This week: House returns for pre-election sprint
The House is returning this week for its final work period before the November election, with a government funding fight looming and uncertainty growing over whether Congress will pass a fifth coronavirus relief bill.
The House, set to reconvene on Monday, has only 12 working days before they are scheduled to leave Washington, D.C., again until after the election. The Senate is currently scheduled to be in for part of October, though senators have questioned, absent a last-minute COVID-19 bill, if they will stick to their full schedule.
Before they leave, Congress will need to pass a stopgap funding bill by Sept. 30 in order to prevent an election-year government shutdown. Lawmakers are expected to use a continuing resolution (CR), which will continue funding at fiscal 2020 levels, to keep the government open starting on Oct. 1.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have agreed to a “clean” CR, meaning it will not include items either side would view as political poison pills. Because of that informal deal the funding bill is not expected to include coronavirus relief amid a stalemate between congressional Democrats and the White House.
“We are now looking at anomalies in the rest, and we’ll figure out the timing when we do,” Pelosi said during a weekly press conference.
But they have not agreed yet on a length for the stopgap funding bill.
Democrats are locked in a behind-the-scenes debate about if they should accept a bill that goes into December, a timeline supported by Republicans, or push for a CR that would go into early next year, when Democrats hope they will have more leverage if they win back the Senate and Democratic nominee Joe Biden wins the White House.
“We’ve gone back and forth, it’s a split decision in the caucus. If you can tell us what happens Nov. 3 it is a lot easier. … The uncertainty about the presidential election is an element,” Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) said when asked about the duration of a bill.
Republicans are lining up behind a stopgap bill that would run into December and force lawmakers to either pass a second year-end CR or try to craft an agreement on larger fiscal 2021 funding bills in a matter of months.
“We’re advocating a December deal. That’s what the leader wants, that’s what I want; I think Mnuchin is on board on that,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.).
Staff-level talks are ongoing about the details of the CR, including the duration, according to lawmakers and aides. But Congress’s work will likely go down to the wire, with neither chamber expected to act this week and Yom Kippur scrambling end-of-the-month votes.
Though government funding is the main pre-election deadline staring down Congress, most of the attention, so far, has been on the stalemated talks over a fifth coronavirus relief bill.
Democrats blocked a roughly $500 billion GOP relief bill last week, in what was largely viewed as a messaging vote given that the legislation could not get the 60 votes to overcome procedural hurdles and ultimately pass the Senate.
Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) urged Democrats to remain united in the weeks-long impasse. Schumer, speaking separately to reporters, argued that Democratic unity could force Republicans back to the negotiating table and end in an agreement that includes Democratic priorities including money for state and local governments and food assistance.
“Each time McConnell said ‘it’s our bill or nothing,’ when it was a bill without any input from Democrats, when the bill was defeated, they came back and we actually got some bipartisan stuff done. I would hope they would do that,” Schumer said, referring to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
House Democrats passed a $3.4 trillion coronavirus bill back in May, as well as a separate Postal Service bill last month. Schumer and Pelosi offered in early August to drop $1 trillion off their price tag if the White House added the same amount to its $1.1 trillion package, which Senate Republicans unveiled in late July. Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows rejected that offer.
Mnuchin, testifying before a House committee earlier this month, indicated they were willing to go as high as $1.5 trillion. But that is still $700 billion less than the lowest offer from Schumer and Pelosi of $2.2 trillion. In addition to deep divisions over the cost of the bill, they have not agreed upon more money for state and local governments, how to structure the federal unemployment benefit or McConnell’s red line of liability protections.
And while Schumer is betting pressure drives Republicans back to the table, GOP senators say it’s up to Democrats, namely Pelosi, to drop some of her demands before negotiations can be restarted.
Several GOP senators declared the chance for another deal all but dead until after the election after last week’s setback. And McConnell, speaking in Kentucky, cast doubt on if they would be able to get an agreement.
“I wish I could tell you we were going to get another package but it doesn’t look that good right now,” McConnell said during an event in Kentucky.
The House is slated to vote on a resolution condemning “all forms of anti-Asian sentiment as related to COVID-19.”
The measure — spearheaded by Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) — notes that the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have stated that linking the name of the virus to the geographic location where it originated perpetuates a stigma.
Democratic lawmakers have repeatedly slammed the president for referring to coronavirus and the “Chinese virus,” arguing it has led to discrimination against Asian Americans.
“The increased use of anti-Asian rhetoric, particularly from our nation’s leaders such as the President, and their use of terms like ‘Chinese virus,’ ‘Wuhan virus,’ and ‘Kung-flu,’ is not only irresponsible, reckless, and downright disgusting, it threatens the safety of the Asian American community; such language demeans, disparages, and scapegoats Asian Americans,” Meng said in a statement upon its introduction.
Trump has defended his use of the term, telling reporters in March that it’s “not racist at all. It comes from China; I want to be accurate.”
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) is holding a vote on Wednesday on authorizing additional subpoenas for his probes into the Obama administration and members of former Vice President Joe Biden’s family.
The votes will authorize Johnson to subpoena several officials including former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe and Justice Department official Bruce Ohr as part of a broad investigation into the transition period between the Obama and Trump administrations, “unmasking” and the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s 2016 election meddling.
Johnson would also get authorization to issue subpoenas related to Ukrainian gas company Burisma Holdings. The gas company is tied up in Johnson’s investigation into the Obama-era State Department and Hunter Biden, the son of Joe Biden, the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee.
Johnson would get authorization to issue subpoenas “for the attendance and testimony at a deposition with regard to Burisma Holdings and actual or apparent conflicts of interest with U.S.-Ukraine policy,” according to a copy of the committee notice obtained by The Hill.
In addition to new subpoenas, the committee is also scheduled to hold votes to greenlight several depositions for officials Johnson already got the authority to subpoena in June, including Jonathan Winer, a former Obama-era State Department official with ties to the controversial opposition research dossier into then-candidate Trump.
The House is slated to vote on legislation aimed at protecting pregnant women from discrimination in the workplace.
The bill – introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), Reps. John Katko (R- N.Y.), Lucy McBath (D-Ga.), Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.), and Bobby Scott (D-Va.) — is modeled similarly to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
It includes language that would bar employers from denying employment opportunities to pregnant women and ensuring minor job modifications can be made to prevent pregnant employees from being unable to serve in their positions.
“No woman should have to choose between a healthy pregnancy and a paycheck, especially when often a simple fix — a bottle of water during a shift, an extra bathroom break, a chair — will allow women to stay on the job and support their families throughout their pregnancy,” Nadler said in a statement.
The House is also slated to take up two bills aimed at helping promote diversity and prevent discrimination in education.
The Strength in Diversity Act — introduced by Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) — would establish a federal grant program to support communities in creating and implementing strategies to promote diversity in schools.
“The Strength in Diversity Act will help promote the desegregation of, and elimination of racial and socioeconomic isolation in, all of our nation’s schools,” Fudge said in a statement. “The bill enables school districts and communities to invest in inclusive public education by supporting effective solutions enforcing the spirit and letter of the decision in Brown v. Board of Education.”
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) introduced companion legislation in the upper chamber.
The Equity and Inclusion Enforcement Act, led by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), is also slated to be brought to the floor this week.
The bill includes language to amend Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to allow for “individual civil actions in cases involving disparate impact.” Proponents of the measure argue it is a necessary step in preventing racial inequalities in the public education system.
The Senate is set to vote on several judicial nominations after last week’s setback on the GOP coronavirus bill.
They’ll start with a procedural vote on Mark Scarsi’s nomination to a district judge on Monday evening. After they wrap up Scarsi on Tuesday, senators will then hold votes on Stanley Blumenfeld, John Holcomb, Todd Robinson, David Dugan, Stephen McGlynn, Iain Johnston and Franklin Valderrama, who are each nominated to be district judges.
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