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Impeachment Inquiry Overshadows Hopes For Moving Legislation Forward


The U.S. House today approved a resolution slamming President Trump's decision to withdraw troops from northern Syria. The vote was overwhelming and bipartisan, something that's notable in this divided Congress, especially now with the impeachment inquiry of the president going on. Now, even before the investigation began, Capitol Hill didn't have much of a legislative agenda. And now dreams of any bipartisan legislative victories are fading fast. NPR's congressional reporter Claudia Grisales takes a closer look.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: There were some things that President Trump and Democrats in Congress said they wanted to do together. There were talks of deals on prescription drugs, trade and gun control measures. Then the impeachment inquiry of the president came along. Here's House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff.


ADAM SCHIFF: We are looking into whether the president solicited foreign help in a U.S. presidential election again.

GRISALES: Trump says impeachment means the end of legislating on Capitol Hill. And he reminded reporters of that during a recent stop at Joint Base Andrews.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: But they're going to tie up our country. We can't talk about gun regulation. We can't talk about anything because, frankly, they're so tied up. They're so screwed up. Nothing gets done.

GRISALES: Even before the impeachment inquiry, there wasn't much of a legislative agenda. The Republican-led Senate focused on confirming judicial nominees. The House, controlled by Democrats, has passed dozens of bills that have languished in the Senate. That includes legislation like expanded background checks for gun purchases, campaign finance reform and a $15 minimum wage bill. Still, House Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi says lawmakers will continue to work outside their impeachment inquiry. She's pitching her own plan so the government can negotiate lower prescription drug prices. And the House is negotiating with the administration on a new trade deal with Canada and Mexico. But she recently told reporters Trump is less responsive on those issues with the impeachment inquiry ramping up. Here's Pelosi talking to reporters.


NANCY PELOSI: So if the president's saying, if you question my actions, I can't agree on any subject, then the ball is in his court.

GRISALES: It's a blame game and a perfect recipe for gridlock. Here's Molly Reynolds. She's a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute. She's familiar with the ups and downs of lawmaking on Capitol Hill.

MOLLY REYNOLDS: Particularly in an era of polarized legislative parties, it can be difficult.

GRISALES: Republicans and Democrats are talking about passing sanctions against Turkey. Another critical area where Congress has to come together is funding the government. They have to come up with a plan by November 21 or face another government shutdown. Reynolds says there could be short-term funding deals, but even that could get tied up with impeachment.

REYNOLDS: That doesn't mean that it won't get kind of tricky or ugly between now and when Congress needs to act on a spending bill again in November.

GRISALES: The window for legislating is getting tighter with an election year fast approaching. And with only a few months left, the odds aren't great for even this small list of legislative priorities before facing voters.

Claudia Grisales, NPR News, Washington.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: We incorrectly refer to the Brookings Institution as the Brookings Institute in this report.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: October 16, 2019 at 11:00 PM CDT
We incorrectly refer to the Brookings Institution as the Brookings Institute in this report.
Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.