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Lawmakers have a lot on their agenda as Congress returns from a 2-week recess


Congress returns from a two-week recess today, and lawmakers have a lot on their agenda. House Republicans are drafting legislation to avoid a default on the nation's credit limit. Senators face a possible vote on temporarily replacing ailing Senator Dianne Feinstein on the Senate Judiciary Committee. And NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh is here to talk about all of this. Good morning.


FADEL: OK, so let's start with the debt limit negotiations. They've been stalled for months, but Speaker McCarthy is giving a speech this morning. What should we expect to hear from him?

WALSH: Well, the speaker is focusing on the economy in his speech at the New York Stock Exchange today. According to a source familiar with his remarks, he's going to outline the House Republicans' approach to increasing the debt ceiling and explain why Republicans believe raising it with no changes to the country's fiscal trajectory, in their view, is not the right decision. President Biden continues to say Congress should pass a clean bill to boost the country's borrowing authority. And the president wants to see a GOP budget before having more negotiations with McCarthy.

But instead, McCarthy's moving ahead with his own bill. The Republican bill is expected to cap federal spending levels at those from two years ago. They also plan to add a provision that would put work requirements in place for adults without dependents who receive any federal food assistance benefits. Republicans also want to add reforms to how new energy projects are permitted. But even if this Republican bill can get through the House, it's not going to move in the Democratic-controlled Senate. And the country is going to run out of borrowing authority sometime this summer.

FADEL: Let's talk about Dianne Feinstein now, from California. She's 89, hasn't voted since February after a shingles diagnosis. And Democrats say her absence is a problem. They called on her to resign because they say it's stalling confirmation of President Biden's judicial nominees. She's not resigning but asking to be temporarily replaced on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Could that happen this week?

WALSH: It could. The Senate Majority leader, Chuck Schumer, plans to ask the Senate this week to add another Democrat to take Feinstein's place on the Judiciary Committee. Like you said, without her vote on that panel, the president's judicial nominees are effectively stalled and not getting votes on the Senate floor. But putting another Democrat on that committee would require Republican support. Republicans have had their own issues with absences due to medical issues. The top Senate Republican, Mitch McConnell, is coming back to work today. He fell in early March and missed votes because he's been recovering from a concussion. But any vote to replace Feinstein is going to need 60 votes in the Senate. Democrats have just a 51-49 majority there.

FADEL: Now, lawmakers - while they were in recess, a lot happened. Former President Trump was indicted on criminal charges, and federal courts ruled to restrict abortion medication. Are these expected to be issues they deal with this week?

WALSH: They are. I mean, in terms of Trump, today, the House Judiciary Committee is holding a field hearing in New York City, zeroing in on Alvin Bragg. He's the New York prosecutor who brought the criminal charges involving hush money payments paid by Trump to an adult film star. The chairman, Jim Jordan, has already been investigating Bragg. And today, he's inviting witnesses who are going to outline their criticisms of Bragg's record on crime. Democrats on that panel are planning an aggressive pushback, arguing that crime has actually gone down under Bragg's tenure.

On abortion, that lower court action really puts abortion back front and center in the political debate on Capitol Hill. Democrats believe the backlash to the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade last year really helped them keep control of the Senate in the midterms and stave off major losses in the House. So Democrats are planning hearings on the issue. Some have proposed legislation that protects abortion medications' approval by the FDA. Republicans have been mostly silent about the issue. There's been a lot of divisions about how they should respond. And another topic that will come up this week is the leak investigation. We're expecting a closed briefing on that issue midweek.

FADEL: NPR's Deirdre Walsh. Thanks, Deirdre.

WALSH: Thanks, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.