What's Ahead For Congress Congress returns Tuesday with lots on its plate, including Hurricane Harvey relief, raising the debt ceiling and funding the government to avoid a shutdown.

What's Ahead For Congress

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The response of people in Texas and Louisiana to Hurricane Harvey inspired the nation this week. Next week, a group of people with a much lower public approval rating go back to work. That's the U.S. Congress. They'll be asked to deal with hurricane relief, the debt ceiling and funding the U.S. government.

We're joined now by NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Susan, thanks so much for being with us.


SIMON: Hurricane Harvey has been an overwhelming news event. Has it changed the political landscape in Congress?

DAVIS: It has certainly changed the agenda, at least in the short term. The president is now asking Congress to approve about $8 billion in aid for hurricane relief efforts. And this is what is expected to be the first down payment of a multibillion-dollar assist from the federal government. And it's expected to be bipartisan. You know, natural disasters like this have a way of changing the tone of our politics, if only for a little while.

SIMON: President Thrump (ph) - (laughter) beg your pardon, I - President Trump has threatened a shutdown if his southern border wall isn't funded. Speaker Ryan says that's not a good idea. What's the latest?

DAVIS: Harvey may have changed the calculations there as well. The president had suggested at a campaign rally in Phoenix last month that he'd be willing to veto a spending bill and shut down the government if it didn't include money for that border wall. It is much harder and politically stupid, for lack of a better word, to force a self-inflicted crisis like a government shutdown when thousands of Americans are suffering in real time.

So the White House is indicating to Congress that they are increasingly less likely - or they're more likely to sign a stopgap funding measure and fight that fight over the border wall at a later date.

SIMON: Even if all of that got done, President Trump wouldn't have what you would still call a major legislative achievement by October. What are the hopes that Republicans have - even promises they made - to overhaul the tax code, health care, infrastructure?

DAVIS: In that order - yes, no, maybe.


DAVIS: As...

SIMON: I have to go back and remember how...

DAVIS: Yeah.

SIMON: ...I put it, but yes.

DAVIS: In that order, the tax code - as for taxes, this is the No. 1 priority for congressional Republicans. They promise they're going to get a tax bill to President Trump's desk by the end of this year. They see this as their path to redemption for failing to do what they promised they were going to do on health care. You know, the administration says they want Congress to keep at it - at this effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. But lawmakers are running out of time. They only have until the end of September to do it and do it under protected budget rules, and a lot of lawmakers are just ready to move on.

In the Senate, there's already a bipartisan effort underway by Senators Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Patty Murray of Washington to see what they can do to repair the individual market or help the individual market, not dismantle it. So that conversation has moved on. And in terms of infrastructure, I think it depends on the fate of the tax bill. If Republicans can't pass a tax cut, there is reason to be skeptical that they could get back together and pass a big spending bill.

SIMON: That brings this up. John McCain, senator admired on both sides of the aisle, wrote a stinging assessment of President Trump that appeared yesterday. Congress must govern with a president who has no experience in public office, he said, is often poorly informed, impulsive in speech and conduct. We are not his subordinates. We don't answer to him. We answer to the American people.

I could go on. Senator McCain did. Any sign - you talk about some bipartisan efforts - any sign congressional Republicans want what amounts to a political divorce from President Trump?

DAVIS: It is important to remember that in the vast majority of Republican congressional districts, President Trump remains very popular, which is different than his national polling ratings. However, that being said, I think that there are competing motives here. The president has spent a lot of the past few weeks focused on the base and base politics. We saw that with his controversial pardon of the former Sheriff Joe Arpaio. In contrast, congressional Republicans want to appeal to the middle ahead of the midterm elections, so we may see more daylight there as we head into 2018.

SIMON: NPR's Susan Davis, thanks so much for being with us.

DAVIS: You bet.

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