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After Rough Week, Senate to Take Bipartisan Turn

Lawmakers lay low after DHS, Iran struggles sparked high emotions.

It's been a rocky few weeks in Congress. Lawmakers need a break from brinksmanship and blaming. In that spirit, the Senate this week will vote on something everyone agrees on—combatting human trafficking. The House is taking a breather for a mid-winter recess and will reconvene on March 16.

The week off for House members will give everyone a chance to cool off in the wake of a weeks-long standoff over funding the Homeland Security Department. On the brink of a DHS shutdown, House Speaker John Boehner finally caved to the inevitability of a clean funding bill and passed it with the help of Democrats. He took heat from the GOP caucus in a closed-door meeting and then immediately headed upstairs greet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It was a lot to handle in one day.

Two days later, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell conceded in the middle of yet another major Northeastern snowstorm that the Senate won't be able to debate legislation this week on Iran's nuclear program, even though it's a bill that both Democrats and Republicans want. Democrats want the Foreign Relations Committee to first to consider the bill, which would require congressional review of any comprehensive agreement with Iran. They also want to see what the Iran nuclear talks produce on March 24, when a framework for a deal is supposed to be announced.

McConnell was clearly irritated that Democrats refused to go along with his proposal for floor debate on Iran legislation that they helped draft. But he agreed not to subject the Senate to yet another pointless procedural vote that would fail. Instead, the Senate will debate legislation that passed the Judiciary Committee unanimously to provide more services to human trafficking victims and crack down on perpetrators.

The legislation would give law enforcement more tools to combat the practice, including the ability to charge people who solicit commercial sex with children as "sex traffickers." Ratcheting up the penalties should, in theory, reduce the number of people willing to risk seeking out sex with children, thus minimizing demand.

Senators expect to add to the trafficking legislation in what is expected to be a non-controversial floor debate. Consider it practice for when they take up a slightly more provocative budget resolution later this month. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker and ranking member Robert Menendez will offer an amendment to combat forced labor and sexual servitude in other countries. Their proposal would do so by chartering a nonprofit grant-making organization to free victims of modern slavery and punishing corporate perpetrators.

On Monday, the Senate is expected to hold confirmation votes for two key intellectual property positions. Michelle Lee, Obama's pick to head the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and Daniel Marti, selected to be the White House "IP czar." Both are expected to face little resistance.

White House

President Obama will hit the road this week, in part to raise money for 2016 Democratic candidates. He'll start in Washington, speaking Monday to the National League of Cities Congressional City Conference. On Tuesday, the president heads south to Atlanta and will speak at Georgia Tech University. That night, he'll attend a Democratic National Committee fundraiser. On Thursday, the president will fly to Los Angeles for another DNC event, returning to D.C. on Friday. Obama will end the week by attending the venerable Gridiron Club dinner. (Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, a likely GOP presidential candidate, will be speaking at the dinner as well.)


Administration officials are set to explain the president's request for to use military force against Islamic and Syrian militants. Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Ash Carter, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Martin Dempsey will appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday to discuss both military and diplomatic options. Lawmakers' reactions to these high-level officials will foreshadow the AUMF debate on the Senate floor, which should take place in the next few months.

Read more about Congress' agenda this week on National Journal

Sam Baker, Clare Foran, Rachel Roubein, Dustin Volz, James Oliphant, and Brendan Sasso contributed to this article.