Congress returned last week mainly to start orientation for new members. Beyond that the Senate remained largely the same with Senator McConnell (R-KY) and Schumer (D-NY) staying in place. Senator Grassley, at the end of the week said he will give up the Judiciary chairmanship in exchange for the Senate Finance Committee chairmanship.
The House leadership is still undecided on the new Democratic majority side with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) seeking a return to the speakership but with a number of freshmen keeping their views tight, any decisions will wait until after the holiday break.
As far as the budget nothing has been decided and there was little clarity of where Congress will go when the December 7, expiration hits the Justice Department and Homeland Security but odds are it will be contentious.
The President did make news when he surrounded himself at an event with Republicans announcing he will support a bipartisan criminal justice reform package. The effort to reform or do away with mandatory minimums and some of the other criminal justice mandates that began to pile up in the 1980s—especially as it related to crack cocaine—has gained traction with both parties. The diverse collection of senators includes Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) Senator Corey Booker (D-NJ) Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Senator and Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA). That feeling extends to the House but there are some roadblocks.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been luke-warm to taking it up. And as always in this Congress, Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) has been a roadblock to criminal justice reforms just as he has been on juvenile justice reforms. It may take McConnell’s willingness to take on and break a filibuster. That could be aided by the fact that Mr. Trump was supported in his endorsement by some law enforcement groups.
In regard to the overall budget it would appear that the twin issues of the President’s desire for big wall funding and his opposition to Robert Mueller’s investigation may become part of any budget that is completed for Justice and Homeland Security. Both of those budgets will also face whatever hurdles surface to a vacancy in the Attorney General’s office and potentially a vacancy at Homeland Security.