By Clare Foran, Daniella Diaz and Ted Barrett, CNN
Lawmakers are returning to Washington after the August recess for a pre-midterm elections sprint when preventing a government shutdown will be their top legislative item, but positioning before voters go to the polls will be their driving political priority.
The political environment has shifted in the weeks since Congress left town, impacted by the Supreme Court’s decision on abortion rights, a batch of legislative wins for Democrats earlier in the summer and signs the inflation-laden economy is improving. Democrats are now far more confident they can stem expected losses in President Joe Biden’s first midterm elections. They are hopeful they can retain majority control in the Senate, while preventing Republicans from gaining a broad majority in the House.
Passing a short-term spending bill before a deadline of September 30 at midnight when government funding is set to expire will be a top concern for both chambers and will need the support of some Republicans in the Senate to get the 60 votes needed to pass. Democrats want to demonstrate to voters they can govern responsibly and not allow a damaging shutdown — and lawmakers from both parties will be eager to allow their most vulnerable members to get out of Washington and back onto the campaign trail ahead of the midterms.
In the Senate, which returns to work Tuesday, Democrats will also keep confirming federal judges nominated by Biden and must decide when to hold a vote on legislation to codify same-sex marriage into federal law, something that could put pressure on Republicans running for reelection, like Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.
When the House comes back into session next week attention will once again turn to the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. The work of the committee — and how it ultimately wraps up its investigation — is under a spotlight with the panel expected to release some of its findings before the November elections and a final report after the midterms.
The FBI search of Trump’s residence in Florida and seizure of Top Secret documents, is expected to have continuing political fallout on Capitol Hill.
Government funding and nominations in the Senate
With government funding set to expire at the end of the month, both chambers are expected to pass some kind of stop-gap funding extension in the upcoming weeks to avert a shutdown. Stop-gap funding bills are known on Capitol Hill as a continuing resolution, or CR for short.
Senate Appropriations Chair Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, is aiming for a continuing resolution to run until mid-December to allow lawmakers time to finish the regular annual appropriations bills before the end of the current session of Congress, a Senate Democratic aide told CNN.
So far, legislative text for a continuing resolution has not yet been publicly released and the date the stop-gap measure will run until will need to be worked out between members of the majority and the minority.
Also at top of mind for Democrats: The Biden administration outlined its request to Congress for the next government funding bill that includes additional money for what it describes as “four critical needs,” including “support for Ukraine, Covid-19, monkeypox, and natural disaster recovery.”
This will likely define much of this fall’s battle over government funding legislation, which the request for critical needs will likely be attached to.
Meanwhile, Senate Democrats will also continue to confirm Biden-nominated judges, a key priority for the party after Trump and Senate Republicans successfully installed a wide array of conservative picks to the federal bench.
“We’ll come back in September, there’s a whole lot to do. One of the important things we have to do is judges,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters at a news conference in August. “We’ve got to get these judges done, they’re lifetime appointments, they’re very important and we will keep working on them,” he said.
Hawaii Democratic Sen. Brain Schatz summed up the to-do list for Senate Democrats concisely when asked recently by CNN what the September work period will look like. “CR and judges,” he said, referring to a continuing resolution to avert a shutdown.
Same-sex marriage vote in the Senate
Schumer has said that there will be a same-sex marriage bill vote, but hasn’t given a specific timeline for that, so it’s not yet clear if that will take place in September or if it will happen sometime later.
When asked at the August news conference about holding a vote on the issue, Schumer said, “We will have a vote on marriage equality … We will have a vote on it. I’m not giving you a timetable.”
Momentum — and support — has picked up on Capitol Hill for a Senate vote on a bill to codify same-sex marriage after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June.
A source familiar with the matter told CNN that senior Senate Democrats are considering possibly adding marriage equality to the stopgap funding bill to prevent a government shutdown on September 30, which could complicate its passage. It will need at least 60 votes to advance the Senate and prevent a shutdown before September 30.
In July, Republican and Democratic senators said they expected a same-sex marriage bill could eventually win the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster, a sign of growing public acceptance and a sea change over an issue that had once deeply divided the two parties. To overcome a filibuster, at least 10 Republicans would need to vote with all 50 members of the Democratic caucus to advance the bill to a final vote.
Democrats could use the issue to force a tough vote for vulnerable Republicans up for reelection in November, but it’s still not clear if the necessary support would ultimately be there to pass the legislation.
The House agenda and the January 6 committee
The House is set to return from recess the week of September 12 without a set schedule for the rest of the year ahead of the 2022 midterms.
Still on the table, a policing bill — specifically a bipartisan bill, led by moderate Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger and GOP Rep. Tom Rice, that would increase federal grant money to more than a billion dollars for a Justice Department office that allocates money to local police departments to train officers and community policing professionals, particularly for rural police departments.
Moderate and vulnerable Democrats had been pushing for a vote on the policing legislation before they left town for August recess in an effort to rebut GOP attacks over defunding the police, but members of the Congressional Black Caucus had concerns and have been pushing for police accountability language.
Democrats have not yet figured out when they’d bring the bill for a vote out of concerns for language.
Meanwhile, work continues for the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, Capitol attack. Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, who chairs the panel, said recently that the committee continues to be in “back and forth discussions” with lawyers for former Vice President Mike Pence about seeking voluntary testimony.
“If the Vice President will come, we’d love to have him. We’ve had back and forth discussions for the last year with his attorney. It would add to the credibility of our work, if the Vice President would voluntarily come in. He’s made public pronouncements indicating that there’s some interest in him coming, and we plan to give him that opportunity to come before the committee” Thompson said.
Thompson also said the committee “spent a good bit of time during the August break, just pulling recommendations together, looking at potential hearing opportunities for September when we reconvene.”
Thompson added the committee plans to release some of the panel’s findings before the November midterm elections, with the final report coming after the midterms.
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CNN’s Manu Raju, Annie Grayer and Betsy Klein contributed.