- Views & Opinions
Gun control, immigration and money to combat the Zika virus top the congressional agenda as lawmakers sprint toward the political conventions this month and a seven-week summer recess.
Amid all that, Republicans plan to squeeze in a meeting with Donald Trump on Thursday.
The House and Senate have just eight legislative days before their break, and lawmakers have scheduled a handful of politically charged votes with implications for incumbents in November’s election. In the House, legislation to fight terrorism and a gun control measure that already failed in the Senate are planned for this week.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said a GOP plan to keep suspected terrorists from obtaining firearms would do so “without compromising a citizen’s basic bill of rights,” including the rights to bear arms and receive due process under the law.
In the Senate, immigration bills and legislation to impose labeling on genetically modified food are on tap. Unclear is whether Republicans and Democrats can resolve the dispute over funds for the mosquito-borne Zika virus now that summer is in full swing, or whether the matter will have to wait until September when Congress returns.
A look at the issues:
Back in February, President Barack Obama requested $1.9 billion in emergency money to fight Zika, which causes grave birth defects and has infected 287 pregnant women in the United States and 250 in U.S. territories, according to the most recent numbers from the Centers for Disease Control.
Congress has failed to fund the request as the issue has been caught up in partisan fights and the typical dysfunction. House Republicans rammed through a bill that would provide $1.1 billion by cutting money from other government agencies. The legislation, to the anger of Democrats, would bar new funding for Planned Parenthood clinics in Puerto Rico and allow pesticide spraying that environmentalists argue would be harmful.
Senate Democrats have blocked the bill and another vote is expected this week, although progress is unlikely.
Bowing to election-year pressure from Democrats, Ryan, R-Wis., says the House will vote on a GOP proposal aimed at keeping suspected terrorists from obtaining firearms, a measure backed by the National Rifle Association.
Democrats want to vote on their own gun control bills, and they haven’t ruled out a return to disruptive tactics if they’re rebuffed. Ryan indicated on Tuesday that Democrats are unlikely to get a vote.
Democrats staged a sit-in on the House floor that lasted nearly 26 hours last month to call attention to their demand for gun-control votes.
The sit-in followed the June 12 mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, that killed 49 people and heightened attention on the national toll taken by firearms.
The GOP bill would let the government block firearms purchases for suspected terrorists, but only if prosecutors can prove in court that the buyer is involved in terrorism. It would also establish a new office within the Department of Homeland Security to focus on preventing extremist groups from recruiting followers.
Democrats say the Republican bill is too weak. They want votes on one measure expanding background check requirements for gun buyers, and a second banning firearms sales to terror suspects without requiring prosecutors to first prove the buyer was embarking on terrorism.
Key House and Senate lawmakers are close to a deal on a bill to extend the Federal Aviation Administration’s programs and policies, which are due to expire on July 15. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation Committee, has agreed to temporarily drop his contentious plan to privatize the nation’s air traffic control system in order to allow a bill to move forward.
Negotiations have focused on what policy provisions to include in the extension. There is strong support in both chambers to include an array of proposals to enhance airports security in light of recent airport attacks in Istanbul and Brussels. Proposals to extend new protections to airline consumers, relax medical requirements for private pilots and lift some restrictions on commercial drone flights are also under discussion.
House and Senate Republicans are slated to meet with the GOP’s presumptive presidential nominee less than two weeks before the party convention in Cleveland. Among those expected to attend the separate sessions are Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee, Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Joni Ernst of Iowa, all of whom have been mentioned as possible running mates for the blustery billionaire.
Trump’s short list of possible vice presidential candidates is heavy with Washington insiders who could help usher his agenda through Congress.
Senate Democrats are expected to block a GOP bill that would withhold congressional funding from so-called sanctuary cities that shield residents from federal immigration authorities. Republicans also are proposing a bill to impose a mandatory minimum sentence of five years for any person who illegally re-enters the country after being removed.
Republicans have pushed for action since last year when 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle was shot in San Francisco. The man charged in the killing was in the country illegally despite a long criminal record and multiple prior deportations. He had been released by San Francisco authorities despite a request from federal immigration authorities to keep him detained.