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House Dems take up defense bill, prepare for Mueller appearance

Updated July 8, 2019 - 6:10 am

WASHINGTON — House Democrats plan to take up their version of the Senate-passed defense bill this week as well as a possible ban on arms sales to Saudi Arabia and preparations for special counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony on his Russian election meddling investigation later in the month.

The House and Senate were in recess for the week of the Fourth of July and return early this week to pick up where they left off on legislation to authorize defense spending. A version has already passed the Senate, but the House version is still being written in the Armed Services Committee.

Senators also passed resolutions to block the sales of arms to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other countries. President Donald Trump proposed the arms sales without congressional review by declaring an emergency because of an escalation of military activity and strained relations with Iran. Trump cited Iran’s shooting down of a U.S. military drone in declaring an emergency that allowed him to bypass Congress and conduct arms sales with Middle Eastern countries.

“When we come back, we will be doing national security issues,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said at a news conference before House members left Washington. House lawmakers will return on Tuesday.

The House is expected to pass similar legislation rejecting Trump’s emergency and the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia and other countries, despite the president’s vow to veto the Senate resolutions.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., opposed the Senate resolutions rejecting the president’s actions, but even Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said it was the wrong signal to send to Saudi Arabia, which is accused of human rights abuses and the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are also involved in the war in Yemen, opposing Iran-backed rebels, which has claimed thousands of civilian lives and been categorized by the United Nations as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.

In addition to the arms sales resolutions, the Senate also passed the defense authorization bill before recess, 86-8.

McConnell has scheduled votes on judicial and executive branch nominations when the Senate returns Monday evening.

Meanwhile, the House judiciary and intelligence committees are preparing for testimony by Mueller on his report on the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Though Trump was cleared by the special counsel of criminally conspiring with the Russians, the report contains damaging details of the president’s attempts to thwart and shut down the probe by suggesting that Mueller be fired. In his report, Mueller left it to Congress to determine whether obstruction charges should be leveled against the president.

Democrats have seized on the report to spotlight the president’s behavior in advance of the 2020 elections. Testimony by Mueller before the two committees on July 17 will present an opportunity to have the special counsel appear on television for viewers who have not read the dense report.

Republicans have defended the president and are expected to grill Mueller on the conclusions and methods of the investigation.

The appearance by Mueller could precede an impeachment inquiry by Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., which he said he is prepared to launch if the facts bear out the need to take such action against the president.

Though a growing number of House Democrats favor an impeachment proceeding against Trump, any such action would likely die in the GOP-controlled Senate, where McConnell and Graham have vowed to move on from the yearslong Mueller investigation.

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

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