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Congress returns and works to avoid shutdown

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Congress is getting ready to get back in business next week after its month-long August recess. And there is a lot on the agenda, including the threat of an impeachment inquiry and a looming funding showdown that could quickly shift to a potential shutdown. Mitch McConnell, the top Senate Republican, summed up the funding situation this way.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MITCH MCCONNELL: Honestly, it's a pretty big mess.

DETROW: But Senator McConnell faces his own questions about whether he can continue to lead his party after a second health episode this summer. NPR's congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh joins us now. Hey, Deirdre.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Hey, Scott.

DETROW: Can Congress avoid a shutdown?

WALSH: You know, they don't have a lot of time, and the House and Senate haven't agreed to any of the 12 annual spending bills. The problem is the two chambers aren't working off the same math. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Biden negotiated a debt ceiling deal in May that set overall spending levels. But after a group of House conservatives who didn't like that deal forced the speaker to craft bills at lower levels, they're essentially on a collision course with the Senate that's going along with that deal. McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and the White House all agree Congress needs to pass a short-term funding bill to avoid a shutdown on October 1. They're working on that, and that's called a CR, or continuing resolution, that will fund agencies through sometime in December.

DETROW: So that seems like that's the top priority. What else is on the list for the fall?

WALSH: A lot. Disaster aid and money for Ukraine are two things the Biden administration wants Congress to pass soon. The White House asked for $12 billion for emergency money for disasters, and they just asked for another 4 billion because of the needs coming out of Maui and states recovering from Hurricane Idalia. The other big ask from the administration is $20 billion for Ukraine, but there's a growing bloc of conservatives who oppose that, so leaders are going to have to thread the needle to get that through.

DETROW: I mentioned the threat of an impeachment inquiry. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has signaled support for one. I have to ask, what is the basis of any possible high crime or misdemeanor by President Biden here?

WALSH: There isn't one. House Republicans haven't uncovered any evidence of wrongdoing by President Biden. Some are alleging corruption related to Hunter Biden, the president's son's business dealings during the time that Biden served as vice president, but they haven't produced any evidence that the president received any financial benefit. But McCarthy is coming under increasing pressure from conservatives to move impeachment ahead. Plus, former President Trump is urging action soon, and he has a lot of allies in the House Republican Conference.

DETROW: This comes after Trump was impeached twice in recent years. Let's look at the Senate, though. As we mentioned before and as we've been talking about the last few days, Mitch McConnell, the top Senate Republican, is facing a big test here after he froze while speaking publicly for the second time in two months. What's going on there?

WALSH: Well, the Capitol physician cleared McConnell to work and said after he consulted with McConnell's neurology team, the top Senate Republican could continue his schedule as planned. McConnell had a fall in March, and he suffered a concussion. So Brian Monahan - that's the Capitol physician - said lightheadedness was a symptom of recovering from a concussion. So far, Senate Republican colleagues of McConnell's support the 81-year-old leader, but these episodes have been really jarring. And McConnell faces a lot of questions when he comes back into town, whether he's still up to his job.

DETROW: That's NPR's Deirdre Walsh. Thanks, Deirdre.

WALSH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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