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Congress races to finish up some big-ticket items during its lame duck session


Congress is racing to finish up some big-ticket items in this lame-duck session. The January 6 Committee is writing its final report ahead of a public hearing next week. But even more pressing - Congress faces a Friday deadline to avoid a possible government shutdown. NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh joins us now with the latest. Deirdre, hello.


SCHMITZ: So Friday is the deadline for Congress to pass a bill to avoid a possible government shutdown. Are they going to avoid a shutdown?

WALSH: Well, they made some progress on that front last night. Top negotiators announced they have a deal on a framework for a broad spending bill that would fund federal agencies through next fall. But they're going to need more time to finish the detail. This deal would wrap a dozen bills into one massive package. The House is going to pass a short-term bill today that gives negotiators another week. The Senate's expected to take that up before midnight on Friday. This means the new deadline for getting that broader bill together moves to next Friday, December 23. Congress always likes to bump right up to the Christmas holidays.

SCHMITZ: Of course.

WALSH: Yep. The top Senate Republican, Richard Shelby, who negotiated this framework, says if all goes well, they will get it done by then. This spending bill includes things like the Biden administration's request for more money for Ukraine.

SCHMITZ: Right. Are there other bipartisan bills they want to get finished?

WALSH: There is one big one. Since that spending bill is really the last train leaving the station this year on Capitol Hill, leaders want to attach a bipartisan bill to it that clarifies how Congress certifies the presidential election results. There's broad bipartisan support for getting that update to the law known as the electoral count done before Republicans take control of the House next year so we don't have another January 6. This bill specifies that the vice president's role is strictly ceremonial. And it would increase the threshold for raising any objections to a state's electoral votes.

SCHMITZ: Deirdre, the January 6 Committee has to wrap up by December 31. Do we have some details on their final public meeting?

WALSH: We do. Chairman Bennie Thompson told reporters yesterday the panel's going to have its likely last public meeting on Monday. At that meeting, we're going to learn who the committee believes, according to all this evidence they've compiled, violated any law and should be referred to agencies like the Justice Department for any possible criminal or other charges. Thompson wouldn't get into the list of names that they're considering. But at the top of that list is likely former President Donald Trump.


WALSH: We should say - right? - that the committee cannot prosecute crimes, but we know that the Justice Department is already doing its own broad investigation. So any referrals that the committee makes are more of a symbolic statement.

SCHMITZ: And what about their final report?

WALSH: That's expected to publicly come out on Wednesday. Thompson admits they are still writing it. It's expected to be eight chapters, hundreds, if not thousands, of pages. But we could see some preview at the hearing on Monday when the committee's going to formally vote to approve it before its public release on Wednesday.

SCHMITZ: So looking ahead to January, Kevin McCarthy was nominated by House Republicans to serve as speaker. But does he have the votes to be elected by the full House when the new Congress begins?

WALSH: Not yet. I mean, Republicans are going to hold just a four-seat majority, so McCarthy can't afford to lose more than four votes. His problem right now is he already has five House Republican hardliners who publicly say they will not support him. So McCarthy is in negotiations with them right now. His supporters say there's no alternative candidate who can win. They admit it could take multiple ballots, multiple votes, but they predict he will eventually be elected speaker in January.

SCHMITZ: That's NPR's Deirdre Walsh. Deirdre, thank you.

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

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.
Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.
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