Leader
Ebenezer Scrooge Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has decided to delay holiday recess and keep the Senate in town the week before Christmas, putting pressure on frustrated negotiators to hammer out the thorny issue of border security funding in the national security supplemental funding request.
Democrats and Republicans alike are disgruntled with Schumer’s proposal to fast-track a vote on the pending supplemental funding bill without adequate time for lawmakers to evaluate the details. The supplemental ties together four national security issues—border security and aid to Israel, Taiwan, and Ukraine—and will require lawmakers to identify an agreement on all of them in order to pass.In an interview with Salem Media Group’s Hugh Hewitt, Speaker Mike Johnson remarked, “The House passed the Israel aid package six weeks ago, sent it over there. It’s collecting dust. $14.5 billion is exactly what was requested, and we paid for that. We didn’t go borrow it from some other nation to send it to Israel. We paid for it here. But again, what’s Chuck Schumer done with that? Nothing.”
Although Schumer is now cracking the whip in the Senate, the House adjourned on Thursday and an empty lower chamber would make it impossible to pass the legislation before the end of the year unless Johnson calls everyone back for votes.
“I’m not going to have everybody sit here through Christmas twiddling their thumbs,” the speaker said.
Republicans Dare to Do What Dems Did Twice
On Wednesday of this week, House Republicans formally launched an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden in a 221-212 vote along party lines. The move follows a message from the White House to Republican committee leaders last month, claiming that their probing of the issue was illegitimate without a formal inquiry. The impeachment inquiry is spurred by dubious Biden family business dealings, with the Oversight Committee claiming they have “uncovered how the Bidens and their associates created over 20 shell companies, raked in over $24 million dollars from China and other foreign countries, identified nine members of the Biden family who have participated or benefited from the business schemes, and confirmed that Joe Biden interacted with his family’s business associates at least two dozen times.” The impeachment push has some vulnerable Republicans in swing districts feeling nervous about electoral backlash in 2024.
Members Out, Majority Thins
The Republican majority in the House of Representatives is two seats down and dwindling. Two months after his historic ousting as Speaker, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) announced that he would resign from office at the end of the year. Days earlier, Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) was expelled from Congress in a 311-114 vote following a House Ethics Committee report that claimed the representative had violated federal law. Santos is only the sixth member in history to be expelled by his colleagues, and McCarthy was the first Speaker to ever have his chair vacated. These historic happenings leave the House with 220 Republicans and 213 Democrats, and the threshold for the Republican majority now shrinks to 217 members from 218.
Two more factors that destabilize the narrow Republican edge: A special election to fill Santos’ seat in February which risks lowering the Republican majority by another seat, and the pending departure of Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) upon his acceptance of a new role as president of Youngstown State University.
AM Radio Bill: Not Yet Dash-ing to the Finish
At the NRB Capitol Hill Media Summit in September, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) previewed three ways that S. 1669, the “AM for Every Vehicle Act,” could pass the Senate. On Dec. 5, Cruz attempted one of those routes when he requested unanimous consent to pass the bill championed by NRB and other industry groups. Despite the bill’s extensive bipartisan support, it was blocked by Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) objection, in which he argued for a highly unlikely, alternative approach of eliminating electric vehicle subsidies. With the door to unanimous consent closed for now, the legislation could pass either by being taken up for a floor vote or having its provisions attached to must-pass legislation. Watch Cruz champion the bill on the Senate floor here.
With Friends Like These…
Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s (R-Ala.) nearly ten-month-long blockade on military promotions came to an end last week as the Senate unanimously confirmed more than 400 military promotions. Tuberville had placed a hold on confirming the nominations in protest of Pentagon rules enacted last year that authorized travel reimbursement for service members leaving the state to get an abortion if it was no longer legal in their state following the Dobbs decision. Tuberville was not broadly supported by Republicans in his stand against taxpayer-funded abortion, and his blockade was criticized from both sides as a display of personal stubbornness, rather than extremism by the Biden administration, where the Pentagon rule originated. Senate Democrats, joined by several Republicans, passed a proposal that would allow the Senate a one-time exception to its rules, allowing for confirmation of the appointees and forcing Tuberville to back down as the measure would pass regardless of his position. Confronted by his own colleagues threatening to whip votes against him, Tuberville agreed to release his holds on 3-star level military officers and below but maintain holds on four-star generals and officers, which impacts around ten nominees. Leader Schumer has had no shortage of castigating words for Tuberville on the Senate floor, but never actually met with Tuberville to discuss the issue. Throughout the last ten months, Tuberville has largely fielded political and media arrows without the support of Republican colleagues.
If the original calendar holds, both the House and the Senate are slated to return to Washington, D.C. after the holidays on January 9, 2024.