This week: Senate tees off net neutrality showdown
© Greg Nash

The Senate is heading for a showdown over the future of the internet with Democrats preparing to force a vote as soon as this week.

Sen. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyUS national security policy in the 117th Congress and a new administration OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden eyes new leadership at troubled public lands agency | House progressives tout their growing numbers in the chamber at climate rally | Trump administration pushes for rollback of Arctic offshore drilling regulations House progressives tout their growing numbers in the chamber at climate rally MORE (D-Mass.) is expected to file a discharge petition on Wednesday — the first step to getting a vote on restoring the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) net neutrality regulations.  

Democrats haven’t yet said if they will also force the vote this week. Under Senate rules, the resolution is subject to up to 10 hours of debate after senators overcome an initial hurdle to bring it up on the floor.

“We’re in the homestretch in the fight to save net neutrality,” Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerProtect America's houses of worship in year-end appropriations package Club for Growth to launch ad blitz in Georgia to juice GOP turnout Inequality of student loan debt underscores possible Biden policy shift MORE (D-N.Y.) said in a statement last week. “Soon, the American people will know which side their member of Congress is on: fighting for big corporations and ISPs or defending small business owners, entrepreneurs, middle-class families and every-day consumers.”

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Democrats have a 60-day window to force a vote under the Congressional Review Act, setting up a hard June 12th deadline.

They appear to have the simple majority they need to win the net neutrality fight on the Senate floor.

With Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainBiden eyeing Cindy McCain for UK ambassador position: report The Memo: GOP mulls its future after Trump Juan Williams: Obama's dire warnings about right-wing media MORE (R-Ariz.) absent as he battles brain cancer, the GOP majority is effectively capped at 50 votes. GOP Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsBiden's Cabinet a battleground for future GOP White House hopefuls Two more parting shots from Trump aimed squarely at disabled workers Trump transition order follows chorus of GOP criticism MORE (Maine) has said she will vote to restore the FCC regulations, which would result in a 50-49 vote in favor.

If McCain returns, Democrats would need to pick up an additional Republican senator in order to be successful in the Senate. They are continuing to hunt for an additional GOP vote with Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) viewed as the likeliest potential pickup.

The FCC rules mandated that internet service providers treat all traffic equally.

Even if Democrats are able to get their resolution through the Senate, they face an uphill battle in the House, where they would need to pick up the votes of 25 Republicans.

Chaplain controversy

House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPaul Ryan calls for Trump to accept results: 'The election is over' Bottom line Democratic anger rises over Trump obstacles to Biden transition MORE (R-Wis.) is slated to meet with Chaplain Patrick Conroy early this week in the wake of the Jesuit priest rescinding his resignation on May 3. Ryan said he requested Conroy step down, arguing he didn’t believe member’s pastoral needs were being met.

“I have accepted Father Conroy’s letter and decided that he will remain in his position as Chaplain of the House,” Ryan said in a statement Thursday. “My original decision was made in what I believed to be the best interest of this institution.”

Conroy, who was asked by Ryan’s chief of staff, Jonathan Burks, to step down in April, said he suspects Ryan wanted to oust him over a prayer during the tax-reform debate. Burks disputes Conroy's recollection of their discussion.

Ryan’s decision to attempt to oust the pastor sparked bipartisan outrage, with Democrats pushing for an investigation into the motives behind the Wisconsin Republican’s decision.

Nuclear Waste Policy

The House is expected to vote on the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2018 on Thursday.

The legislation — spearheaded by Rep. John ShimkusJohn Mondy ShimkusHere are the 17 GOP women newly elected to the House this year Asbestos ban stalls in Congress amid partisan fight Women rise on K Street — slowly MORE (R-Ill.) — aims to reform the country’s nuclear waste management policy by making changes to the nuclear waste fund, strengthening the organizational structure at the Department of Energy (DOE) by allowing the Senate to appoint a director to run the program and allowing the DOE to contract with outside entities to store spent nuclear fuel.
 
Auto-loan guidance
 
The House is scheduled to vote on Tuesday to repeal the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's (CFPB) guidance on auto-loan finance. 
 
The CFPB’s guidance sought to eliminate “dealer markups,” the additional interest added by an auto-dealer to a third-party loan as extra compensation. The bureau sought to kill the practice over concerns that black and Latino customers were often charged higher rates than whites with identical credit profiles.
 
Assuming the House passes the measure, the CFPB auto-lending guidance will likely be the first informal regulation to be repealed by Congress through the Congressional Review Act.
 
Car dealers, business groups and Republicans on Capitol Hill have called the concerns about discrimination unfounded. 
 
The Senate repealed the decree on auto-loan financing last month.

CIA nominee

CIA Deputy Director Gina Haspel is heading to Capitol Hill where she’s expected to face a grilling over her nomination to lead the spy agency.

Haspel is scheduled to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, marking a high-profile public showdown for an official whose career at the spy agency is largely veiled in secrecy.

The White House is launching a full-court charm offensive to win over crucial senators whose support Haspel will need to ultimately be confirmed, including drafting a 27-page document providing talking points meant to combat criticism of Haspel.

They’ve also touted endorsements from former intelligence community officials who are critical of the Trump administration, including former Director of National Intelligence James ClapperJames Robert ClapperThe new marshmallow media in the Biden era Will China get the foreign policy president it wants? Is America ready to return to the Obama-Biden foreign policy? MORE.

Marc Short, the White House director of legislative affairs, acknowledged that they are expecting a “close” vote once Haspel’s nomination reaches the full Senate later this month.

With GOP Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulMcConnell halts in-person Republican lunches amid COVID-19 surge Biden's Cabinet a battleground for future GOP White House hopefuls Loeffler isolating after possible COVID-19 infection MORE (Ky.) currently opposed to her nomination, Haspel will need to win over at least one Democratic senator in order to lock down the simple majority needed to be confirmed. So far, none have indicated they will vote for her.

Democratic Sens. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenTwo more parting shots from Trump aimed squarely at disabled workers On The Money: Push for student loan forgiveness puts Biden in tight spot | Trump is wild card as shutdown fears grow | Mnuchin asks Fed to return 5 billion in unspent COVID emergency funds Grassley, Wyden criticize Treasury guidance concerning PPP loans MORE (Ore.), Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichFormer Sen. Carol Moseley Braun stumps for Interior post: 'A natural fit for me' Five House Democrats who could join Biden Cabinet House Democrats push Biden to pick Haaland as next Interior secretary MORE (N.M.), Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - COVID-19 fears surround Thanksgiving holiday Feinstein departure from top post sets stage for Judiciary fight Whitehouse says Democratic caucus will decide future of Judiciary Committee MORE (Calif.) and Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisBiden transition adds new members to coronavirus task force Club for Growth to launch ad blitz in Georgia to juice GOP turnout Biden's political position is tougher than Trump's MORE (Calif.) — who make up more than half of the Democrats on the Intelligence Committee — sent a letter late last week to Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsBiden soars as leader of the free world Lobbying world President Trump: To know him is to 'No' him MORE, the director of national intelligence, requesting that any information tied to Haspel’s involvement in “enhanced interrogation” techniques — now widely referred to as torture — be declassified before her hearing.

Haspel is expected to face a heated fight because of her role overseeing a CIA black site and the destruction of video tapes documenting the waterboarding of an al Qaeda suspect.

The Washington Post and Reuters reported over the weekend that Haspel moved to withdraw her nomination late last week rather than put the agency under a harsh microscope.

Officials told The Post that they weren’t sure until Saturday afternoon that Haspel would stick with the nomination.  

Judicial nominations

Senate Republicans are expected to continue their breakneck pace for confirming Trump’s judicial picks this week.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell halts in-person Republican lunches amid COVID-19 surge Biden and reproductive health rights Biden's Cabinet a battleground for future GOP White House hopefuls MORE (R-Ky.) teed up votes on six circuit court picks: Kurt Engelhardt to be on the 5th Circuit,  Michael Brennan to be on the 7th Circuit, Joel Carson to be on the 10th Circuit, John Nalbandian to be on the 6th Circuit, Michael Scudder to be on the 7th Circuit and Amy St. Eve to be on the 7th Circuit.

The six nominees, if they are all confirmed, will give Trump a total of 21 circuit judges confirmed so far during his administration.

That will put him above the number former Presidents Obama, George W. Bush, Clinton, Reagan and Carter got during their first two years. It will also put them just behind — and likely to surpass — the current record held by former President George H.W. Bush, who got 22 appeals judges confirmed during his first two years.

Key GOP primaries

Republicans are barreling toward the finish line in two contentious Senate GOP primary fights.

Voters will go to the polls on Tuesday in both Indiana and West Virginia, where wealthy outsiders appear to have a last-minute boost of momentum.

Republicans have launched an 11th hour campaign to try to stop ex-coal CEO Don Blankenship from making a successful comeback, after a spate of polling last month showed him in third place behind Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Rep. Evan JenkinsEvan Hollin JenkinsWest Virginia New Members 2019 Republican Carol Miller holds off Democrat in West Virginia House race Trump to fundraise for 3 Republicans running for open seats: report MORE (R-W.Va.) in West Virginia.

But Greg Thomas, a spokesman and adviser for Blankenship, told The Hill on Sunday that their own internal polling shows them in the lead after a nationally televised Fox News debate.

Meanwhile, voters in Indiana will pick between wealthy outsider Mike Braun, and Reps. Luke Messer and Todd Rokita in the state’s GOP primary. Public polling in the race has been sparse but a Gravis poll released last month found Braun leading with 26 percent of the vote, compared to 16 percent for Rokita and 13 percent for Messer.