This week: Confirmation showdown looms in Senate

Greg Nash

The Senate is poised to make history this week with Vice President Mike Pence expected to have to break a tie on a Cabinet nominee.

Senators are scheduled to take a final vote Tuesday on Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s Education secretary nominee. Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine) announced last week they are breaking rank and voting against the nominee.

With no Democrats expected to support DeVos, it will be the first time ever a vice president has cast the deciding vote on a nominee. It will also be the first time a vice president has been brought in to resolve a 50-50 split since then-Vice President Dick Cheney weighed in on a tax proposal in 2008.

DeVos, a GOP megadonor, has been the subject of fierce opposition from teachers unions and other liberal groups over her support for charter schools and tuition vouchers using public funds.

{mosads}Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is hoping at least one more Republican will vote against DeVos to torpedo her nomination.

“I ask my colleagues to look into their conscience. Sometimes loyalty to a new president demands a bit too much,” he said from the Senate floor on Friday. “Please think about it over the weekend. This person, Ms. DeVos, does not deserve be the Secretary of Education.”

But opponents are running out of time to find a crucial third Republican to help them sink DeVos. Republican Sens. Pat Toomey (Pa.), John Hoeven (N.D.), Dean Heller (Nev.) and Deb Fischer (Neb.) — each considered potential candidates to flip and oppose DeVos — announced late last week that they would support Trump’s nominee.

“Too many American kids are being left behind every day. That is not acceptable to Betsy DeVos, and it is not acceptable to me,” Toomey said in a statement, adding that he was “pleased to confirm” DeVos.

The Senate will spend the rest of the week working through a slate of Trump nominees considered most controversial by Democrats.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) teed up three more nominations after senators wrap up their work on DeVos: Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), to be attorney general; Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), to lead the Department of Health and Human Services; and Steve Mnuchin to be Treasury secretary.

Republicans are threatening to keep senators in late, and potentially through the weekend, to get the nominees confirmed. Trump his heading into his third week with only seven nominees confirmed — the same number that former President Obama had confirmed during his first day in 2009.

Senators could speed through the nominations if they get a deal, but Democrats are expected to drag out the 30 hours of debate required for each nominee as part of their strategy to slow-walk Trump’s picks.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) expected that without an agreement, lawmakers would spend weeks working through the nominees and predicted that Democrats will likely force them to file cloture, eating up Senate floor time.

Democrats have blasted Trump’s Cabinet picks, arguing they deserve extra scrutiny because of their wealth and ties to financial industries they oversee. They boycotted a slate of confirmation votes this week, pushing Republicans to change committee rules to clear the nominees without Democrats present.

Cornyn brushed off a question about the precedent Republicans are setting, arguing Democrats have themselves to blame over their inability to block the picks.

“It’s like somebody that murdered their parents and then they pled for mercy because they are an orphan,” said the Senate’s No. 2 Republican. “So I think it’s all of their own making.”

Under a 2013 decision, Democrats led by then-Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) decided to change the rules for executive and lower-court nominees. Under the so-called “nuclear option,” Cabinet picks can now get through the upper chamber by a simple majority rather than the higher 60-vote threshold.

If Democrats hadn’t changed the rules, some of Trump’s more controversial nominees, including DeVos and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, likely wouldn’t have been confirmed.

Obama regulations

Congress is poised to keep taking a sledgehammer to a series of Obama-era regulations.

Under the Congressional Review Act, lawmakers can pass resolutions of disapproval to overturn regulations 60 legislative days after they go into effect. Democrats will have little ability to stop them given that the resolutions are filibuster-proof in the Senate.

The House passed resolutions last week to undo five separate Obama-era regulations, including rules to report disability benefit recipients deemed unfit to manage their own finances to the FBI’s gun background check system and require coal companies to clean up waste from mountaintop removal mining from local waterways.

This week, the House will take up three resolutions to get rid of regulations that would reorganize the Bureau of Land Management’s natural resources planning and management strategies, establish reporting requirements for teacher preparation programs, and implement provisions of the bipartisan education policy overhaul passed by Congress in late 2015.

Democrats are warning they expect Senate Republicans to move quickly on the House-passed gun background check proposal, after working this week to nix a transparency rule for oil companies and an Obama-era coal regulation.

The Senate could also try to roll back a methane waste rule and a separate measure requiring federal contractors to disclose labor law violations.

House Democratic retreat

The House is only in session on Monday and Tuesday to accommodate the Democratic retreat during the rest of the week.

House Democrats will gather in Baltimore to plan their strategy for the rest of the session on upcoming fights with Republicans and the Trump administration. Unlike Republicans, it isn’t a joint retreat with Senate Democrats, who held their retreat in West Virginia last month.

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) will present the initial draft of an “autopsy” report reviewing the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s 2016 practices and investments and identifying improvements for the 2018 election cycle.

The retreat will be a significantly lower-key than in the past several years without a president or vice president speaking before the Democratic caucus.

Democratic leaders decided against inviting Trump or Pence to address their retreat.

Mike Lillis and Devin Henry contributed. 

Tags Chuck Schumer Dean Heller Deb Fischer Harry Reid Jeff Sessions John Cornyn John Hoeven Lisa Murkowski Mike Pence Mitch McConnell Susan Collins
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