As Russia probe grinds on, Trump
struggles to gain traction on agenda
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[June 05, 2017]
By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The investigation
into alleged ties between President Donald Trumpís election campaign and
Russia is threatening to dampen already flagging momentum for the
presidentís legislative agenda of rolling back Obamacare and overhauling
the tax code.
With the Senate convening on Monday and the House of Representatives on
Tuesday for a legislative sprint leading up to an August recess, the
spotlight is on James Comey, the FBI director fired by Trump on May 9.
Comey, who will appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee on
Thursday, will be grilled on whether Trump tried to get him to back off
an investigation into alleged ties between the president's 2016 campaign
Trump, a Republican, has called the Russia probe a "witch hunt" designed
to undermine the legitimacy of his electoral win.
The Russia matter presents a double-barreled threat to congressional
Republicans: It could impede healthcare and tax initiatives that already
were languishing and it could hurt efforts to hold onto their majorities
in the House and Senate in 2018 midterm elections.
"It's an enormous distraction and it creates uncertainty," said veteran
Republican Representative Tom Cole in a telephone interview. "It casts a
pall over the political system and slows things down. You donít want to
slow things down when you have all three levers of power," Cole said,
referring to the White House, Senate and House.
The day before Comey's scheduled testimony, top U.S. intelligence
officials are set to appear before the same panel to discuss renewal of
the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, which allows the
government to collect communications of foreigners thought to be living
overseas whose communications pass through American phone or internet
But senators are likely to also wade into the Russia affair.
Lawmakers must also come up with a plan to raise the country's debt
limit. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is clamoring for Congress to
quickly approve more borrowing authority as the incoming stream of tax
Republican fiscal conservatives routinely demand budget cuts and other
concessions as a price for raising the debt limit, setting up a likely
Amid all this, Trump and his fellow Republicans in Congress hope the new
work session, following a week-long Memorial Day break, will be a chance
to 'reset' the conversation in Washington that has centered on Russia
and their failures so far on healthcare and tax legislation.
[to top of second column]
President Donald Trump
makes concluding remarks at the Ford's Theatre Gala, an annual
charity event to honor the legacy of President Abraham Lincoln, who
was assassinated in the theatre box in the background, in
Washington, U.S., June 4, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Theiler
House Republicans hope this week to pass a repeal of portions of the
2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law. But that bill will face resistance
in the Senate, where Democrats are expected to use procedural tactics to
Even so, House Republicans hope passage of 'low-hanging fruit' bills
like this will allow them to argue that they have racked up
accomplishments when they go home to their districts in August.
Meanwhile, the Senate is struggling to craft legislation repealing
and replacing Obamacare, former President Barack Obama's landmark
law that expanded health insurance coverage to millions and placed
new controls on insurers.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in a May 24 interview with
Reuters said, "I don't know how we get to 50 (votes) at the moment"
but pledged to forge ahead.
Senators this week are expected to be presented with options for a
new healthcare program they hope will be more acceptable to voters
than one passed by the House. [nBER4WKzcM]
Failure to agree on a formula by early July could doom the push to
kill Obamacare, which has been a Republican vow since it became law
Congress is already months behind in writing a budget blueprint that
would guide federal spending in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.
Republicans are deeply divided over the level of defense spending
and potential structural reforms to social welfare programs such as
Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
If that is not enough, House Republicans are promising to streamline
the antiquated tax code and reduce rates. Democrats and some experts
outside of Congress argue their approach would largely help the
wealthy while ballooning the nation's debt.
(Additional reporting by Dustin Volz and David Morgan in Washington;
Editing by Caren Bohan and James Dalgleish)
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