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Trump, Congress Brace for a Busy September

Congress has a long to-do list when it returns to work next week.
Image: The Capitol in Washington is seen early on July 13, 2017, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. prepares to roll out the GOP's revised health care bill, pushing toward a showdown vote with opposition within the Republican ranks.
The Capitol in Washington is seen early on July 13, 2017, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. prepares to roll out the GOP's revised health care bill, pushing toward a showdown vote with opposition within the Republican ranks.J. Scott Applewhite / AP

First Read is your briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

Trump, Congress have a busy agenda for September

August was a cruel month for President Trump, as we wrote yesterday. And September doesn’t look to be any easier, especially when you consider ALL of the items on Congress’ to-do list when it returns to work next week:

Providing money for Hurricane Harvey relief (NBC’s Kasie Hunt, Alex Moe and Kristen Welker report that the Trump administration is expected to send an initial request for at least $5.5 billion in aid);

  • Passing a budget (which is a prerequisite to lock in reconciliation protection to pursue tax reform or tax cuts);
  • Raising the debt limit (which will require Democratic votes, given conservative opposition to any “clean” increase in the debt limit);
  • Keeping the government open (does Trump insist on his border wall?);
  • Crafting a tax-reform bill that can pass Congress in the coming months;
  • And maybe giving health care one more shot in the Senate.

NBC’s Frank Thorp says other items include the Senate tackling the Defense authorization bill, flood insurance and SCHIP (the children’s health-insurance program). That’s a difficult agenda for any president and Congress – let alone a president with an approval rating below 40 percent, and a GOP-led Congress that increasingly is at odds with the president.

Now it’s possible — if not likely — that Trump and Congress will be able to punt on some of these items, like passing a short-term spending bills and a debt-limit increase. But those are only Band-Aids.

How Harvey might change the political calculus in Washington

Yet as the New York Times writes, Hurricane Harvey shifted the political winds in Washington — at least temporarily. “Gone are the confrontational talk of a government shutdown and the brinkmanship over the debt limit. Instead, both Mr. Trump and his putative allies in Congress — many of them professed fiscal hawks — are promising an outpouring of federal aid to begin a recovery and rebuilding effort that will last for years and require tens of billions of dollars, if not substantially more, from Washington.”

“The storm has utterly transformed the federal fiscal picture. ‘This is going to change the whole dynamic for September and, quite frankly, for the Republican establishment for the remainder of the 115th Congress,’ said G. William Hoagland, a longtime chief budget adviser to Senate Republicans who is now a senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center. ‘The truth of the matter is, they don’t need money to build a wall in Texas, but to rebuild the shoreline in Texas.’”

The question we have: How long does that last?

McCain: Trump has no experience, is poorly informed and can be impulsive

In a Washington Post op-ed calling for Congress to return to “regular order” and compromise, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has some tough words for President Trump. “That has never been truer than today, when Congress must govern with a president who has no experience of public office, is often poorly informed and can be impulsive in his speech and conduct.”

McCain adds of Trump, “We must respect his authority and constitutional responsibilities. We must, where we can, cooperate with him. But we are not his subordinates. We don’t answer to him. We answer to the American people. We must be diligent in discharging our responsibility to serve as a check on his power. And we should value our identity as members of Congress more than our partisan affiliation.”


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Could Congress buck Trump’s move to overturn DACA?

With the Trump White House expected to overturn the Obama-era DACA program allowing qualified young undocumented immigrants the ability to legally reside in the United States, don’t miss what McCain says about immigration in his Washington Post op-ed. “The president has promised greater border security. We can agree to that... Let’s make it part of a comprehensive bill that members of both parties can get behind — one that values our security as well as the humanity of immigrants and their contributions to our economy and culture.”

In addition, Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., says he will try to force a vote to shield these DACA recipients.

So it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Congress — Democrats, plus some Republicans — could overturn Trump’s DACA move.

Trump, who returns to Texas tomorrow, pledges $1 million in disaster relief

Meanwhile, President Trump is expected to return to Texas on Saturday, and the White House announced that the president has promised to donate $1 million to the relief effort. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders “said Trump has not decided which organization he will donate to. The spokeswoman said Trump specifically told Sanders to ask journalists at the briefing for suggestions since they have been reporting on groups and their relief efforts,” per CNBC.

“‘As I said, he'll pledge proudly $1 million of his own personal money to help the people of both Texas and Louisiana,’ Sanders said.”

“I’m tellin’ y’all: It’s a sabotage”

“The Trump administration on Thursday announced sharp cuts in programs promoting health care enrollment under the Affordable Care Act for next year,” the AP says. “Advertising will be cut from $100 million spent on 2017 sign-ups to $10 million, said Health and Human Services officials. Funding for consumer helpers called "navigators" will also be cut, from $62.5 million for 2017, to $36.8 million for next year.”

Are there enough workers to rebuild Texas?

That’s the question that NBC’s Ben Popken raises, especially given Trump’s policies on immigration and tariffs. “‘One of the challenges is the lack of workers,’ said Robert Dietz, chief economist for the National Association of Homebuilders. ‘The storm will increase the demand for remodeling and repair and will require the same kind of workers from the pool of single family construction.’”

“That pool was already getting shallow, according to a survey the association conducted before Hurricane Harvey hit... This has been driven in large part by declines in the number of skilled construction workers, with net migration from Mexico down since 2009.”

“Diane Swonk is a Chicago-based independent economist who speaks regularly with construction and building companies as part of her research into the housing market. ‘They can't get anyone to show up for fear of getting deported,’ she said.”

Manafort’s notes from that June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower included mentions of political contributions and the RNC

Remember that June 9, 2016 meeting that Donald Trump Jr. and top Trump campaign officials had with Russians at Trump Tower? Well, NBC’s Ken Dilanian and Carol Lee have some more revelations of that meeting. “Paul Manafort's notes from a controversial Trump Tower meeting with Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign included a mention of political contributions near a reference to the Republican National Committee, two sources briefed on the evidence told NBC News.”

“The contents of the note, which have not been previously disclosed, elevated the significance of the June 2016 meeting for congressional investigators, who are focused on determining whether it included any discussion of donations from Russian sources to either the Trump campaign or the Republican Party. It is illegal for foreigners to donate to American elections.”