Wiretap Inquiry, Obamacare Repeal and A Supreme Court Hearing

  • Did Russian security services – or the Obama Administration – take “active measures” to influence the 2016 Presidential election? The House Select Intelligence Committee wants to know; it will conduct a hearing Monday headlined by testimony from FBI Director James Comey and Mike Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, on whether Russia hacked into email accounts at the Democratic National Committee and elsewhere, and whether President Obama had Trump Tower bugged.
  • The chairman of that committee, Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, said Sunday that new information provided to the committee on Friday revealed no signs of physical wiretaps at Trump Tower and no FISA warrant authorizing such surveillance. The committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, put it simply: “We are at the bottom of this. There is nothing at the bottom.”
  • It’s unsurprising, of course, that Russian discussions are all over town this week. On Wednesday, the Arms Control Association will focus on “How U.S. and Russian Leaders Can Avoid Renewed Nuclear Tensions.” (Just a guess: Don’t interfere in each other’s elections.) And on Thursday, the Center for Strategic and International Studies will mull “A Roadmap for U.S.-Russian Relations.”
  • Voting to repeal Obamacare is not exactly uncharted ground for the Republican-led House of Representatives; the lower house has voted more than 50 times to repeal or gut key provisions of Obamacare since it passed eight years ago. This week they might get another chance – but one with significantly more import. The House-drafted bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act could come to the floor this week, despite misgivings among some Republicans that it will leave many blue-collar voters worse off than they were under President Obama’s plan.
  • “All of the options are on the table” – usually that’s a good thing. In the context of how the United States will handle a belligerent North Korea that seems to be rapidly building its nuclear capability, it’s a little unsettling, however. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Friday that while the U.S. doesn’t want to take military action against North Korea, “the policy of strategic patience has ended.” On Tuesday, the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific will conduct a hearing on “Pressuring North Korea: Evaluating Options.” On Monday, the Hudson Institute will discuss “Addressing the North Korean Threat,” focusing on North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs.
  • Finally, a nominee to fill Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat on the United States Supreme Court will get a congressional hearing. On Monday and Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will undertake a hearing on the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to be an Associate Justice on the court. Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, Judiciary Committee chairman, will command the gavel; last week he and Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced a bill to require Supreme Court proceedings to be televised.
  • Two Cabinet confirmation hearings on tap this week, for the final two members of President Trump’s cabinet. On Wednesday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will review the nomination of Alexander Acosta to be Labor Secretary. And on Thursday, the Senate Agriculture Committee will examine Sonny Perdue, the former Georgia governor who is not related to the Purdue chicken empire but who is nominated as Secretary of Agriculture.
  • What is the role of the United States in the world? That’s the subject of two hearings on Tuesday, with the Senate Armed Services Committee considering “U.S. Policy and Strategy in Europe” while, at about the same time, the House Armed Services Committee mulls “America’s Role in the World.” Also on Tuesday, the Cato Institute holds a book discussion on “America Abroad: The United States Global Role in the 21st Century.”
  • Trump Administration officials pushed back on Sunday against warnings that steep budget cuts for domestic programs would alienate some of the president’s core voters, eliminating federal support for programs like Meals on Wheels and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps poor households to heat their homes in winter. “I think for the first time in a long time, you have an administration that is looking at the compassion of both sides of the equation,” said Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, referring to those who pay taxes and those who benefit from them.
  • Dept. of Problems We Didn’t Know Existed: Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Florida Democrat, will hold a briefing on Tuesday to highlight his recently introduced bill that prohibits the slaughter of dogs and cats for food for human consumption, which he says is still legal “in much of the United States.” Actress Shannen Doherty will be on hand to help promote the Dog and Cat Meat Trade Prohibition Act of 2017.