This week: McConnell tees up nominations ahead of Memorial Day
© Greg Nash

Senate 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.) is turning to President TrumpDonald John TrumpPennsylvania Supreme Court strikes down GOP bid to stop election certification Biden looks to career officials to restore trust, morale in government agencies Sunday shows preview: US health officials brace for post-holiday COVID-19 surge MORE’s nominees as the chamber prepares to head out of town for a one-week break. 

The focus on nominations comes after the House returned on Friday to enable remote voting by proxy, largely along party lines, and passed a roughly $3 trillion coronavirus relief package that has been declared “dead on arrival” in the GOP-controlled Senate. 

The House is out of town this week, though it's expected to return next week to take up a Senate-passed bill that would reauthorize three provisions of the USA Freedom Act, a 2015 surveillance reform law, and make some changes to the court created by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The Senate is expected to leave town on Thursday afternoon until June 1. 

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Much of the Senate’s drama this week will be centered off the floor: Trump fired Steve Linick, the inspector general for the State Department, over the weekend, prompting fierce backlash from Democrats, and some Republicans, because it marked the latest watchdog sidelined by the president amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

The firing took place after senators adjourned last week, all but guaranteeing that senators will be peppered with questions as they return to the Capitol on Monday evening. 

Sen. Jim RischJim Elroy RischWill Biden choose a values-based or transactional foreign policy? GOP senator congratulates Biden, says Trump should accept results Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee MORE (R-Idaho), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, for example, has yet to comment on the firing, or a disclosure by Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezDemocrats urge YouTube to remove election misinformation, step up efforts ahead of Georgia runoff Democratic senators urge Facebook to take action on anti-Muslim bigotry Trump appointee sparks bipartisan furor for politicizing media agency MORE (N.J.), the top Democrat on the panel, that another nominee under the committee's purview is under investigation. 

Menendez disclosed late last week that Michael Pack, nominated to head the U.S. Agency for Global Media, was under investigation by the D.C. attorney general’s office. 

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee was scheduled to vote on Pack’s nomination last week, but the meeting was postponed. 

But on the floor, McConnell has teed up votes on five nominations, starting with a procedural vote on Monday night on Scott Rash’s nomination to be a district judge. 

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In addition to Rash, McConnell has also paved the way for votes on Anna Manasco’s, John Heil III’s and John Leonard Badalamenti’s nominations to be district judges. 

McConnell vowed last month that the Senate would continue to vote on judicial nominees despite the coronavirus pandemic. Democrats have fumed over the GOP leader’s decision to bring the Senate back to Washington, D.C., without coronavirus-related items set for the floor. 

In addition to the judicial nominations, the Senate is also expected to vote on James Trainor III’s nomination to be a member of the Federal Election Commission. 

Coronavirus

Though House Democrats passed their fifth coronavirus bill last week, the Senate is not expected to take up legislation until at least June. Leadership in both parties told The Hill that they did not expect an agreement until next month. 

No senator has suggested they are close to a deal as McConnell and House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiClub for Growth to launch ad blitz in Georgia to juice GOP turnout Governors take heat for violating their own coronavirus restrictions Spending deal clears obstacle in shutdown fight MORE (D-Calif.) continue to trade barbs over the details of the next package. 

McConnell said late last week that there was a “high likelihood" that Congress will need to pass additional legislation but refused to put a timeline on when that would need to happen or say if he believes it will be “soon.” 

McConnell and other GOP senators are pointing to liability protection for businesses that reopen as their “red line” for the next bill. McConnell is working on a proposal with Sen. John CornynJohn CornynCornyn says election outcome 'becoming increasingly clear': report Top GOP senator: Biden should be getting intel briefings GOP senator congratulates Biden, says Trump should accept results MORE (R-Texas) that could be introduced as soon as this week. 

Meanwhile, the Senate Banking Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on Tuesday to review reports related to March’s $2.2 trillion relief bill. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is expected to hold a vote on Wednesday on Brian Miller’s nomination to be the inspector general for pandemic recovery. 

Hunter Biden

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonMcConnell halts in-person Republican lunches amid COVID-19 surge Loeffler isolating after possible COVID-19 infection Rick Scott tests positive for coronavirus MORE (R-Wis.) has scheduled a vote for Wednesday in the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on what, if he’s successful, would be the first subpoena in his months-long probe into Hunter Biden and Ukraine gas company Burisma Holdings. 

Johnson has scheduled a vote on issuing a subpoena for Blue Star Strategies, a firm with ties to Burisma, to hand over documents and to interview with committee staff. 

The subpoena vote comes as Republicans are ramping up their efforts to probe decisions stemming from the Obama era as Trump prepares to face former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenPennsylvania Supreme Court strikes down GOP bid to stop election certification Biden looks to career officials to restore trust, morale in government agencies Biden transition adds new members to coronavirus task force MORE, the presumptive Democratic nominee, in November. 

Johnson has denied that his investigation is political, but he’s also argued that his findings— he has said he wants to release an interim report this summer — should be of interest to Democratic voters. Democrats have warned both publicly and privately that Johnson could inadvertently spread Russian disinformation and use his gavel to meddle in the 2020 election. 

For Johnson to successfully subpoena Blue Star he’ll need the support of a majority of his panel, where Republicans hold a one-seat majority. He previously wanted to subpoena a former consultant from Blue Star but canceled the vote amid bipartisan concerns from members of the committee.