Architect of the Capitol

Obama and the GOP Congress Ponder What They Can Get Done This Year

The president meets with Republican leaders this week as the Senate works on an energy bill.

This week will help de­term­ine wheth­er the White House and the GOP-led Con­gress can ac­com­plish any­thing big in 2016.

Pres­id­ent Obama will meet with Paul Ry­an on Tues­day for their first sit-down since Ry­an be­came House speak­er.

Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell will be there too (even though it’s not, the White House said, the long hoped-for “bour­bon sum­mit” between Obama and the Sen­ate lead­er from Ken­tucky).

The list of big-tick­et items ripe for le­gis­lat­ive co­oper­a­tion in 2016 is small, es­pe­cially as the pres­id­en­tial elec­tion draws closer.

Obama is push­ing Con­gress to ap­prove the sweep­ing Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship trade deal, but Mc­Con­nell has signaled that the pact won’t come to the floor un­til after Novem­ber’s elec­tions.

There’s a chance that Con­gress and the White House could thread the needle on a pack­age of ma­jor changes to the crim­in­al-justice sys­tem. Bi­par­tis­an bills to soften harsh man­dat­ory-min­im­um sen­ten­cing policies and aid pris­on­ers’ reentry in­to so­ci­ety are mov­ing through both cham­bers, but face big hurdles—and Mc­Con­nell hasn’t com­mit­ted to a floor de­bate.

There could be com­mon ground on en­ergy-policy le­gis­la­tion that’s on the Sen­ate floor this week, al­though that bill is at­tract­ing amend­ments that split the parties (more on that be­low).

But while Obama will huddle with top Re­pub­lic­ans on Tues­day, the House is also push­ing ahead with bills and votes that lay bare col­li­sions with the White House.

Here are a few things that will hap­pen on Cap­it­ol Hill while every­one di­gests the af­ter­math of Monday’s Iowa caucuses:

Re­pub­lic­ans will try to over­ride Obama’s veto of le­gis­la­tion that would dis­mantle Obama­care, a vote doomed to fail­ure that will non­ethe­less provide Re­pub­lic­ans an­oth­er op­por­tun­ity to polit­ic­ally at­tack the health care law.

The House will also vote on Ir­an sanc­tions le­gis­la­tion—the bill that re­flects GOP claims that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has been dan­ger­ously ac­com­mod­at­ing to Ir­a­ni­an of­fi­cials.

But Demo­crats call the bill, which would make it much harder to waive sanc­tions, a trans­par­ent at­tempt to scuttle the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s nuc­le­ar deal with Ir­an. The White House has already said it would veto the bill if it ever reached Obama’s desk.

Look for mem­bers to be on time for this vote, which is a redo of an earli­er ef­fort. The House tried to vote on the meas­ure on Jan. 13. But Ry­an is a stick­ler for punc­tu­al­ity, and gaveled the 15-minute vote closed even though less than 300 mem­bers had showed up.

Back to crim­in­al-justice re­form for a mo­ment: Ad­voc­ates hope to build mo­mentum Monday, when GOP Rep. Jim Sensen­bren­ner and Demo­crat Bobby Scott host a dis­cus­sion with mem­bers of the Charles Colson Task Force on Fed­er­al Cor­rec­tions. That’s a con­gres­sion­ally cre­ated group that just re­leased a wide set of re­form pro­pos­als.

Sen. Mike Lee, a tea-party fa­vor­ite who has a emerged as a ma­jor force be­hind the bi­par­tis­an ef­fort, is slated to at­tend.


The Sen­ate is on the verge of mov­ing its first ma­jor piece of en­ergy le­gis­la­tion since the George W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion—as­sum­ing a lengthy amend­ment de­bate doesn’t sink the bill.

Two of the biggest pri­or­it­ies from both parties—lift­ing the crude-oil ex­port ban and ex­tend­ing tax cred­its for re­new­able en­ergy—got dealt with in the om­ni­bus pack­age, which has left this en­ergy bill to deal with nitty-gritty ma­ter­i­al on en­ergy in­fra­struc­ture, in­creas­ing ef­fi­ciency, and up­dat­ing the elec­tric­al grid. But mem­bers are hop­ing to use the open amend­ment pro­cess to deal with ma­jor en­ergy de­bates, even as spon­sors try to ward away any pois­on-pill amend­ments.

And that means that, like the de­bate on last year’s Key­stone XL bill (which was con­duc­ted un­der the threat of a veto), mem­bers have a lengthy list of amend­ments, cov­er­ing Pres­id­ent Obama’s power-plant reg­u­la­tions, the re­new­able-fuel stand­ard, cli­mate change, and everything in between.

Demo­crats are put­ting their weight be­hind an amend­ment that would of­fer fed­er­al as­sist­ance to the cit­izens of Flint, Michigan as they deal with lead con­tam­in­a­tion in the city’s drink­ing wa­ter. Michigan Demo­crats Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow have a pro­pos­al that would of­fer up to $400 mil­lion in match­ing funds to ad­dress the crisis and force the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment to no­ti­fy com­munit­ies of lead test­ing. Re­pub­lic­ans, however, haven’t got­ten be­hind the amend­ment and may balk at the ex­tra spend­ing, even while Demo­crats make the case that it should be con­sidered emer­gency fund­ing.

Re­pub­lic­an John Thune said he was con­cerned that al­low­ing the Flint amend­ment would open up the bill to oth­er sen­at­ors’ causes, and already, Cali­for­nia’s Bar­bara Box­er and Di­anne Fein­stein are hop­ing to ad­dress a ma­jor en­vir­on­ment­al prob­lem in their state. Their amend­ment would force the En­ergy De­part­ment to re­spond to the massive meth­ane leak in the Al­iso Canyon.

One thing that isn’t likely is an at­tempt to force Re­pub­lic­ans to state their stance on the real­ity of cli­mate change; Sen. Bri­an Schatz told re­port­ers last week that Demo­crats wer­en’t look­ing to re­play that stunt and would in­stead try to ad­vance the cli­mate de­bate.

On the Re­pub­lic­an side, mem­bers have amend­ments meant to cur­tail the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s en­ergy reg­u­la­tions, with lan­guage to undo sev­er­al ma­jor reg­u­la­tions and to lift some re­stric­tions on hy­draul­ic frac­tur­ing. But such amend­ments could kill the bill’s Demo­crat­ic sup­port (it passed the En­ergy and Nat­ur­al Re­sources Com­mit­tee on an 18-4 vote) and lead to a veto threat, which the White House has so far avoided.

The Flint wa­ter crisis will be the fo­cus of a House Over­sight Com­mit­tee hear­ing Wed­nes­day, but the ab­sence of a wit­ness could over­shad­ow the en­tire hear­ing. Michigan Demo­crat­ic Rep. Brenda Lawrence has loudly com­plained that the com­mit­tee isn’t call­ing Gov. Rick Snyder to testi­fy, say­ing that his omis­sion will make the hear­ing less “thor­ough and mean­ing­ful.”

Re­pub­lic­ans on the House Sci­ence, Space, and Tech­no­logy com­mit­tee will call sev­er­al high-pro­file crit­ics of Pres­id­ent Obama’s cli­mate agenda, in­clud­ing rep­res­ent­at­ives from the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce and the Her­it­age Found­a­tion, for a Tues­day hear­ing on the United Na­tions cli­mate deal.

The Sen­ate En­vir­on­ment and Pub­lic Works Com­mit­tee is set to con­sider a con­tro­ver­sial In­teri­or De­part­ment pro­pos­al that would place lim­its on coal pro­du­cers op­er­at­ing near streams. The Wed­nes­day hear­ing will look at how the stream-pro­tec­tion rule would in­ter­act with the En­dangered Spe­cies Act and the Clean Wa­ter Act.


Add the House Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form Com­mit­tee to the ever-grow­ing list of pub­lic ant­ag­on­ists with Mar­tin Shkreli. The pan­el sub­poenaed the former CEO of Tur­ing Phar­ma­ceut­ic­als, known as “pharma bro,” to testi­fy at a hear­ing Thursday to re­view drug prices, but its re­quest was first met with the so­cial-me­dia sass that’s be­come ex­pec­ted of Shkreli.

On Jan. 20, Shkreli tweeted, “House busy whin­ing to health­care re­port­ers about me ap­pear­ing for their chit chat next week. Haven’t de­cided yet. Should I? @Rep­Cum­mings.” Less than an hour later, he tweeted a pic­ture of the sub­poena, writ­ing, “Found this let­ter. Looks im­port­ant.”

But his at­tend­ance doesn’t mean that law­makers—and oth­er vo­cal crit­ics of Shkreli’s de­cision to drastic­ally hike the price of a life-sav­ing drug—would get the show­down they’d like. He plans to re­main si­lent at the hear­ing if he is re­quired to at­tend, Re­u­ters re­por­ted.


The House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee’s Com­mu­nic­a­tions and Tech­no­logy Sub­com­mit­tee will hold a hear­ing Tues­day morn­ing to ex­am­ine the status of First­Net, the planned na­tion­wide com­mu­nic­a­tions net­work for first re­spon­ders. The 9/11 Com­mis­sion Re­port con­cluded that com­mu­nic­a­tions fail­ures between fire­fight­ers and po­lice of­ficers hampered the re­sponse to the ter­ror at­tacks, but the high-speed data net­work pro­posed to ad­dress those prob­lems is still years away from com­ple­tion. The First­Net board re­leased its long-awaited re­quest for ap­plic­a­tions from tele­com com­pan­ies to build the net­work just a few weeks ago. 

The House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee will hold a clas­si­fied hear­ing Tues­day to dis­cuss the For­eign In­tel­li­gence Sur­veil­lance Act. Leaks from Ed­ward Snowden re­vealed that the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency has been us­ing Sec­tion 702 of FISA, which will be up for reau­thor­iz­a­tion next year, for a sweep­ing In­ter­net-sur­veil­lance pro­gram. Pri­vacy groups have been lob­by­ing Con­gress to re­strict the NSA’s powers un­der the law and sent a let­ter to the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee last week ex­press­ing dis­may that Tues­day’s hear­ing will be closed to the pub­lic. 


Obama’s long-awaited meet­ing with Ry­an and Mc­Con­nell will come Tues­day. On Wed­nes­day, in a clear ri­poste to the anti-Muslim rhet­or­ic in the Re­pub­lic­an cam­paign, Obama will travel to Bal­timore to vis­it the mosque at that city’s Is­lam­ic So­ci­ety. He will then make re­marks to mem­bers of Bal­timore’s Muslim com­munity. On Thursday, the pres­id­ent will speak at the Na­tion­al Pray­er Break­fast. Later that day, he will meet Colom­bi­an Pres­id­ent Juan Manuel San­tos at what the White House calls a “de­fin­ing mo­ment” in an ef­fort to strike a his­tor­ic peace agree­ment with the Re­volu­tion­ary Armed Forces of Colom­bia (FARC) in­sur­gency.

Rachel RoubeinBrendan Sasso and George E. Condon Jr. contributed to this article.