Two major issues this week: James Comey's firing and the Trump administration budget
Members of the Cabinet will be all over Capitol Hill even if the President is overseas
When the President’s away, Congress won’t play.
In fact, the nation’s legislative branch is still trying to get some work done. Both chambers will be back in session on Monday, and it will be interesting to see if President Donald Trump’s long overseas trip will lower the daily drama in Washington or if his international events will lead to more controversies that lawmakers will wake up to each day and have to react.
The congressional investigations into Russia’s meddling into the US presidential election will be a major focus in both chambers. Former FBI Director James Comey isn’t expected to testify before the Senate intelligence committee until after Memorial Day, but there are still several events on the calendar next week that will keep Russia and its relationship with the Trump administration in the spotlight.
Most notably, Attorney General Jeff Sessions appears before a Senate panel Thursday about the Department of Justice’s budget request for next year. He is likely to face questions on Comey’s firing, his own recusal from his department’s Russia investigation and other side issues. His deputy Rod Rosenstein gave back-to-back closed door briefings before both chambers of Congress, each of which generated several headlines about the Trump administration’s relationship to the department.
Before that, the House intelligence committee will hear from former CIA Director John Brennan on Tuesday about the Russia Investigation Task Force. The committee has also left room for a closed hearing to follow if needed.
Over the weekend, news broke that the House intelligence panel has reached out to a Trump presidential campaign communications adviser, Michael Caputo, to “produce certain documents and other materials to the Committee and participate in a voluntary, transcribed interview at the Committee’s offices,” according to a copy of a May 9 letter obtained by CNN. The House panel asked that Caputo submit any documents or materials by Monday.
On Wednesday, the House oversight committee has also scheduled a hearing titled “Oversight of the FBI’s Independence” to which Comey has been invited, but the former FBI director is not expected to attend. Last week, Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and the ranking Democrat on the panel, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, issued a joint statement saying they were “extremely disappointed” he declined an invitation to testify before their panel.
As for who will permanently replace Comey, lawmakers will be watching for movement on the nomination of an FBI director, which might be on hold until Trump is back in town – though it’s not out of the realm of possibility. Will former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman be the pick and cause an awkward situation for uncomfortable Democrats, or will Trump pick someone with a deeper law enforcement background like many Democrats are recommending?
Meanwhile, the Trump Administration will deliver its first full-year budget to Congress. In addition to almost universal opposition to the document, many Republicans are already critical of some of the priorities. The budget debate sets in motion another fight over spending levels and funding the government later this fall.
Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney will appear before on both sides of Capitol Hill this week to explain Trump’s 2018 budget.
He won’t be alone. At least three other high profile administration officials will be making their case before Congress in the coming days. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will discuss his agency’s budget before a House appropriations subcommittee. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly will testify before Senate appropriations committee on Thursday about his department. Kelly and Sessions will also appear before the House appropriations subcommittees on their respective agency’s budget request.
Speaking of budgets, the Congressional Budget Office has scheduled the release of their new estimate for the House-passed version of the American Health Care Act on Wednesday afternoon. Continued behind-the-scenes negotiations on health care reform are continuing in the Senate, so they will be watching to see what affect the new scoring will have on those negotiations.
Other events on the calendar this week for Capitol Hill: On Monday, the Senate is expected to vote to confirm Republican Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad as ambassador to China. Attorney John Sullivan, who has previously held senior positions at the Justice, Defense, and Commerce departments, is expected to be confirmed to be deputy secretary of state by the end of the week.
CNN’s Jim Acosta contributed to this report.