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A look at Congress' long to-do list before the holidays

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Congressional lawmakers are back to work. And for the first time in a while, there's no Christmastime government shutdown threat. But there is still a lot to do. Chuck Schumer, the Senate's top Democrat, is even warning his colleagues that they should be ready to work nights and weekends to get it all done.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHUCK SCHUMER: Before the year is out, there's a lot of other work we must do here in the Senate. And members should be ready to stay here in Washington until all our work is completed.

SUMMERS: NPR's Eric McDaniel is following it all from the Capitol. Hi, Eric.

ERIC MCDANIEL, BYLINE: Hi, Juana.

SUMMERS: So, Eric, he says there's a lot of other work to do. Tell us. What are they facing?

MCDANIEL: That's right. Let's start in the Senate with Chuck Schumer. They've been talking a lot about passing a foreign aid package. In a letter over the weekend, Schumer reminded his fellow lawmakers of Ukrainian President Zelenskyy's warning to Congress a few months ago that his country would lose the war to Russia without U.S. support. And Schumer wants to link that aid together with aid to Israel and Taiwan as well as humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza.

But - and stop me if you've heard this one - it's not going to be easy. At least 41 Republicans are insisting that border policy concessions be part of the deal. Specifically, that's changes to U.S. asylum rules and a Biden program that lets some people work in the U.S. legally for a short time if they have a financial sponsor here. Schumer says he's going to bring some sort of aid package up for a vote next week. But, you know, we'll see how that goes. And, of course, this isn't even the only thing they're working on.

SUMMERS: All right. What else is on their plates, Eric?

MCDANIEL: Well, there is a fight over Pentagon policy to reimburse service members for travel expenses for abortion care. Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville has been blocking military promotions for months in hopes that officials will change the policy, much to the chagrin of his colleagues in both parties and the service members and their families who've been waiting on reassignment. That backlog on promotions is likely to reach 650 people by the end of the year per our colleague Tom Bowman. So that fight will probably come to a head here pretty soon.

SUMMERS: And, Eric, is that the only national security issue that lawmakers are facing right now?

MCDANIEL: There is also an annual defense policy bill, the National Defense Authorization Act, or the NDAA, that must pass by Christmas, and questions about the future of a warrantless Foreign National Surveillance Program. If that's not wordy enough, it also has a catchy name, FISA 702. And that expires at the end of the year if Congress can't agree to extend it.

SUMMERS: OK, that is a very long list, and we've really only been talking about the Senate here. So let's go across the Capitol. What's the House up to?

MCDANIEL: Well, the House has to deal with a lot of that, too. But Speaker Mike Johnson is also working to get his ducks in a row in time to fund the government by early February. I'm sure you remember the spending fight a few weeks ago. That includes the seemingly impossible task of getting all House Republicans to agree on a version of 12 spending bills that can pass through the Democratic-controlled Senate. It's not clear right now that they can agree with themselves and certainly not clear that they can agree on a bill that would - or bills - that would attract Democratic support. So that's a little bit of a sticky wicket. Speaker Mike Johnson upset Republicans with the short-term bill by working with Democrats to fund it over their opposition. But it's also not clear that he'll have another option if he wants to get full-year spending bills that can be signed into law.

SUMMERS: Right. And last thing - there's also talk of members of the House kicking out New York Republican George Santos. Where does that stand?

MCDANIEL: Yeah. So Santos has been federally charged over alleged financial misdeeds related to his campaign. Lawmakers on the House Ethics Committee put out a report alleging basically the same thing. For his part, Santos says he won't resign. But just down the hall from me a little bit ago, California Democrat Robert Garcia used House rules to force a vote on expulsion in the next two legislative days. That means George Santos will know if his days as a member of Congress are numbered by the end of the week.

SUMMERS: NPR's Eric McDaniel. Thank you.

MCDANIEL: Juana, thanks.

(SOUNDBITE OF POKEY LAFARGE SONG, "I WILL NEVER CHANGE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eric McDaniel
Eric McDaniel edits the NPR Politics Podcast. He joined the program ahead of its 2019 relaunch as a daily podcast.