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Congress returns from recess with a big to-do list

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is seen here boarding an elevator following a vote on Feb. 14. She has been absent from the Senate after being diagnosed with shingles.
Chip Somodevilla
Getty Images
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is seen here boarding an elevator following a vote on Feb. 14. She has been absent from the Senate after being diagnosed with shingles.

Lawmakers return to Washington, D.C., after a two-week recess with a hefty legislative agenda, including addressing the fallout from a recent leak of classified U.S. intelligence documents and the looming debt limit crisis.

Here's a look at what's on Congress' plate:

Next steps on investigating the leak of classified intelligence documents.

Last week, Jack Teixeira, a member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, was arrested as a suspect for leaking classified U.S. intelligence documents.

The Washington Post first reported that the 21-year-old worked on a U.S. military base and shared the classified documents on the platform Discord.

Senators are expected to receive a classified briefing on the leak Wednesday, a Senate Democratic aide tells NPR.

Chairman of the Senate Armed Service Committee Jack Reed has called the leak a "major security breach that cannot be allowed to happen again" and said Congress will take "corrective steps."

"More answers are still needed," the Rhode Island Democrat said in a statement. "There are systemic issues that need to be addressed, including protocols for how intelligence is handled, the security clearance process, and how officials can prevent intelligence leaks like this from ever happening again."

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner has indicated his panel will also probe the nature of the breach.

"The fact that [Teixeira] had access at all, that even he could access these documents and gain that knowledge is inappropriate, needs to be fixed, and that's what we're going to be addressing on Capitol Hill," the Ohio Republican told Fox News.

Two senators return to Washington after medical absences

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., suffered a concussion and rib fracture in Marchafter a fall at a D.C. hotel and has been recovering at home after being discharged from the hospital.

Pennsylvania Democrat John Fetterman is also returning after an absence due to treatment for clinical depression. Fetterman sustained a stroke in May of last year and later had a pacemaker and defibrillator implanted to treat an irregular heart rhythm.

Another Senate personnel issue as Feinstein requests temporary replacement on Judiciary Committee

California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, 89, has not cast a vote since mid-February, as she continues to recover from shingles. Some of her Democratic colleagues have called on her to step down, including fellow Californian Rep. Ro Khanna, who told NPR: "I don't know any other job in America where you can't show up for months, you don't tell people when you're going to show up, you've been sort of absent for a year or two, and there are no consequences."

Feinstein has asked to be temporarily replaced on the Judiciary Committee so that President Biden's nominees don't remain in limbo while she is out.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer plans to evaluate whether it's possible for another Democrat to temporarily take her place on the committee.

But it's a request complicated by politics. Democrats have a narrow 51-49 majority in the chamber and would need 60 votes in order to essentially swap Feinstein out for another Democrat.

Arkansas GOP Sen. Tom Cotton has already said fellow Republicans shouldn't make it easier for Democrats to advance their nominees.

Debt limit deadline looming

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the U.S. reached its borrowing limit in January, but informed Congress the department would use "extraordinary measures" to continue paying the nation's bills until those were exhausted. That is likely to happen early summer, which means the clock is ticking.

Negotiations between the White House and House Republicans have been stalled for months. Biden continues to advocate for Congress to pass a clean bill and wants to see a GOP budget before continuing negotiations with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

"Without exaggeration American debt is a ticking time bomb that will detonate unless we take serious, responsible action," McCarthy, R-Calif., warned in a speech at the New York Stock Exchange on Monday.

As NPR's Deirdre Walsh reports, the GOP bill would cap federal spending levels from those of two years ago, add a provision to put work requirements in place for adults without dependents who receive food assistance benefits, and include reforms for how new energy projects are permitted. It's very unlikely this would move forward in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

House GOP holds a field hearing in the Big Apple on crime

House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan also held an event in New York on Monday: a field hearing about crime in Manhattan.

The hearing is a two-fold opportunity for Republicans: to slam Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg, who recently brought criminal charges against former President Donald Trump, and to attempt to portray Democrats as being soft on crime.

During the hearing, Democrats frequently pointed to data from the NYPD that show a drop in violent crimes in New York City each month this year.

Jordan has previously sent Bragg a letter asking for documents and testimony related to his investigation of Trump.

Bragg's office is investigating the former president over a $130,000 payment to adult film actor Stormy Daniels, made just before the 2016 election. Trump has denied an affair with Daniels.

House Republicans push forward on messaging bills

The Rules Committee will meet Monday to discuss legislation that would effectively prohibit school athletic programs from allowing transgender women to participate in women's school sports programs.

Much like the Parents Bill of Rights that GOP lawmakers passed in March, this bill is not expected to even be taken up in the Senate, but rather serves as another messaging bill for the GOP base ahead of the 2024 elections.

NPR Congressional correspondents Claudia Grisales and Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report contributed to this story

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Barbara Sprunt
Barbara Sprunt is a producer on NPR's Washington desk, where she reports and produces breaking news and feature political content. She formerly produced the NPR Politics Podcast and got her start in radio at as an intern on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered and Tell Me More with Michel Martin. She is an alumnus of the Paul Miller Reporting Fellowship at the National Press Foundation. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania native.