December 16, 2019 4:00 PM, EST

It’s Finals Week on Capitol Hill

Sen. Mitch McConnellMitch McConnell says the Senate's first order of business in January may be an impeachment trial, rather than a vote on the United States-Mexico-Canada trade agreement. (Fox News via YouTube)

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For a great number of college students in this country the dreaded finals week is finally over, clearing the way for trips back home to catch up with family and friends for the holidays.

In much the same way, lawmakers in Washington have a version of finals week to deal with.

These upcoming last legislative days of 2019 will feature some big items. Congress intends to consider fiscal 2020 legislation meant to keep the federal government operating, averting another shutdown. The funding proposal will be followed by an update of the Clinton-era North American Free Trade Agreement. And, sandwiched between the two, is a vote to impeach President Donald Trump.

Eugene Mulero


Like the kid who waited until the very end of the semester to finish her or his course work, the same can be said of the leadership in the House this year. And in both instances, caffeine gets the assist.

A government shutdown is not likely but not out of the question, either. Counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway emphasized that point. “There’s always a chance, but we don’t see that,” she told reporters at the White House last week. “We’re ready to sign those spending bills and keep the government open Dec. 20.”

The new United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement heads to the floor of the House more than a year after the countries signed the deal. A vote in the Senate is expected early next year. Trucking, freight rail and labor and business groups applauded Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s announcement about the conclusion of her caucus’ negotiations with the president’s team. A vote in the Senate is expected early next year, that chamber’s leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), said Dec. 11. As he put it, “Assuming that House Democrats send us articles of impeachment next week, a Senate trial will have to be our first item of business in January. So the USMCA will continue to be a casualty of Democrats’ impeachment obsession for several more weeks before we can turn to it. But I’m glad the speaker is finally beginning to bring her USMCA obstruction to a close.”

Be on the lookout for the two articles of impeachment against Trump that will get a vote in the House midweek. After what will likely be a party-line vote, the president’s impeachment might occur just a week before Christmas. (Several signs point to an acquittal in the Senate.)

“Builder-in-Chief” Trump offered analysis about Pelosi’s end-of-the-year political calculation. “Without the impeachment, they would have never approved [USMCA], in my opinion,” the president said Dec. 10. “The impeachment is the reason they approved it.”

The Week Ahead (all times Eastern)

Dec. 17, 9:30 a.m.: The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee meets to consider the America’s Conservation Enhancement Act, and the nomination of Robert Feitel to be inspector general of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Dec. 17, 12:30 p.m.: The National Press Club hosts a luncheon with Jane Fonda regarding climate change.

Dec. 19, 9 a.m.: The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research hosts a panel discussion titled, “Does the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement fall short on free trade?” Participants include Robert Doar, president of AEI, and Derek Scissors, resident scholar at AEI.

Mood Swings

As 2019 comes to a close, a big, bold deal on infrastructure in Washington didn’t happen. Throughout the impeachment inquiry, lawmakers quoted the country’s framers, renowned political scientists, philosophers and historians. Perhaps the words of Rene Descartes also will help to elucidate this moment in time. In “Meditations on First Philosophy” in 1641, he wrote: “We must confess that the life of man is apt to commit errors regarding particular things, and we must acknowledge the infirmity of our nature.”


In Case You Missed It

One rule to rule them all at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

What’s New

Donald Trump


While Donald Trump isn't exactly new to the scene, he could become just the third president — joining Andrew Johnson (1868) and Bill Clinton (1998) — to be impeached. The matter has dominated the fall legislative calendar, and it eclipsed most of the congressional agenda. Each side displayed passionate arguments for or against Trump’s handling of foreign policy. Such partisanship was not exclusive to the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees. The traditionally bipartisan Transportation and Infrastructure Committee exhibited heated interactions, as well. Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) described GOP-led procedural requests during a hearing last month as a time-wasting political stunt.


The public has until Jan. 10 to share comments with the office of the Secretary of Transportation about projects, concerns or themes that should be addressed through the Non-Traditional and Emerging Transportation Technology Council. The leaders of the Senate Commerce Committee and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee wrote to Secretary Elaine Chao to applaud efforts meant to improve connectivity and safety. As they put it in their letter Dec. 9, “Businesses cannot innovate if the regulatory frameworks in place are unworkable for prompt and safe testing and implementation of new technology, particularly if such innovations could lead to changes that improve the safety and efficiency of travel for people and goods.”

Favorite Video

A very This Town-esque in the loop moment.

Favorite Tweet

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

The Last Word

Friday was probably the most momentous day in trade history ever. That day we submitted the USMCA, the Mexico-Canada agreement, with bipartisan support and support of business, labor, agriculture.

Ambassador Robert Lighthizer, U.S. Trade Representative, on CBS’ Face The Nation on Dec. 15

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer


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