This week: Pelosi’s test
It’s decision time for House Democrats.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) faces a challenger in Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) in Wednesday’s secret-ballot, closed-door leadership elections.
So far, only a handful of lawmakers have come out publicly in favor of Ryan. Pelosi remains the favorite to win reelection for an eighth term leading House Democrats, but her margin of victory will be telling.
Pelosi claimed before Ryan launched his bid that she had support from more than two-thirds of the caucus. A third of the 198 members in the incoming Democratic caucus — which includes four delegates who can’t vote on the House floor — would be 66 votes.
Ryan, a member since 2003 who’s never run for leadership before, is pitching himself as someone who can appeal to the white, working-class voters in the Rust Belt states that effectively propelled President-elect Donald Trump’s surprise victory.
And after the fourth consecutive election cycle without retaking the House majority, Ryan says Democrats need a change. Pelosi and her top two deputies, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Assistant Minority Leader Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), are all in their 70s and have served in leadership for more than a decade.
Pelosi loyalists, meanwhile, point to her experience negotiating tough deals with Republicans and impressive fundraising abilities.
Democrats will also cast ballots for lower-ranking leadership posts. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), the caucus vice chairman who briefly considered challenging Pelosi, is running unopposed for Democratic caucus chairman.
Two candidates are facing off to replace Crowley as caucus vice chair: Rep. Barbara Lee (Calif.), a former Congressional Black Caucus chairwoman, and Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Linda Sanchez (Calif.).
Avoiding a shutdown
Meanwhile, lawmakers from both parties will try to figure out a way to keep the government funded beyond next week.
House Republicans intend to pass a short-term spending bill to keep the government funded beyond Dec. 9.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said his panel was putting together a bill lasting through the end of March.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) hasn’t publicly signed on to a short-term spending bill, telling reporters ahead of the weeklong recess that talks were ongoing.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, appeared to signal that the caucus would be open to a continuing resolution (CR), telling reporters “whatever the House can pass, we’ll pass over here.”
But a handful of GOP senators have panned talk of a short-term spending bill.
Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) called the government funding measure a “disgrace.”
“Put simply, this cockamamie idea, this abrogation of our responsibilities called a continuing resolution would shortchange American troops,” he said.
Republicans warned a spending bill through the end of March rather than an omnibus would gum up the Senate floor schedule when lawmakers would also be trying to clear Trump’s nominees or key pieces of legislation.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) called a CR the “lazy way” to fund the government.
“We can finish our work [on appropriations bills] by mid-December,” he said. “I think it’s a mistake for the Trump administration because I think that President-elect Trump should want to focus his attention ahead.”
Republicans will need support from Democrats to get a short-term spending bill through the upper chamber. A handful of conservative, including Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Mike Lee (Utah), also frequently vote against CRs.
Senate Democrats and the White House have publicly signaled that they would prefer a long-term bill that runs through the end of the fiscal year.
Retiring Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pointed to the House as the starting point for a funding bill but argued an omnibus would benefit a Trump administration.
“I think it would be not good for the country. I don’t think it’d be good for Donald Trump to come back here in March and have to move forward on not a new spending program, but one that is already — should’ve been done last September, last October,” he told reporters.
But Democrats haven’t said they would block a CR.
Medical cures bill
A medical innovation bill known as the 21st Century Cures Act is expected to be considered on the House floor this week.
House staffers have been trying to hammer out a final deal, which is expected to include mental health, opioids and Vice President Biden’s cancer moonshot initiative, putting in extra hours around the Thanksgiving holiday.
McConnell has called the legislation one of his top two priorities in the lame-duck session, but the proposal has stalled over funding for the National Institutes of Health and Food and Drug Administration.
Democrat Sens. Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Ed Markey (Mass.) and Joe Donnelly (Ind.) are also pressing leadership to include emergency opioid money in the legislation.
“We stand ready to come together to help foster broader bipartisan support for approving the funding to address the opioid epidemic. The president-elect has also noted his desire to address this issue,” they wrote in a letter to McConnell and Reid.
The Senate will take its first post-Thanksgiving vote on legislation from Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) on telemedicine.
The proposal — known as the ECHO Act — would require the Department of Health and Human Services to study the use of technology-enabled learning and hand over a report to Congress on how it can be improved and expanded.
The senators argue the legislation would help increase healthcare access in rural areas.
“In states with large rural populations like Utah, it’s vital that we do everything we can to ensure that patients have access to quality health care—no matter where they live,” Hatch said in statement earlier this year.
Reps. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) and Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) have introduced a similar bill in the House, though it hasn’t received a vote.
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