6 min read

Season of bipartisanship

Congress could get a lot done on a range of big issues in the coming months. Emphasis on “could.”
Season of bipartisanship
Photo by MudflapDC / Flickr

Good morning! It’s Monday, April 8, 2024. Election Day is 211 days away. If this newsletter was forwarded to you, subscribe here. If you want to contribute to support my work, donate here.

Congress returns from its two-week Easter break this week, and the upcoming work period has the potential to be a busy one.

Now that the government has formally been funded — six months late, that is — lawmakers can finally move on to tackling the other legislative priorities that piled up in the time they wasted squabbling about spending.

Notably, almost every one of the major pieces of legislation coming down the pike has both Democratic and Republican support, which means we could be entering an unexpected season of bipartisanship in the heat of a divisive election year — as long as the bills manage to jump over various hurdles in their way, of course.

Here’s a guide to the issues your representatives in Washington will be working on in the coming months.

In the House: The first bill on deck in the lower chamber is the Reforming Intelligence and Securing America Act, which would reauthorize the controversial surveillance tool known as Section 702. The tool, which was first authorized after 9/11 as part of an update to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), allows the U.S. government to collect the communications of non-Americans living abroad without needing to obtain a warrant.

Intelligence agencies argue that Section 702 is a critical national security tool to surveil terrorists: according to the intel community, 59% of articles in the president’s 2022 intelligence briefings included information drawn from Section 702 surveillance. However, civil liberties organizations have long called for the program to be restricted, noting that the tool can often sweep up the communications of Americans citizens. Last year, per a government report, the FBI used the Section 702 database around 120,000 times to perform “backdoor searches” to unearth Americans’ communications without a warrant.

Section 702 is set to expire on April 19, and two bipartisan pairings have emerged to offer reform proposals. The House Judiciary Committee chairman and ranking member, Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Jerry Nadler (D-NY), authored a bill that was approved 35-2 by their committee, while the House Intelligence Committee leaders, Mike Turner (R-OH) and Jim Himes (D-CT), sponsored a measure that was approved unanimously by their panel.

The bill Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) is set to put on the floor this week is a compromise between the Judiciary and Intelligence versions. It features 56 specific reforms to Section 702, including requiring the Justice Department to implement new procedures for invoking the tool, the creation of new penalties for those who violate the procedures, and new transparency requirements to ensure that abuses of the tool are reported to Congress.

After the House has finished with Section 702, the chamber is expected to turn to an even more controversial battle: the fight over Ukraine aid. Johnson has repeatedly indicated that he will put an aid proposal up for a vote, although the exact contours of the future package are unclear. Provisions he has floated include structuring the assistance as a loan, using seized Russian assets to pay for the aid, and attaching the bill to a reversal of President Biden’s ban on new liquified natural gas (LNG) exports.

If Johnson moves forward with any Ukraine aid package, he is sure to face an outcry from his right flank — and possibly even a vote on his removal. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) has already filed a motion to oust Johnson, but has yet to force a vote on it. If Greene does pulls the trigger after Johnson allows a Ukraine vote, it could lead to the ultimate act of bipartisanship: Democrats crossing party lines to save a Republican speaker.

In the Senate: The first item coming up on the Senate schedule is not a bipartisan one — although it may end with a bipartisan outcome. On Wednesday, the House is set to formally send the articles of impeachment against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to the upper chamber. Mayorkas was impeached in a razor-thin vote in February for his alleged failure to comply with U.S. immigration law.

Usually a House impeachment vote would require the Senate to consider the articles in a formal trial — potentially eating up weeks of floor time — but Senate Democrats are expected to move to dismiss the articles at the trial’s outset. Only the 51 Democratic-aligned senators will be needed to dismiss; it is possible some Republicans, including Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), may join them as well.

Once impeachment is out of the way, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has promised votes on a flurry of bipartisan bills. For starters, the chamber may take up two measures that passed the House with sweeping cross-party support: the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, which would ban TikTok if it isn’t sold by its Chinese parentco, and the Tax Relief for American Families and Workers Act, which would expand the Child Tax Credit for low-income families and extend three corporate tax deductions.

Despite their lopsided votes in the House, neither bill is guaranteed a free ride in the Senate. The tax deal is especially imperiled, with Republicans unlikely to give it enough support to cross the 60-vote filibuster threshold.

Other bipartisan bills which Schumer signaled could receive Senate consideration soon include the Railway Safety Act, which would implement reforms to avoid a repeat of the East Palestine derailment; the RECOUP Act, which would allow the government to claw back banking executives’ pay after failures like the Silicon Valley Bank collapse; and the Kids Online Safety Act, a bill to create greater protections for minors on the Internet, which has the support of more than 60 senators.

In both chambers: A few other areas of action to keep your eye on. Members in both chambers are currently discussing plans for a bill to finance the rebuilding of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge, which collapsed last month. Biden has called on Congress to fund the entire rebuilding effort, although House conservatives appear unlikely to sign off.

Also, there’s a chance Congress could hold a vote on a national data privacy standard — the first-ever comprehensive bill on the topic since the dawn of the Internet age. House Energy and Commerce Committee chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-WA) unveiled the American Privacy Rights Act yesterday, which would give Americans broad rights to control their own personal data, opt out of targeted advertising, and sue violating tech companies.

Rodgers and Cantwell are only describing their bill as a “discussion draft” for now, so it has a long way to go until potential passage, but even a bipartisan deal being negotiated in this area is notable, considering the fact that it has bedeviled lawmakers for decades.

The big picture: The 118th Congress has, so far, been the most unproductive in recent memory. But, if lawmakers choose to take the leap, bipartisan progress on a number of consequential areas are possible, from foreign aid and surveillance reform to online safety and privacy to railroad safety and bank failures.

More news to know.

Breaking: After weeks of dithering on the topic, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said this morning that he believes abortion policy should be left to the states. “The states will determine by vote or legislation, or perhaps both,” he said in a Truth Social video. “And whatever they decide must be the law of the land — in this case, the law of the state.”

Trump had previously suggested openness to a 15-week national abortion ban. In the video, he also said that he was “proudly the person responsible” for the overturning of Roe v. Wade, which paved the way for states to ban or heavily restrict abortion.

More headlines:

Before I go...

Happy viewing today as the Moon passes between the Sun and the Earth, creating the last total solar eclipse that will be visible from the continental United States until 2044.

Here’s NASA’s map of where — and when — the total eclipse will be visible:

A map of the contiguous U.S. shows the path of the 2024 total solar eclipse stretching on a narrow band from Texas to Maine.

A tip: Wear red and green during the eclipse to experience the Purkinje effect, an optical illusion in which “reds and yellows will seem to fade while greens and blues appear brighter,” according to the Detroit Free Press. Read more about the phenomenon here.

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— Gabe