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February 17, 2019

US lawmakers return to work, spending showdown ahead

US lawmakers return to work, spending showdown ahead
'US Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer meets with Democratic senators-elect Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Jacky Rosen of Nevada in his US Capitol office on November 13, 2018' - By: AFP Brendan Smialowski

US lawmakers returned to work Tuesday for the first time since contentious midterm election campaigns, with Congress facing a spending showdown and Democrats eager to protect special prosecutor Robert Mueller's Russia probe.

Also on Capitol Hill will be the newly elected members of the Senate and House of Representatives, including the two Democrats who flipped Republican-held Senate seats, as they attend orientation sessions ahead of their swearing in next January.

Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Nevada's Jacky Rosen, both of whom ousted incumbent Republicans in their races, met with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer Tuesday morning.

On the Republican side, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was scheduled to meet his party's three new members Wednesday.

Democrats reclaimed the House from Republicans in last Tuesday's election, but President Donald Trump's party retained control of the Senate. The changes take effect on January 3, 2019.

One potentially controversial arrival on Capitol Hill would be that of Florida Governor Rick Scott, who is locked in an uncalled Senate race with incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson and who reportedly stated he could travel to Washington this week.

The Florida race is undergoing a tense mandatory recount, with Trump and other senior Republicans openly accusing county officials of fraud.

Trump has repeatedly weighed in on the race, including on Monday when he claimed, without evidence, that an honest Florida vote count was not possible due to "massively infected" ballots.

During the "lame-duck" session -- when Congress meets between the election and the seating of the new Congress -- lawmakers face a December 7 deadline to prevent a partial government shutdown by passing a spending measure that funds the Department of Homeland Security through fiscal year 2019.

It could be tricky, as Trump has called for new funding for his wall on the southern US border with Mexico, an issue that has divided some congressional Republicans.

Meanwhile Democrats and some Republicans want to attach to the spending bill legislation that would protect Mueller and his investigation, after Trump sacked attorney general Jeff Sessions and replaced him with Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who has drawn criticism over his denial of Russia's meddling in the 2016 US elections.

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