Capitol Commentary: The Week Ahead in Washington 6/5/17

Days after President Donald Trump postponed fulfilling a campaign promise to relocate the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, the Senate plans to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Israel’s control of a city that is holy to three religions. Today’s scheduled vote to celebrate Jerusalem’s reunification during the 1967 Six-Day War kicks off a busy Senate week that is also slated to include the first public testimony by ex-FBI Director James Comey since Trump fired him on May 9. As lawmakers return from a week-long recess, the House has set votes on legislation to repeal the 2010 Dodd-Frank bank-regulation law that Congress enacted in response to the 2008 financial crisis.

Russia Probe

The congressional investigations of Russian meddling in last year’s presidential election and the Kremlin’s possible collusion with Trump’s campaign are accelerating with a new round of subpoenas and Comey’s scheduled testimony Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Lawmakers want to learn more about whether Trump pushed Comey to drop the FBI’s probe of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s financial ties to Russia and Turkey. Look to see if a White House legal review results in the president invoking executive privilege to prevent Comey from testifying about his conversations with Trump. Comey’s dismissal led to former FBI Director Robert Mueller III’s appointment as special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation.

Swipe Fees

Intense lobbying by retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. against a provision in the Dodd-Frank rollback that would lift the cap on fees that banks charge merchants for debit-card purchases prompted updated language that preserves the status quo. The change, made in updated bill text released last week, will enable Republicans to avoid a politically charged vote on legislation that has a dim future in the Senate, where Democrats have the votes to block it.

Surveillance Law

The terrorist attacks in London lend new urgency to a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing set for Wednesday on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which authorizes the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on suspected spies and terrorists. A key provision authorizing the bulk electronic surveillance of foreign persons overseas without a warrant expires at year’s end and supporters are bracing for a legislative fight.

NSA Director Mike Rogers and Dan Coats, the former Indiana senator who Trump appointed director of national intelligence, are expected to press lawmakers to renew the provision, known as Section 702, without changes.

Unified Jerusalem

Today’s scheduled vote on the Jerusalem resolution, S. Res. 176, perpetuates debates over moving the U.S. Embassy and the status of the holy city. Israel’s complete control of Jerusalem is not recognized by other nations because Jerusalem was envisioned as an international city under the 1947 United Nations resolution that partitioned Palestine and set the borders of the new Jewish nation that was founded in 1948. Before 1967, Israel held West Jerusalem, and Jordan controlled the Old City. Jews were barred from visiting the Western Wall of the Temple Mount, sacred ground known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. Christians venerate the nearby Church of the Holy Sepulchre as the location of Christ’s tomb.

The Senate vote comes days after Trump, like his predecessors, signed a six-month waiver to continue delaying the requirement of a 1995 law mandating the embassy move. The White House said in a statement that Trump still planned to move the embassy but wanted to preserve the status quo to facilitate a possible settlement between Israelis and Palestinians.

ACA Repeal

Senate Republicans renew their efforts to find consensus on repealing Obamacare. House-passed legislation, H.R. 1628, has little support in the Senate, where Republicans are divided over how to proceed. Republican Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina told a home-state television station that a deal this year is “unlikely.” Watch for Democrats to question Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price about his administration of the Affordable Care Act when he appears Thursday before the Senate Finance and the House Ways and Means committees to explain his agency’s spending priorities for the 2018 fiscal year. Price leads a parade of Cabinet secretaries making trips to Capitol Hill to discuss Trump’s proposed budget.

Special Election

Voters in California’s 34th District go to the polls tomorrow to pick a successor to former Representative Xavier Becerra, who was appointed state attorney general in January. State assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, preferred by House Democratic leaders to win the Los Angeles seat, faces lawyer Robert Lee Ahn, a former city planning commissioner. It is the only vacant seat being defended by Democrats after Trump appointed Price, a former Georgia representative, and three other House members to top positions in his administration.

John Zang Contributed to This Report

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