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Saudi Arabia, criminal justice reform and Mueller top the congressional to-do list

As Congress resumed after the Thanksgiving recess, it faced a long list of agenda items to tackle before year's end. Among the priorities are relations with Saudi Arabia, criminal justice reform and the Mueller investigation. Lisa Desjardins joins Judy Woodruff to explain the details, as well as the outlook for Congress to fund additional border security and avoid a government shutdown.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    On the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, Congress returned from recess with a long to-do list before the end of the year and the Democrats taking control of the House.

    Our Capitol Hill correspondent, Lisa Desjardins, has been reporting on what Congress is likely to accomplish.

    Hello, Lisa.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Hello.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So let's start with the two things that Congress is looking at as a deadline, and that is the nation's flood insurance program, and then funding the government.

    Could we be looking at some kind of government shutdown soon?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The truth is, yet again, we don't know. The deadline, of course, is a week from Friday.

    But let's go over where things stand right now. The biggest hitch is over immigration and the president's demand for more funding for a border wall. The president personally — we can look at the numbers — has requested $5 billion in funding right now for the wall.

    Democrats have offered $1.6 billion, not for a wall, but they say for border security in general. There's a difference there. But talking to sources, Judy, today on the Hill, on both sides, there is a real belief that a deal can be made here. Perhaps Democrats get something they would love, something on the dreamer population, those kids brought here illegally as children, or perhaps some kind of swap for the next Congress' committee positions, those kinds of things.

    There is a lot of optimism that a deal can be made. But we will see. It's up to the president, more than anyone else.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, we know, and you were telling us, that they're running out of time. But the Republicans have their wish list, and this is as they are facing the point in January when Democrats take over the House.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I'm going to try to tick through some very big items that they have a little bit of time to get through, Judy.

    And the three of them are — to give people kind of a road map here — Saudi Arabia. There is a lot of concern from both parties about where things stand there. There's also another issue, criminal justice reform, and then finally the Mueller investigation.

    So, a little bit more on each now, Judy.

    On Saudi Arabia, we could see a vote as soon as tomorrow on a resolution from Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the independent, who he would like the U.S. to stop its support of Saudi Arabia in Yemen. Unlikely to pass, but even if it gets a vote, that's a sign that things are changing. And there could be another vote later on about arms sales to the Saudis.

    So then you move to criminal justice reform. A bill that could change sentencing laws and the power that judges have is moving through the Senate and it's getting more and more support. Republicans think this might be its last chance. They think a House run by Democrats next year would think — would not like this bill. They would want to go farther.

    So watch for the next two weeks to see if criminal justice reform makes it through.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The president very much behind that.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right, exactly.

    And that's another reason they want to do it right now. There are more Republicans getting on board right now. We don't know if it's enough.

    Finally, on the Mueller investigation, news today from Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader. He is open to allowing a vote on a bill that would protect Robert Mueller's investigation and limit who could fire Mr. Mueller.

    This has to do with Senator Jeff Flake, who has withheld his vote on other things to try and get this. It's unclear if that would pass. But, again, we're seeing a lot of these big issues coming up very fast.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A lot of big issues.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, finally, something we have been reporting on just a few minutes ago, Lisa, and that is the California wildfires.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right.

    As part of the farm bill, a massive, sweeping bill, the very last hitch in that negotiation has to do with forestry requirements. Conservatives are asking for new rules that would allow more clearing of land. Democrats say that's just a boon to logging companies and would allow over-logging.

    Conservatives say, no, it would help prevent wildfires. As we speak, that is a hitch they're trying to work out to see if an entire farm bill will be passed or not.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But that's a big issue.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now, when does Congress go home?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    OK.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What's the expectation?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Supposedly, in three weeks is when they would like to leave. It's a lot to do in that time.

    It's possible. They really only work on deadlines, after all, right?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    So…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You could say that about a lot of us.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, us, too. That's true.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lisa Desjardins, thank you.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You're welcome.

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