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 MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyOVERNIGHT ENERGY: New documents show EPA rolled back mileage standards despite staff, WH concerns | Land management bureau grants 75 royalty rate cuts for oil and gas | EPA employees allege leadership interference with science in watchdog survey EPA's Wheeler grilled by Democrats over environmental rollbacks amid COVID-19 Markey says EPA administrator should apologize to minorities for coronavirus response 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 SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump slams Sessions: 'You had no courage & ruined many lives' Senate Democrats call on Trump administration to let Planned Parenthood centers keep PPP loans States, companies set up their own COVID-19 legal shields 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 McCainThe Memo: Activists press Biden on VP choice Biden takes page from Trump with public auditions for VP slot Why Trump, GOP are running into trouble in Arizona MORE (R-Ariz.) absent as he battles brain cancer, the GOP majority is effectively capped at 50 votes. GOP Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Surgeon General stresses need to invest much more in public health infrastructure, during and after COVID-19; Fauci hopeful vaccine could be deployed in December Republicans push for help for renewable energy, fossil fuel industries Senators weigh traveling amid coronavirus ahead of Memorial Day 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 RyanLobbying world John Ratcliffe is the right choice for director of national intelligence — and for America House Democrat calls for halt to lawmakers sleeping in their offices 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 ShimkusBottom line Bottom Line Overnight Energy: Trump rolls back Obama-era fuel efficiency standards | Controversial Keystone XL construction to proceed | Pressure mounts to close national parks amid pandemic 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 ClapperSenate confirms Ratcliffe to be Trump's spy chief Trump cites 'Obamagate' in urging GOP to get 'tough' on Democrats 'Obamagate' backfires: Documents show Biden, Obama acted properly 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 PaulSunday shows preview: States begin to reopen even as some areas in US see case counts increase Congress headed toward unemployment showdown Doctors push Trump to quickly reopen country in letter organized by conservatives 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 WydenHouse to consider amendment blocking warrantless web browsing surveillance COVID-19 increases importance of implementing reforms to organ donation system Senators offer bill to prevent relief payments from being seized by private debt collectors MORE (Ore.), Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Mastercard CEO Ajay Banga says supporting small business single most important thing we should do now; Teva's Brendan O'Grady says U.S. should stockpile strategic reserve in drugs like Strategic Oil Reserve Senate votes to reauthorize intel programs with added legal protections Bottom line MORE (N.M.), Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinLet's support and ensure the safety of workers risking so much for us Congress eyes changes to small business pandemic aid Graham announces vote on subpoenas for Comey, Obama-era intel officials MORE (Calif.) and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisIt's as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Coal company sues EPA over power plant pollution regulation | Automakers fight effort to freeze fuel efficiency standards | EPA watchdog may probe agency's response to California water issues EPA watchdog may probe agency's response to California water issues 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 CoatsIntelligence agencies have hired outside consultants to improve communication with Trump: report Senate confirms Ratcliffe to be Trump's spy chief Senate panel approves Trump nominee for spy chief 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 McConnellMemorial Day weekend deals latest economic blow to travel industry Senate Republicans call on DOJ to investigate Planned Parenthood loans On The Money: Jobless rate exceeds 20 percent in three states | Senate goes on break without passing small business loan fix | Biden pledges to not raise taxes on those making under 0K 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.