As Government Reopens, the New Congress Tries to Begin Again

Erin Schaff for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — With the government shutdown over for now, the 116th Congress will hit reset this week, showcasing a Democratic agenda in the House that was overshadowed by the struggle to reopen the government and furnishing both chambers with early opportunities to test whether divided government can produce results.

The House, which spent weeks passing futile bills to reopen the government, will turn to legislation higher on the Democrats’ priority list, including a bill to raise pay for civilian federal employees. Leading Democrats also plan to reintroduce a marquee bill to close the pay gap between men and women that they have fought to enact for years.

In the Senate, Republicans will try to push through a bipartisan Middle East policy bill that includes a disputed provision targeting the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel. With the measure, Republicans will test for fractures in the resurgent Democratic Party, where Palestinian rights activists have found new voices in House freshmen such as Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota.

And in both chambers, lawmakers have teed up a high-impact lineup of hearings — effectively the first of the year. House Democrats will zero in on the cost to the military of President Trump’s election-eve troop deployments to the border and begin to consider their ambitious legislation to expand voting rights, make political giving more transparent and do away with partisan gerrymandering.

Senators will press the leaders of the nation’s intelligence services on the status of global threats, kick off a push to search for common ground on cutting prescription drug prices and begin to advance dozens of Mr. Trump’s nominees, including his pick for attorney general, William P. Barr.

“We have a lot of different things we have to deal with,” said Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which will hold the first hearing on Democrats’ ambitious elections bill on Tuesday. “The shutdown slowed things down somewhat, probably by a couple weeks. There is only so much time and attention people can give in a day.”

Looming over all of this action will be the border wall fight.

Mr. Trump is threatening to shut down the government again in less than three weeks if Congress cannot reach a deal that provides him money for a wall along the southwestern border, and Democrats and Republicans will enter formal negotiations this week to see if they can reach a compromise on border-security funding levels and what constitutes a “wall.”

“If you’re the president of the United States, and you know that you have to defend the nation, do you want to shut the government down? No,” Mick Mulvaney, the White House chief of staff, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “Do you want to declare a national emergency? No. But you do need and want to defend the nation.”

But with much of the early negotiating likely to take place behind closed doors, both parties seem to agree that after weeks of a near total shutdown eclipse, Congress needs to move on. They hope that some regular order can help heal the bruises left by the impasse.

“Border security and immigration issues are important, and we should deal with them, but we can deal with several important issues at the same time,” said Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine. “We can’t put the rest of the business of government on hold while these issues, important though they are, are resolved.”

For House Democrats, the return to normal governance provides a window to reclaim some of the attention the shutdown drained from the initial rollout of their legislative agenda. House…

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