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Congress returns from recess facing hot-button issues

WASHINGTON — Hot-button issues like border security, Facebook privacy and the confirmation of a new secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs will greet lawmakers Monday when they return from a two-week-long recess.

Little legislative headway is expected as Republicans and Democrats ramp up partisan attacks and tactics with the midterm election looming and control of the House and Senate in the balance.

Partisan posturing began before Congress recessed to observe religious holidays, and continued while members were out of town.

President Donald Trump took to Twitter and White House events to blame Congress for failing to reach an immigration agreement to fully fund his border wall in exchange for a deal on so-called Dreamer immigrants.

Trump angrily announced plans to place National Guard troops on the border after Congress passed a spending bill that provided only $1.6 billion for border wall construction and no extension of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

Negotiations between Congress and the White House on his $25 billion request for wall construction and an extension for DACA eligible immigrants broke down before lawmakers left town. Trump blamed Democrats for leaving Dreamers without a solution.

“They had this great opportunity,” Trump said. “The Democrats have really let them down. It’s a shame.”

Some, though, saw the president’s action as a move to rally conservative voters after the president was criticized by right-leaning media pundits for failing to secure border funding.

“He’s upset that Congress negotiated a spending bill without funding his border wall. And he’s upset that he didn’t even realize how boneheaded he had been until Ann Coulter and company lit him up after he signed the spending bill,” said Frank Sharry with America’s Voice, a pro-immigrant advocacy group.

Republicans rallied to the president’s defense. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the second highest-ranking GOP lawmaker in the Senate, said deploying the National Guard “is a commonsense way to temporarily assist law enforcement along the border.”

But GOP leaders were noticeably quiet on the president’s call for more border wall construction money. And the Department of Homeland Security scrambled to to lay out a plan to deploy troops in border states.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers said negotiations on DACA are continuing.

Concern about privacy

Despite the partisan division on immigration, Republican and Democrats were united in their concern about privacy abuses of data collected on users of the social media platform Facebook.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg will appear before a joint hearing of two Senate committees on Tuesday to explain how information on 87 million users was improperly obtained through Facebook’s search tools.

“With all the data exchanged over Facebook and other platforms, users deserve to know how their information is shared and secured,” said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Senate must also take up the nomination of Adm. Rodney Jackson to replace Dr. David Shulkin as VA secretary.

Trump fired Shulkin following ethical questions about the former secretary’s travel and acceptance of gifts, including tickets to Wimbledon tennis matches while traveling with his wife on a work trip in Europe, detailed in an inspector general’s report.

Shulkin claims his firing was retaliation for his pushback on Trump administration efforts to privatize the VA.

The nomination of Jackson, the president’s personal physician, has left even some Republicans skeptical about his qualifications.

“I look forward to meeting Admiral Jackson and learning more about him,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

Balanced budget amendment

In the House, Republicans are scheduled to vote on a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., scheduled a Thursday vote on the amendment, a largely symbolic gesture after Congress passed a $1.3 trillion spending bill projected to add $1 trillion to the debt over 10 years.

Rep. Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has authored the bill that would cap annual spending.

The bill, championed by fiscal conservatives, would require House and Senate passage and approval from a majority of state legislatures, making enactment unlikely.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who voted against the spending bill over concerns about the debt, said in a Tweet last week that fellow Republicans were resorting to gimmicks “so they can feel good when they go home and face voters.”

Leaders in both parties are eyeing midterm elections that historically favor the party that doesn’t occupy the White House.

Republicans, who control the House, Senate and the White House, were able to pass a sweeping tax cut package last year, giving them an issue to campaign on after failing to repeal the Affordable Care Act after nine years of promises.

Democrats have used their minority in the Senate to block GOP legislation, force a government shutdown and leverage their clout to include funding increases for domestic programs in the spending bill.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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