Budget deal avoids shutdown, default

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., addresses the NAACP convention, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

President Donald Trump and congressional leaders announced Monday a critical debt and budget agreement that’s an against-the-odds victory for Washington pragmatists seeking to avoid political and economic tumult over the possibility of a government shutdown or first-ever federal default.

The deal, announced by Trump on Twitter and in a statement by Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, will restore the government’s ability to borrow to pay its bills past next year’s elections and build upon recent large budget gains for both the Pentagon and domestic agencies.

“I am pleased to announce that a deal has been struck,” Trump tweeted, saying there will be no “poison pills” added to follow-up legislation. “This was a real compromise in order to give another big victory to our Great Military and Vets!”

The agreement is on a broad outline for $1.37 trillion in agency spending next year and slightly more in fiscal 2021. It would mean a win for lawmakers eager to return Washington to a more predictable path amid political turmoil and polarization, defense hawks determined to cement big military increases and Democrats seeking to protect domestic programs.

Nobody notched a big win, but both sides view it as better than a protracted battle this fall.

Pelosi and Schumer said the deal “will enhance our national security and invest in middle class priorities that advance the health, financial security and well-being of the American people.” Top congressional GOP leaders issued more restrained statements stressing that the deal is a flawed but achievable outcome of a government in which Pelosi wields considerable power.

“While this deal is not perfect, compromise is necessary in divided government,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

However, it also comes as budget deficits are rising to $1 trillion levels — requiring the government to borrow a quarter for every dollar the government spends — despite the thriving economy and three rounds of annual Trump budget proposals promising to crack down on the domestic programs that Pelosi is successfully defending now. It ignores warnings from deficit and debt scolds who say the nation’s fiscal future is unsustainable and will eventually drag down the economy.

“This agreement is a total abdication of fiscal responsibility by Congress and the president,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a Washington advocacy group. “It may end up being the worst budget agreement in our nation’s history, proposed at a time when our fiscal conditions are already precarious.”

A push by the White House and House GOP forces for new offsetting spending cuts was largely jettisoned, though Pelosi, D-Calif., gave assurances about not seeking to use the follow-up spending bills as vehicles for aggressively liberal policy initiatives.

The head of a large group of House GOP conservatives swung against the deal.

“No new controls are put in place to constrain runaway spending, and a two-year suspension on the debt limit simply adds fuel to the fire,” said Republican Study Committee Chairman Mike Johnson, R-La. “With more than $22 trillion in debt, we simply cannot afford deals like this one.”

Fights over Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall, other immigration-related issues and spending priorities will be rejoined on spending bills this fall that are likely to produce much the same result as current law. The House has passed most of its bills, using far higher levels for domestic spending. Senate measures will follow this fall, with levels reflecting the accord.

At issue are two separate but pressing items on Washington’s must-do agenda: increasing the debt limit to avert a first-ever default on U.S. payments and acting to set overall spending limits and prevent $125 billion in automatic spending cuts from hitting the Pentagon and domestic agencies with 10 percent cuts starting in January.

The threat of the automatic cuts represents the last gasp of a failed 2011 budget and debt pact between former President Barack Obama and then-Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, that promised future spending and deficit cuts to cover a $2 trillion increase in the debt. But a bipartisan deficit “supercommittee” failed to deliver, and lawmakers were unwilling to live with the follow-up cuts to defense and domestic accounts. This is the fourth deal since 2013 to reverse those cuts.

Prospects for an agreement, a months-long priority of top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., became far brighter when Pelosi returned to Washington this month and aggressively pursued the pact with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin , who was anointed lead negotiator instead of more conservative options like acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney or hardline Budget Director Russell Vought.

Mnuchin was eager to avert a crisis over the government’s debt limit. There’s some risk of a first-ever U.S. default in September, and that added urgency to the negotiations.

The pact would defuse the debt limit issue for two years, meaning that Trump or his Democratic successor would not have to confront the politically difficult issue until well into 2021.

Washington’s arcane budget rules give each side a way to paint the numbers favorably. Generally speaking, the deal would lock in place big increases won by both sides in a 2018 pact driven by the demands of GOP defense hawks and award future increases consistent with low inflation.

Pelosi and Schumer claimed rough parity between increases for defense and nondefense programs, but the veteran negotiator retreated on her push for a special carve-out for a newly reauthorized program for veterans utilizing private sector health care providers. Instead non-defense spending increases would exceed increases for the military by $10 billion over the deal’s two-year duration.

In the end, non-defense appropriations would increase by $56.5 billion over two years, giving domestic programs 4% increases on average in the first year of the pact, with a big chunk of those gains eaten up by veterans increases and an unavoidable surge for the U.S. Census. Defense would increase by $46.5 billion over those two years, with the defense budget hitting $738 billion next year, a 3% hike, followed by only a further $2.5 billion increase in 2021.

Trump retains flexibility to transfer money between accounts, which raises the possibility of attempted transfers for building border barriers. That concession angered the Senate’s top Appropriations Committee Democrat, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who said he has “many concerns” with a memorandum outlining the agreement that promised there will also be no “poison pills,” new policy “riders,” or bookkeeping tricks to add to the deal’s spending levels.

The results are likely to displease some on both sides, especially Washington’s weakening deficit hawks and liberals demanding greater spending for progressive priorities. But Pelosi and McConnell have longtime histories with the Capitol’s appropriations process and have forged a powerful alliance to deliver prior spending and debt deals.

The measure would first advance through the House this week and win the Senate’s endorsement next week before Congress takes its annual August recess. Legislation to prevent a government shutdown will follow in September.

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FBI Director may provide preview of Mueller testimony

FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

FBI Director Christopher Wray’s appearance before a Senate committee could be something of a preview of the intense questioning special counsel Robert Mueller is likely to face in Congress the next day.

Wray is set to testify Tuesday morning before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is chaired by one of President Donald Trump’s closest allies, Sen. Lindsey Graham. The South Carolina Republican has vowed to investigate the origins of the Russia investigation.

Republicans are likely to spend time questioning both Wray and Mueller about Peter Strzok, an FBI agent who helped lead the Trump investigation and exchanged anti-Trump text messages during the 2016 election with an FBI lawyer, Lisa Page.

Once Mueller learned of the existence of the texts, which were sent before his appointment as special counsel, he removed Strzok from his team investigating potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. Strzok was ultimately fired and Page left the bureau.

Wray made headlines during a Senate hearing in May when he broke from Attorney General William Barr and said he didn’t consider court-approved FBI surveillance to be “spying” and that there was no evidence the FBI illegally monitored Trump’s campaign during the 2016 election. Barr has said he believes “spying did occur” on the campaign and suggested the origins of the probe may have been mishandled.

Barr didn’t specify what he meant when he said he believed there had been spying on the Trump campaign, but he was likely alluding to the FBI obtaining a secret surveillance warrant in the fall of 2016 to monitor the communications of former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, whose interactions with Russians several years earlier had raised law enforcement suspicions even before he joined the campaign

Barr has not said such surveillance was necessarily improper, but Trump nonetheless seized on those comments to suggest his campaign was spied on in an illegal and unprecedented act. The attorney general appointed U.S. Attorney John Durham, the chief federal prosecutor in Connecticut, to investigate the surveillance methods used during the investigation and to probe the origins of the Russia investigation. Part of Durham’s mandate is to investigate whether there was a proper basis for the FBI to open a counterintelligence investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Wray has previously declined to discuss in detail the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign because of Durham’s investigation and a separate, ongoing Justice Department inspector general probe into the origins of the Russia inquiry.

As FBI director, he has sought to avoid public spats with Trump, but his appearance on Capitol Hill comes amid signs of possible tension between the two men.

President Donald Trump told ABC News last month that Wray was “wrong” to suggest that Donald Trump Jr. should have called the FBI as the organizer of a 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer offering negative information on his political opponent, Hillary Clinton. Wray made the comment during the May congressional hearing and said the FBI would want to know about any outreach from a foreign government to an American political campaign.

Trump told ABC that if a foreign power were offering dirt on his 2020 opponent, he’d be open to accepting it and would have no obligation to call the FBI.

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Associated Press writer Eric Tucker contributed to this report.

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House holds Barr, Rose in contempt

Attorney General William Barr speaks about the census as Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross listens during an event with President Donald Trump in the Rose Garden. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The Democratic-controlled House voted Wednesday to hold two top Trump administration officials in contempt of Congress for failing to comply with subpoenas related to a decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

The House voted, 230-198, to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in criminal contempt. The vote, a political blow to the Trump administration, is largely symbolic because the Justice Department is unlikely to prosecute the two men.

The action marks an escalation of Democratic efforts to use their House majority to aggressively investigate the inner workings of the Trump administration.

Four Democrats opposed the contempt measure: Reps. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, Anthony Brindisi of New York, Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania and Jared Golden of Maine. All but Lamb are in their first term and all represent swing districts. Independent Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, a former Republican, supported the contempt measure.

President Donald Trump abandoned the citizenship question last week after the Supreme Court said the administration’s justification for the question ”seems to have been contrived .” Trump directed agencies to try to compile the information using existing databases.

The White House called the vote “ridiculous” and “yet another lawless attempt to harass the president and his administration.”

The Justice and Commerce departments have produced more than 31,000 pages of documents to the House regarding the census issue, and senior officials from both agencies, including Ross, have spoken on the record about the matter, the White House said, adding that Democrats continue to demand documents that the White House contends are subject to executive privilege.

“House Democrats know they have no legal right to these documents, but their shameful and cynical politics know no bounds,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.

Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said the contempt vote was an important step to assert Congress’ constitutional authority to serve as a check on executive power.

“Holding any secretary in criminal contempt of Congress is a serious and sober matter — one that I have done everything in my power to avoid,” Cummings said during House debate. “But in the case of the attorney general and Secretary Ross, they blatantly obstructed our ability to do congressional oversight into the real reason Secretary Ross was trying for the first time in 70 years to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.”

While Ross and other officials have claimed the sole reason they wanted to add the citizenship question was to enforce the Voting Rights Act, “we now know that claim was nothing but a pretext,” Cummings said. “The Supreme Court said that.”

At the direction of Barr and Ross, “the departments of Justice and Commerce have been engaged in a campaign to subvert our laws and the process Congress put in place to maintain the integrity of the census,” Cummings said.

The contempt resolution “is about protecting our democracy, protecting the integrity of this body. It’s bigger than the census,” he said

Ross called the vote a public relations “stunt” that further demonstrates Democrats’ “unending quest to generate headlines instead of operating in good faith with our department.”

Democrats prefer to “play political games rather than help lead the country” and “have made every attempt to ascribe evil motivations to everyday functions of government,” Ross said.

Ross told the oversight committee that the March 2018 decision to add the question was based on a Justice Department request to help enforce the Voting Rights Act.

Democrats disputed that, citing documents unearthed last month suggesting that a push to draw legislative districts in overtly partisan and racist ways was the real reason the administration wanted to include the question.

Democrats feared that adding the question would reduce participation in immigrant-heavy communities and result in a severe undercount of minority voters. They have pressed for specific documents to determine Ross’ motivation and contend the administration has declined to provide the material despite repeated requests.

“The real issue we should be debating” is why Democrats are afraid to ask how many citizens live in the United States, said Rep. James Comer, R-Ky. Contrary to Democrats’ claims, Ross and other officials have cooperated with the oversight panel and provided thousands of documents, Comer said.

“If the Democrats can’t impeach President Trump, they will instead hold his Cabinet in contempt of Congress,” he said. “This is just another episode in political theater.”

In a letter late Wednesday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Barr and Ross asked Democrats to postpone the vote, saying they have shown a “clear record of cooperation” with Congress. The contempt vote “is both unnecessarily undermining” relations between the two branches and “degrading” Congress’ “own institutional integrity,” they wrote.

Trump has pledged to “fight all the subpoenas” issued by Congress and says he won’t work on legislative priorities, such as infrastructure, until Congress halts investigations of his administration.

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Battle lines are drawn: Racists against socialists

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., holds a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 17, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

With tweets and a vote, President Donald Trump and House Democrats established the sharp and emotionally raw contours of the 2020 election campaigns.

In the process, they have created a fraught political frame: “racists” vs. “socialists.”

Trump’s aggressive condemnation of women of color in Congress has allowed House Democrats to mend, for now, their own political divisions as they put the president on record with a resolution condemning his words as racist.

But by pushing the House majority into the arms of the squad of liberal freshman women, Trump also adds to his narrative that Democrats have a “socialist” agenda, a story line he started to bring into focus during his State of the Union address.

Political triumphs are being claimed on all sides. Yet it’s unclear whether either approach is what’s needed to sway independent-minded voters who typically determine congressional and presidential elections. And at a time when polling shows Americans sense a worsening of racial attitudes, the searing attacks along Pennsylvania Avenue are tapping potentially explosive emotions.

On Wednesday, it was all set to escalate as Trump was jetting off for a campaign rally in Greenville, North Carolina, and the House prepared a symbolic vote on impeachment, though it was not expected to pass.

The state of affairs offers “a very clear choice,” said Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee on Wednesday.

“The Democrat party is now a socialist party, and these four women have become the de facto speakers of the Democrat House,” she said on Fox. “So he’s saying, do you want socialism or do you want what we’re delivering with higher jobs, higher wages, more jobs, a strong economy.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested that Americans have already heard enough from Trump, with his “disgusting” remarks “denigrating” the nation’s values.

“The president knows the arguments that are being made against him and therefore he wants to distract from them,” Pelosi said. “Let’s not waste time on that,” she said. “We’re talking about what we’re going to do to help the American people.”

The four freshmen, in their own appearance together, portrayed the president as a bully who wants to “vilify” not only immigrants, but all people of color. They’re fighting for their priorities to lower health care costs, pass a Green New Deal addressing climate change, they say, while his thundering attacks are a distraction and tear at the core of America vales.

“America has always been about the triumph of people who fight for everyone versus those who want to preserve rights for just a select few,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, perhaps the most recognizable of the newcomers.

“And there is no bottom to the barrel of vitriol that will be used and weaponized to stifle those who want to advance rights for all people in the United States,” she said on “CBS This Morning.”

Taking a fresh dig at the group, Trump on Wednesday tweeted a new slogan — “One ‘squad’ under God” — with a video featuring clips of him meeting with law enforcement and military personnel juxtaposed with patriotic scenes, set to Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American,” which often serves as a soundtrack to his campaign rallies.

The action middled out a week that has already been extraordinary, even by the new standards of the Trump presidency.

In a political repudiation, the Democratic-led U.S. House voted Tuesday to condemn Trump’s “racist comments” against the congresswomen of color after he told them to “go back” to their own countries .

The women, Ocasio-Cortez and Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, all were born in the U.S. except for Omar, who became a U.S. citizen after fleeing Somalia as a refugee with her family.

Democrats eased the resolution through the chamber by 240-187, joined by four Republicans and one Republican-turned-independent congressman.

Trump accused the women of “spewing some of the most vile, hateful and disgusting things ever said by a politician” and added, “If you hate our Country, or if you are not happy here, you can leave !”

Republican operatives swiftly dispatched their own attacks on nearly 30 of the House Democratic freshmen who helped take the majority in 2018 by winning seats from areas that Trump also won in 2016. They are seen as the front liners needed to retain control of the House, and many face tough re-election races in 2020.

“Deranged,” read the missives from the National Republican Congressional Committee. The committee is raising money off Ocasio-Cortez as the face of the “socialist” agenda and drawing links to the party’s presidential contenders, including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and other liberal front-runners.

“This wasn’t what people in the Trump districts elected them to do,” said Bob Salera, a spokesman for the GOP’s campaign committee.

Democrats believe Trump’s attacks will have the opposite effect, turning off the suburban voters, particularly women, who helped elect Trump but also turned out for Democrats in last fall and are tiring of it all. Trump tried a similar approach last fall, invoking fearful warnings of “caravans” of immigrants pouring into the U.S., but voters tuned him out to give Democrats control of the House. The party will try again to persuade voters away from Trump’s vision of America.

But Democrats also know they now need to return to their core campaign messages — lowering health care costs, conducting oversight of the administration — or risk having Trump define them and the 2020 candidates.

Behind closed doors Wednesday, party leaders laid plans for reviving those issues, starting with an event next week to mark their accomplishments so far on the 200th day of the House Democratic majority, and into the summer August recess campaigns.

“I’m trying to represent my district, a very diverse district,” said Tlaib. “This is a distraction.”

When asked if they, as the four newcomers, were also a distraction, Omar, a Muslim-American, objected to the question: “He wants you to focus on that, and you should be asking, Why is it that we are being criticized?”

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Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Zeke Miller and Darlene Superville contributed to this report.

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Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Democratic libs aren’t backing down

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Days after tensions with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi boiled over publicly, several House Democrats sent a message to Washington: We’re not backing down.

Three members of the “squad” — the cadre of liberal freshman lawmakers who are struggling with their party’s more centrist members over impeachment, immigration and other issues — defended their approach Saturday while appearing on a panel at the annual Netroots conference. All are young women of color, a fact not lost on supporters who have bridled at the criticism thrown their way.

“We never need to ask for permission or wait for an invitation to lead,” Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota said when asked what she would say to women of color who are frustrated or hurt by comments that seek to minimize their impact or vilify them. She said later that there’s a “constant struggle oftentimes with people who have power about sharing that power.”

Omar added: “We are not really in the business of asking for the share of that power. We’re in the business of trying to grab that power and return it to the people.”

Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan joined Omar and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., on the Netroots panel. The “squad” member with the highest profile, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., did not attend.

“I think you have to be unapologetically you,” Tlaib said. “Sometimes that means — I know for me and a number of my sisters, we represent our districts and we focus on the things that matter in our districts and to bring them into this space. And that does sometimes — that does mean I have to vote no on detaining children at the border.”

Infighting between liberal and centrist House Democrats was highlighted last week by Pelosi’s seemingly dismissive words aimed at the freshman women. Pelosi told The New York Times that “they’re four people, and that’s how many votes they got,” a remark that brought criticism that Pelosi was marginalizing women of color.

“The women of color who have entered Congress, they’re more than four votes,” said Aimee Allison, the founder of She the People and the panel’s moderator. “For millions of us, these women of color in Congress represent generations of blood, sweat and tears and struggle.”

Pelosi has cast the sniping among House Democrats as a threat to achieving common goals, one of them to defeat Trump’s bid for reelection. Ocasio-Cortez has complained about the consolidation of power in Congress and wants Democrats to be bold about their priorities.

Pressley quoted the late Rep. Shirley Chisholm’s feminist mantra in saying that rather than bringing her own chair to the proverbial table, “this is the time to shake the table, this is the time to redefine that table.” Chisholm was a pioneering African American who sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972.

“Moving forward, I’m just appealing to all of you to recognize that our destinies and our freedoms are tied. Please do not feed any scarcity mindset,” Pressley said. “Now is not the time to be territorial about oppression and trauma. Because this is a coordinated systemic attack and we are all losing.”

Asked whether she still believes Trump must be impeached, Tlaib reprised her controversial statement — minus the overt profanity — made just hours after she was sworn into office last January.

“We’re going to impeach the MF-er,” she said. “Don’t worry.”

Adding to the Democratic discord was a tweet Friday from the House Democratic Caucus criticizing Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, after he tweeted criticism of Rep. Sharice Davids, a Kansas Democrat and Native American. “Who is this guy and why is he explicitly singling out a Native American woman of color?” the House Democrats’ tweet read in part.

A group of progressive organizations issued a statement Saturday saying they were concerned that senior Democratic Party leaders and their aides “have been escalating attacks on new leaders in the party who have been rightfully advocating a stronger approach to holding the Trump administration accountable to human rights abuses being committed on the border and against immigrants.”

“With ICE raids occurring this weekend, deaths of children at the border camps, and a continued blank check for the administration’s racist deportation machine, we will be focusing on the real crisis at hand and we urge Democratic leadership to do so as well,” the statement said. “Democratic leaders must fight to close the camps and hold ICE and CBP accountable.”

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Clock ticks on a possible Trump impeachment

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The political clock is a significant factor in whether majority House Democrats launch any impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.

There’s increasing pressure on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to at least start an impeachment inquiry into whether Trump obstructed special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation . Pelosi is resisting for a number of reasons. But the tick-tock of time is an inexorable one as the 2020 presidential and congressional elections cast a widening shadow over Washington. As it spreads, the window for launching any impeachment proceedings shrinks, making the prospect of doing so beyond December unappetizing for wide swaths of Democrats.

That reality could limit how long Pelosi can say yes or no to impeachment questions stemming from Mueller’s report.

“Whatever we do needs to be done in 2019. We need to begin it in 2019. It doesn’t necessarily have to wrap up in 2019,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., who serves on the House Judiciary Committee that would consider any such proceedings. “I think when we get into 2020 in the election year, it’s very late.”

That’s the commonality across Democrats divided over what to do now about Trump, described in the Mueller report as repeatedly trying to shut down the investigation. There’s a widespread feeling that the House would have to launch any impeachment proceedings this summer or fall, or it will be too late. There’s also a feeling that Pelosi knows this.

“I think they want to drag out the clock,” said Heidi Hess, co-director of CREDO Action, one of the leading liberal groups that called on Pelosi this week to push forward with impeachment.

Pelosi, the daughter and sister of former Baltimore mayors and a congressional veteran herself, on Wednesday made clear she’s well aware of the political clock — and says everything is unfolding as it should.

“We know exactly what path we are on,” Pelosi, a member of Congress during the impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton, told reporters. “We know exactly what actions we need to take. And while that may take more time than some people want it to take, I respect their impatience.”

In line with her approach, the House is expected next week to hold former White House Counsel Don McGahn and Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress. More contempt votes against members of the administration will follow.

Cautioned Pelosi in what’s become a mantra: “One step at a time, as fast as we can move.”

Inside Congress, dozens of congressional Democrats say they want some kind of impeachment proceedings, at some point. But beneath that debate there’s a recognition of the march of time and the plain fact that the available days for any such action are fewer than Congress’ calendar makes it appear.

The schedule has politicos gaming out when, if ever, impeachment proceedings would have to begin and when they become less likely. The calculus starts with the calendar but also moves quickly into the politics. Other regular congressional business looms, such as the federal budget, nominations and more, including whether Republicans can turn back Trump’s threat to impose tariffs on Mexico. Interviews with Democrats inside and outside Congress suggest this political logic: The later it gets in in 2019, the harder impeachment becomes.

Congress is not known for moving swiftly on legislation or investigations. The proceedings against Clinton for lying and obstruction took three months from the time the Republican-led House received prosecutor Kenneth Starr’s report to its vote to impeach the president. Nearly another two months went by before the Senate acquitted Clinton, exacerbating what some veterans see as a nearly unbridgeable rift in the country.

In theory, the House could do what legislators tend to loathe: Cancel or shorten its five-week August recess, or its multi-week recesses in October, November and December to allow for impeachment proceedings. But it’s far from clear the party broadly supports moving to impeachment in the first place, for now.

Sen. Tom Daschle, who was Democratic leader during the Senate’s trial of Clinton, said Congress’ role investigating the administration should be the focus in the short term.

“The closer it gets to the election, the more consequential it would be politically,” he said in a telephone interview. “From an institutional point of view it seems to me that timing is irrelevant.”

Other Pelosi allies see enough time ahead to make impeachment-related decisions.

“I don’t think we have a fear of time, yet,” said Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, a member of the Judiciary Committee introducing legislation to formalize the panel’s investigations.

As for working during recess, she went there.

“We could be in and out and you could still be here two or three days doing what you need to do,” Jackson Lee said. “I was reminded that Watergate really broke in hearings (which were) in August of 1974.”

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Associated Press Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.

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House panel moves to hold Barr, others in contempt

U.S. Attorney General William Barr (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

House Democrats are moving to hold Trump administration officials in contempt of Congress for failing to comply with subpoenas for documents related to the Trump administration’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said the panel will vote soon on contempt measures for Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross unless specific documents are received by Thursday.

A contempt vote by the committee would be an escalation of Democratic efforts to use their majority to aggressively investigate the inner workings of President Donald Trump’s administration.

The House Judiciary Committee voted last month to hold Barr in contempt of Congress as part of a separate legal battle with the Trump administration over access to special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.

A vote by the full House would be required to hold Barr and Ross in contempt on the census issue. Such a finding would be a political blow but would not result in real punishment since the men are unlikely to go to jail or be arrested.

Cummings said in a statement that the failure of Barr and Ross to respond to the Oversight subpoenas was “part of a pattern” by the administration to engage in a “cover-up” and challenge the authority of Congress to conduct constitutionally required oversight.

“This cover-up is being directed from the top,” Cummings said, noting that Trump has vowed to fight all subpoenas issued by Congress and refused to work on legislative priorities, such as infrastructure, until Congress halts investigations of his administration.

While Trump has suggested that congressional subpoenas are partisan and somehow related to the Russia probe, neither claim is true, Cummings said. “The subpoenas in this investigation were adopted on a bipartisan basis, and this investigation has nothing to do with Russia,” he said.

A spokesman for Ross said the Commerce Department has worked in good faith with the committee and delivered nearly 14,000 pages of documents. Ross testified for nearly seven hours earlier this year.

“To any objective observer, it is abundantly clear that the committee’s intent is not to find facts, but to desperately and improperly influence the Supreme Court with mere insinuations and conspiracy theories,” the spokesman said in an emailed statement.

The Supreme Court is considering the citizenship question in a ruling expected later this year.

The committee approved the subpoenas on the census issue in April. Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan was the sole Republican to join with Democrats in the 23-14 vote. Amash later said he supports an impeachment inquiry against Trump.

Democrats say they want specific documents to determine why Ross added the citizenship question to the 2020 census. They say the Trump administration has declined to provide the documents despite repeated requests.

Ross told the committee the decision in March 2018 to add the question was based on a Justice Department request to help it enforce the Voting Rights Act.

Cummings disputed that, citing documents unearthed last week suggesting that the real reason the administration sought to add the citizenship question was to help officials gerrymander legislative districts in overtly partisan and racist ways.

Computer files from North Carolina redistricting expert Tom Hofeller include detailed calculations that lay out gains Republicans would see in Texas by basing legislative districts on the number of voting-age citizens rather than the total population.

Hofeller, a Republican operative who died last year, said in the documents that GOP gains would be possible only if the census asked every household about its members’ immigration status for the first time since 1950.

Democrats say Ross considered adding the citizenship question from his first days in the administration in 2017. They fear the question will reduce census participation in immigrant-heavy communities, harming representation and access to federal dollars.

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Top Dems still wary of impeaching Trump

Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The threat of impeachment hangs over the White House, but it also vexes House Democrats wary of taking next steps against President Donald Trump without broader public support.

Leading Democrats provided a snapshot Sunday of the party wrestling with the impeachment questions posed by special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings in the Russia investigation. One top leader, Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, the Democratic whip, said the president may well face an impeachment inquiry in the House. Another, Rep. Adam Schiff of California suggested it’s not likely soon, if at all.

“We’re not there yet,” Schiff said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has stopped short of pursuing an impeachment inquiry against Trump despite an increasing number of lawmakers, including some 2020 presidential contenders , clamoring to do so. She’s wary of embarking on a politically divisive debate that she worries would all but drown out the House’s policy agenda and campaign promises. Lawmakers heard mixed views during a recess week back home and Pelosi faced those favoring impeachment during the weekend California Democrats’ party meeting.

Instead, six House committees are probing deeply into Trump’s business dealings, his running of the government and whether or not the president obstructed Mueller’s investigation.

“What I have said time and time again is, Mueller has developed the grounds for impeachment. The House has to determine the timing for impeachment. There’s a big difference,” Clyburn said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“We are trying to take our time and do this right,” Clyburn said. “So I don’t see this as being out of whack with what the people’s aspirations are.”

Schiff, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, signaled the House may ultimately decline to pursue impeachment.

“I think if it is a close call, close calls go against putting the country through that,” he said.

Schiff still wants Mueller to testify, saying he has a “final duty” to appear before Congress, even though the special counsel indicated in a rare public statement last week he would prefer to simply have the report speak for itself.

“It’s my hope that he will do so, and it’s my hope that he will do so voluntarily,” Schiff said. He did not indicate whether the House would try to compel Mueller’s testimony with a subpoena.

The House is poised to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt for failing to comply with a subpoena for a fully unredacted version of Mueller’s report. Barr has separately been given new authority by Trump to disclose documents and information on the origin of the Russia probe, a top priority of the president and his Republican allies on Capitol Hill.

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the Oversight Committee, said he, too wants Mueller to testify so Republicans can pursue their own line of questioning about the Russia investigation.

“I know this, I got questions for him,” Jordan said on ABC. “Why did you wait almost two years before you told the country there was no conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the election?”

Trump says the case is closed on the Russia matter, tweeting Sunday, “NO COLLUSION, NO OBSTRUCTION, NO NOTHING.”

Mueller’s report confirmed that Russia did seek to tilt the 2016 election in favor of Trump, but the special counsel could not establish evidence of a criminal conspiracy with the president’s campaign. Mueller said while Justice Department guidelines indicate a sitting president cannot be charged with a crime, the special counsel said he could not clear Trump on the question of whether he obstructed justice.

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