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Why Congress is likely to be even more divided this fall

As Congress returns to Washington, three deadly mass shootings in August have reignited the debate over gun regulation. Meanwhile, some House Democrats are feeling pressure to step up impeachment inquiries. And with federal spending at record-high levels, settling on a funding bill to avoid another government shutdown will be critical. Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor join Judy Woodruff.

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  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And I spoke late today with Senator Joe Manchin, who is one of the people involved in negotiations, and he told me that he hears from the White House that the staff there plans to present a proposal to the president this week.

    But, Judy, it is not clear if the president is going to say a clear yes or no on that proposal. Manchin and others hope so, but we will wait and see.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So much to keep track of, Lisa.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A lot on the plate.

    But the other big cloud hanging over expectations right now has to do with whether there's going to be a move toward proceeding with an impeachment inquiry of the president.

    What are Democrats saying about that right now?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    We have some good reporting from me and our producer Saher Khan also.

    Democrats told us this morning in the House, on the Judiciary Committee, that they actually want the move past or they would say expand past the Mueller report with regards to impeachment. They will now be investigating and focusing on other things involving the president.

    As far as impeachment goes, though, they are going to change the process and they're going to allow themselves sort of some more powers within the Judiciary Committee. They will be taking a vote on that procedural idea on Thursday.

    It's important because it would allow Jerry Nadler, the Democratic chairman of that committee, more abilities to link any hearings to impeachment if he wants. His staff would have more power, perhaps attorneys to do behind-closed-doors questioning.

    And we do expect a slew of important witnesses coming up. Now, is this an official impeachment inquiry? A court might say no. Democrats are trying to say yes, but the majority of Democrats want one. It's not clear if they have one or not.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So yet another issue, trade, Democrats, Congress figuring out what to do.

    The president is pushing the Democrats to ratify the U.S.-Mexico trade agreement. Meantime, you have got this trade war escalating between China and the United States. Where do you see that moving?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I think the first thing to focus on is that U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal, USMCA, because House Democrats, the pressure is on them from many sort of — many business interests, including agricultural interests, in swing districts for vulnerable Democrats.

    They want to get this through. But House Democrats are not sure they like the deal. They're not sure it has enough protections for workers in it. So, these next few weeks, Judy, will be critical. My reporting, from talking to Democrats today, they're not quite sure what their strategy is on this yet.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    OK.

    And very quickly, last thing I want to ask about, clock ticking on coming up with a way to fund the government. What do you see there

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Oh, just that. Let's fund the government. Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Quickly.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    All right, quickly.

    The hope is — and it looks like both the House and Senate, both parties are moving towards just a continuing resolution to kind of punt this down the road, fund government at the end of this month for maybe another month or two, while they try and work out a more detailed bill.

    But, today, Judy, there were many signs that that next debate is going to be worse than this one for two reasons. One, the topic of abortion has come up again and what funding is restricted or not for abortion, and also the president's decision to divert that funding from military projects for the wall. That's a hot issue. And it's hard to figure out how they will get past it.

    But they will try and delay that harder debate, if they can, until around Thanksgiving.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lisa Desjardins, you had to have your track shoes on today.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yes, I did. I wore flats today, yes.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, the congressional agenda, as we know, depends in large part on President Trump's own priorities.

    Our White House correspondent, Yamiche Alcindor, is back.

    So, Yamiche, let's talk about some of this. The president met with Republican lawmakers today. What are you learning about what, if anything, they agreed on how the proceed?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, the big priority of this administration is, I'm told, to come up with some sort of gun law legislation.

    I'm told that the president is thinking through exactly what that's going to be. The White House wants to release a plan as early as late this week or early next week. And I'm told that the president wants to focus on mental health issues.

    So, he's interested in either changing the law so that the background checks that people go through now federally, that that might include some sort of mental health welfare check. There is also this idea that the White House might come out with plan to strengthen and make it harder for people who are having a possible mental breakdown to get a gun or keep their gun.

    But White House officials have not been very clear about what the president believes. And Republicans on the Hill are really waiting for the president to give them a strong sort of direction about where he wants to go on gun legislation.

    The other thing of note is that, as Lisa was talking about impeachment procedures, this White House is gearing up for a fight on impeachment. They feel as though the impeachment procedures that are being possibly voted on in the House Judiciary Committee, that that's going to be an affront to the president.

    And they're ready the fight on that. They're also ready to fight on the idea that the president's White House aides and his allies may be called up to the Hill. They're thinking through whether or not they're going to have some sort of privilege that they're going to assert there.

    So there is a lot the White House is struggling with, but the number one thing is on guns and impeachment.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Yamiche, I want to ask you about the administration and science.

    There has been this controversy over — in the last number of days about how this drawing appeared on a map of the weather of the Hurricane Dorian, how bad it was going to hit the United States, whether it was going to hit the state of Alabama, which appeared in that drawing that we saw in the White House.

    What are you hearing at the White House right now about these questions about whether the White House is interfering in the appropriate role of agencies that conduct science?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, this is an issue that started off small that people thought was going to go away and that the president has essentially dragged on and on and on.

    And the White House essentially says the president was right and that people are making too much of this.

    But the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration came out and said, the weather shouldn't be politicized. And there is this idea that the commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, was actually threatening employees at NOAA to fall in line with the president and not talk about the fact that Alabama wasn't going to be impacted by the hurricane.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So much for you to keep track of, Yamiche, between John Bolton and all of this.

    Yamiche Alcindor at the White House, Lisa Desjardins at the Capitol, thank you both.

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