This week: Debate over Confederate statues, fifth coronavirus bill heats up
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Republicans are set to unveil their coronavirus relief proposal this week, paving the way for the start of formal negotiations about a fifth bill. 

Pressure is growing on Congress to take action: Coronavirus cases are climbing across the country, with the United States breaking its all-time high for daily cases on Thursday when it reported 75,643 new cases, according to The New York Times. Some hospitals are reporting new shortages in space and protective equipment and unemployment remains in the double digits even as most states have loosened social distancing requirements. 

Both the House and Senate, out of town for a July 4 break, will return to Washington on Monday, giving them a matter of weeks to craft the next package before they are scheduled to leave town again until early September. 


After hitting "pause" for months to assess the roughly $2.9 trillion already appropriated by Congress, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate approves two energy regulators, completing panel On The Money: Biden announces key members of economic team | GOP open to Yellen as Treasury secretary, opposed to budget pick | GAO: Labor Department 'improperly presented' jobless data Senate GOP open to confirming Yellen to be Biden's Treasury secretary MORE (R-Ky.) will unveil the next bill to members of the Senate Republican caucus as soon as Tuesday. 

McConnell, crisscrossing Kentucky during the break, has outlined the forthcoming bill, saying that the main themes will be liability protections, returning kids to school, jobs and health care. 

Some parts of the GOP proposal are already taking shape: The GOP bill is expected to have five years of liability protections, from December 2019 through 2024, guarding businesses, schools, hospitals, government agencies and other institutions from many lawsuits over COVID-19. 

The shield, according to a summary that was under review by the White House late last week, would force lawsuits on potential coronavirus exposure into federal courts; businesses have warned about a patchwork of state laws. It would also largely block lawsuits except in the cases of gross negligence or intention misconduct. 

Republicans are also expected to help schools cover costs associated with reopening. White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump holds his last turkey pardon ceremony Overnight Defense: Pentagon set for tighter virus restrictions as top officials tests positive | Military sees 11th COVID-19 death | House Democrats back Senate language on Confederate base names Trump administration revives talk of action on birthright citizenship MORE said during an interview with Fox News on Sunday that the bill would include $70 billion for schools. 

Before Republicans can begin negotiations with Democrats they first need to work on an agreement among themselves. McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyDemocrats were united on top issues this Congress — but will it hold? Top Republicans praise Trump's Flynn pardon Richmond says GOP 'reluctant to stand up and tell the emperor he wears no clothes' MORE (R-Calif.) will go to the White House on Monday to discuss the forthcoming proposal. 


But the White House has signaled it opposes including new money for testing, contact tracing and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that Senate Republicans were expected to include in their proposal. 

While Trump has bragged about the country’s testing capacity, and even suggested the United States is doing too much testing, Senate Republicans, seeing the virus surge in their home states, are urging for an increase in testing heading into the fall. 

“We need to focus on increasing testing capability between now and the first of September,” Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham: Trump should attend Biden inauguration 'if' Biden wins Biden budget pick sparks battle with GOP Senate Georgia governor rejects Trump's call to 'overrule' elections officials with emergency powers MORE (R-S.C.), a close ally of Trump’s, said in South Carolina over the break. 

Even once Republicans and the White House iron out their policy differences, they’ll still need to overcome significant policy differences to get a deal with Democrats. The House passed a roughly $3 trillion bill earlier this year, which has been rejected by Senate Republicans. McConnell and the White House have indicated that he wants to keep the GOP proposal around $1 trillion, though some have put the likely topline closer to $1.3 trillion. 

Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinFinancial groups applaud Biden Treasury pick Yellen US sanctions Chinese company for conducting business with Maduro regime Monumental economic challenges await Biden's Treasury secretary MORE told The Hill on Friday that he could start negotiating with Democrats as soon as this week. McConnell has not set a date for when he’ll start talking with Schumer, but it’s all-but-guaranteed that the two won’t be able to come together this week. 

Confederate statues

The House is set to move forward with its plan to remove statues of Confederate figures from the Capitol. 

The House will vote on a bill on Wednesday to remove statues of figures who served voluntarily in the Confederacy. There are currently 11 statues in the Capitol complex of Confederate figures, including of Confederate army commander Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy. 

Each state is allowed to send two statues as part of the National Statuary Hall collection. The statues can only be replaced if state legislatures and governors approve a change. 

The House proposal would also call for the removal of a statue of Charles Aycock, who served as North Carolina governor; John Calhoun, the former vice president and member of Congress known for defending slavery; and James Paul Clarke, a former senator and governor of Arkansas who advocated for white supremacy.

And the bill would remove a bust of Roger Brooke Taney, the former Supreme Court chief justice who wrote the majority opinion in the Dred Scott decision, from the Old Supreme Court Chamber and replace it with a bust of Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to serve on the nation's highest court. 

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerOvernight Defense: Defense bill among Congress's year-end scramble | Iranian scientist's assassination adds hurdles to Biden's plan on nuclear deal | Navy scrapping USS Bonhomme Richard after fire The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Capital One - Biden unveils batch of his White House team This week: Congress races to wrap work for the year MORE (D-Md.), who introduced the bill with five senior members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), called it "reprehensible" that the individuals are "honored in the halls of Congress." 

"I hope all of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will join us in supporting this bill to right historical wrongs and ensure that the only people honored with busts and statues in the Capitol are those whose actions furthered the causes of liberty, unity, and equal rights," he added in a statement.

But the bill is unlikely to be taken up in the GOP-controlled Senate. McConnell has argued that whether the statues should be removed should be left up to the states, and warned against attempts to “airbrush” the Capitol by forcing their removal. 

"What I do think is clearly a bridge too far is this nonsense that we need to airbrush the Capitol and scrub out everybody from years ago who had any connection to slavery," McConnell told reporters last month

Defense bill

Both the House and Senate are set to consider their competing versions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), paving the way for an eventual conference committee. 

Both bills would require the Pentagon to enact plans renaming military installations named after Confederate figures, though the House bill requires the name change within one year while the Senate bill requires it within three years. 


Trump has threatened to veto the NDAA, which has passed for 59 consecutive years, if the final agreement that makes it to his desk requires the bases to be renamed. GOP senators have urged him to back down from the veto threat, and some have suggested Congress could override the veto. The NDAA typically passes in an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote. 

Trump told Fox News’s Chris WallaceChristopher (Chris) WallaceBiden adviser: 'He does not have any concern' about Trump lawsuits Public health expert: Americans no longer acting 'with common purpose' on pandemic Anti-Defamation League criticizes White House appointee 'who has consorted with racists' MORE in an interview that aired Sunday morning that he “might” veto the defense bill if the provision is in it. 

Both the House and Senate bills would authorize $740.5 billion, though that money would still need to be appropriated through government funding bills later this year. 

The House will begin debate on its NDAA on Monday and is expected to wrap up consideration on Tuesday. 

The Senate has agreed to a vote on six amendments before it finishes its bill including two competing proposals on the transfer of military-grade equipment to local police departments and a plan by Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden budget pick sparks battle with GOP Senate Overnight Defense: Defense bill among Congress's year-end scramble | Iranian scientist's assassination adds hurdles to Biden's plan on nuclear deal | Navy scrapping USS Bonhomme Richard after fire Biden faces new Iran challenges after nuclear scientist killed MORE (I-Vt.) to cut the Pentagon’s budget. 

Once both chambers pass their bills they will need to vote to go to a conference committee to hash out their differences and craft a final agreement. The final bill isn’t expected to make it to Trump’s desk until after the November election.


Pardon powers

The House Judiciary Committee will vote this week on two bills to limit the president’s pardon powers after he commuted the sentence of Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneFlynn spurs questions of who Trump might pardon next OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Trump pardons Flynn | Lawmakers lash out at decision | Pentagon nixes Thanksgiving dining hall meals due to COVID-19 Democratic impeachment leaders blast Trump's pardon of Flynn MORE, a longtime ally. 

The first bill would require the Justice Department to share with Congress files from pardons tied to investigations of the president. The second would pause the statute of limitations for a president's crimes committed during or before their presidency.

Trump’s decision to grant clemency to Stone — sentenced to 40 months in prison after being found guilty of witness tampering and obstruction in connection with former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE’s Russia investigation — sparked fierce backlash from Democrats, who viewed it as an abuse of power. 

President TrumpDonald John TrumpGeraldo Rivera on Trump sowing election result doubts: 'Enough is enough now' Murkowski: Trump should concede White House race Scott Atlas resigns as coronavirus adviser to Trump MORE and his friend Roger Stone did what they said they would do. Stone misled federal investigators, intimidated witnesses, and was convicted for obstruction of justice — but would not testify to the President’s wrongdoing. In exchange, President Trump made sure that Stone will never spend a day in prison," Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerThis week: Congress races to wrap work for the year Top Republicans praise Trump's Flynn pardon Democratic impeachment leaders blast Trump's pardon of Flynn MORE (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. "This quid pro quo is unacceptable. Congress must act."

Republican lawmakers have been supportive, or largely muted, though Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneySenate GOP open to confirming Yellen to be Biden's Treasury secretary Overnight Health Care: Moderna to apply for emergency use authorization for COVID-19 vaccine candidate | Hospitals brace for COVID-19 surge | US more than doubles highest number of monthly COVID-19 cases Bipartisan Senate group holding coronavirus relief talks amid stalemate MORE (R-Utah) referred to Trump's actions as “unprecedented, historic corruption.” Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyAppeals court rules NSA's bulk phone data collection illegal Dunford withdraws from consideration to chair coronavirus oversight panel GOP senators push for quick, partial reopening of economy MORE (R-Pa.), while caveating that he believed Trump had the authority, said it was a “mistake.” The criticism earned them public backlash from Trump on Twitter. 

Government funding

The House is slated to take up a package consisting of four fiscal 2021 spending bills — State & Foreign Operations, Military Construction & Veterans Affairs, Agriculture and Interior & Environment — at the end of the week. 

Under the legislation, State and Foreign Operations would be allocated $65.87 billion in funding, an uptick of $8.47 billion from the previous year and more than $21.15 billion above what was requested. 

Military Construction and Veterans Affairs would receive $250.9 billion in discretionary and mandatory funding. The Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies bill would provide $23.98 billion in funding, an increase of $487 million from the previous year. And the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies bill would allocate $36.76 billion in regular appropriations with an additional $15 billion in emergency supplemental funding for infrastructure. 

The package includes the first of 12 government funding bills to be brought to the floor so far this year. The rest of the spending bills are expected to move the following week, with the exception of the one covering the Department of Homeland Security, which remains uncertain. 

While the House is moving its funding bills the Senate remains stuck in a stalemate over how to move its own funding bills. 

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyThis week: Congress races to wrap work for the year Incoming Congress looks more like America Congress set for chaotic year-end sprint MORE (R-Ala.) had wanted to start marking up bills in his committee in June, but abruptly called off the plan over a disagreement with Democrats, who want the funding bills to include police reform and other social justice amendments. 

Shelby indicated shortly before the two-week break that they remained stuck. Congress has until the end of September to fund the government and prevent a pre-election shutdown.

They are widely expected to use a continuing resolution, which continues fiscal 2020-level funding, to punt the debate until after the November election.  


The Senate is poised to confirm Russ Vought to be the director of the Office of Management and Budget, a position he has held in an acting capacity since early 2019. 

The Senate advanced Vought’s nomination before the two-week break. They are scheduled to vote on whether to confirm him on Monday at 5:30 p.m., where he’ll just need a simple majority.

--Niv Elis contributed