Lawmakers will return to Capitol Hill on Dec. 11 for their last session of the year with a long to-do list.
Only a few of these priorities—including the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization—are must-pass priorities.
Others, including funding for the government and financial aid for Israel and Ukraine, are likely to be punted into next year.
Besides these, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) is also expected to formally bring a vote to the floor to authorize the House’s impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden.
This week will also be former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) final week in Congress, as he has announced that he’ll be resigning at the end of this legislative year.
Here’s what to expect from Congress’s busy final week before the holiday recess.
Must-Pass: NDAA and FAA
The two most important priorities for Congress before going home are the NDAA and FAA reauthorization.
The top priority is the NDAA, which, along with funding for the government, must be passed every year. The NDAA specifies the annual budget and expenditures of the Pentagon.
Initially, Republicans pushed to have several culture war provisions included in the package. However, with time running out to negotiate on these issues with the Democrat-controlled Senate, these provisions have been removed entirely, prompting pushback among House Republicans.
Also included in the NDAA is a temporary extension of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), a controversial spying authority set to expire at the end of this year.
Section 702 allows U.S. intelligence officials to spy on American citizens, sometimes without a warrant, and has been found to have been abused several times since its last reauthorization in 2018.
Mr. Johnson’s decision to include the FISA extension in the NDAA has caused controversy among critics of the program in the House, who want more comprehensive reforms—including an across-the-board requirement for warrants to spy on Americans.
Still, as of now, Congress seems on track to push a clean reauthorization of Section 702 to sometime around April 2024.
Also on Congress’s to-do list is a reauthorization of the FAA, the agency responsible for managing and regulating U.S. air traffic.
Congress could choose to do a full reauthorization or to simply pass an extension into next year.
Whatever route they choose on the NDAA, FISA Section 702, and the FAA, these are absolute must-pass priorities before lawmakers can go home.
House Republicans will also continue their investigation into the first family this week, with Mr. Johnson hoping to formally authorize the House’s impeachment inquiry into President Biden.
Since nearly the beginning of the 118th Congress, Republicans have been investigating the foreign business dealings of Hunter Biden, the president’s son.
In the 2010s, including while Joe Biden was vice president, the Biden family—including Hunter Biden, the president’s brother James Biden, and the president’s daughter-in-law Hallie Biden—as well as their business associates, received more than $20 million from Chinese, Romanian, and Ukrainian sources, House Republicans say. Evidence linking President Biden to these dealings has prompted concerns that he may have been involved in an influence-peddling scheme.
This week, after a long push from Republicans, Hunter Biden is set to testify to the House Oversight Committee in a closed-door hearing.
However, Mr. Biden has demanded an open hearing and has indicated that he may not comply with the subpoena for closed-door testimony.
Republicans have said that Mr. Biden wants open testimony in order to create a “spectacle” and have warned Mr. Biden’s lawyers that they’ll begin contempt of Congress proceedings if he fails to appear—which could mean even more court proceedings for the embattled first son, who’s already facing decades in prison for tax and firearm crimes.
Republicans are also expected to formalize their impeachment inquiry into President Biden this week.
In one of his final acts as speaker, Mr. McCarthy declared that he was unilaterally opening an impeachment inquiry into the president without a vote of the full House.
Although a vote technically isn’t required for an impeachment inquiry, the White House has refused to comply with much of the probe so far, saying it’s illegitimate without a vote from the House.
Mr. Johnson hopes to remedy that by formalizing the probe.
However, this is an issue in which he’ll need to tread carefully: many Republicans come from districts won by President Biden in 2020. With Republicans’ razor-thin hold on the House, Mr. Johnson can only spare one or two defections.
Failure on this vote could doom the inquiry altogether.
On the other hand, Rep. John Duarte (R-Calif.), a moderate Republican from a district President Biden won, has said he’ll support the measure, as have several moderate New York Republicans.
Pushed Off to Next Year
A few other legislative priorities are likely to be pushed off until Congress returns in 2024.
It appears unlikely that emergency aid for Ukraine and Israel will be passed before the end of the year. Senate Republicans and Democrats, who are negotiating border security policy changes to be included in the bill, don’t appear to be close to a deal.
Republicans want tougher border measures to ease the crisis, which so far have been rejected by Democrats.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), the lead Democrat negotiator, on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Dec. 10 called Republican demands “unreasonable” but conceded that “we do need to do something to try and resolve this crisis at the border.”
Lead Republican negotiator Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said the U.S. border is “literally spiraling out of control,” with record illegal border crossings the past few months.
“All we’re trying to do is to say what tools are needed to be able to get this back in control, so we don’t have the chaos on our southern border,” the Oklahoma Republican said.
The stalled negotiations come as Mr. Biden is set to host Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the White House on Dec. 12 to “discuss Ukraine’s urgent needs and the vital importance of the United States’ continued support at this critical moment,” according to the White House.
Earlier this year, Mr. Johnson successfully passed a two-part stopgap spending bill that will push off fights over government funding until Jan. 19 and Feb. 2.
This means that, for the first time in a long time, congressmen won’t be running out the clock before Christmas trying to avoid a government shutdown.
But funding the government is likely to be lawmakers’ first priority when they return to Capitol Hill in January, when they’ll have only days to avert a shutdown.
Taken together, these priorities are likely to mean a hectic week for lawmakers, who have already spent much more time in Washington than normal this year.