This week: Supreme Court fight over Ginsburg’s seat upends Congress’s agenda
The Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is upending Congress’s year-end agenda just weeks before the November election.
Lawmakers left Washington on Thursday with the goal to wrap up their work until after Nov. 3 by Friday, letting them spend the final stretch back in their home states campaigning as both control of the Senate and the White House hang in the balance.
Now, they are returning to a Capitol gripped in a historic, election-year Supreme Court fight, with Ginsburg’s death and the quick vow by Republicans to fill the seat sending an earthquake through Washington.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) vowed on Friday night that whoever Trump nominates will get a vote on the Senate floor, saying that Republicans would “keep our promise.”
“President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate,” he added.
McConnell, in a letter to his 53-member caucus, also urged senators who might be undecided on how to proceed to “keep your powder dry” because “this is not the time to prematurely lock yourselves into a position you may later regret.”
McConnell will meet with his leadership team for the first time since Ginsburg’s death on Monday evening. The caucus will have its first meeting on Tuesday afternoon, giving the GOP leader a key opportunity to make his case and take the temperature of his caucus.
So far, two GOP senators have said they do not believe a Supreme Court nominee should get a vote before the Nov. 3 election.
“I did not support taking up a nomination eight months before the 2016 election to fill the vacancy created by the passing of Justice Scalia. We are now even closer to the 2020 election – less than two months out – and I believe the same standard must apply,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) on Sunday.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), in a statement on Saturday, said the appointment “should be made by the President who is elected on November 3rd.”
But several other GOP senators, including retiring lawmakers and vulnerable incumbents, are aligning themselves with McConnell, underscoring the uphill battle Democrats face to getting four Republicans to agree to delay a nomination.
“No one should be surprised that a Republican Senate majority would vote on a Republican President’s Supreme Court nomination, even during a presidential election year. … Sen. McConnell is only doing what Democrat leaders have said they would do if the shoe were on the other foot,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), an ally of McConnell’s who is retiring at the end of the year.
McConnell, and most Republican senators, have not publicly endorsed holding a vote before Nov. 3 compared to the end-of-the-year lame duck. Though momentum is building for Republicans to move quickly they are facing a tight timeline. There are 43 days until the election, but according to the Congressional Research Service the average number of days from nomination to final Senate vote is just under 70 days.
Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), a member of GOP leadership, told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that there was “plenty of time” to confirm a nominee this year.
“But to get it done before Election Day, everything has to work, I think, pretty precisely,” Blunt said.
To delay a vote until after the election, or until next year, Democrats will need to win over four Republicans, though the pool of potential swing votes is quickly narrowing.
Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) are each considered senators to watch. Gardner is fighting for his political life in Colorado, which then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton carried in 2016.
Romney is one of the caucus’s most vocal critics of Trump, while Grassley had previously indicated he believes, in the event of a vacancy, Republicans should proceed as they did in 2016. Each of the three GOP senators released statements over the weekend mourning Ginsburg’s passing, but none addressed how the Senate should address filling her seat.
Democrats, and their outside group allies, are pledging to put forward a wave of pressure to try to prevent Republicans from filling the seat, though without GOP support they are largely sidelined in the court fight. Filling Ginsburg’s seat with a Trump nominee would lock in a 6-3 conservative majority for generations, which Democrats worry would strip away protections for preexisting conditions and overturn or rein in Roe v. Wade.
“Everything Americans value is at stake. Health care, protections for preexisting conditions, women’s rights, gay rights, workers’ rights, labor rights, voting rights, civil rights, climate change and so much else is at risk,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told Democrats during a conference call, according to a source on the call.
Lawmakers are barreling toward a Sept. 30 government funding deadline with the stopgap bill needed to prevent an election-year shutdown not yet locked in.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) planned to hold a vote this week, and the chamber’s schedule notes that consideration of the continuing resolution (CR), which would continue fiscal 2020 levels of funding, is “possible.”
Appropriators had been expected to release text of the short-term bill on Monday, and it is currently on the schedule for the House Rules Committee markup at 1 p.m.
Democrats are eyeing a bill that would fund the government through Dec. 11, after weighing pushing for legislation that would go into early next year. A December deadline would require lawmakers to either pass a second CR around the holidays or get a deal on a larger fiscal 2021 spending bill within a matter of weeks.
But text of the CR hasn’t yet been finalized, and as of late last week the Trump administration and Democrats were haggling over farm aid. The Trump administration is pushing to ensure that farm payments can continue flowing through the Commodity Credit Corporation, which has a borrowing limit of $30 billion.
Pelosi, during an interview with ABC’s “This Week,” downplayed the chance that Democrats would try to use the funding fight as leverage in the burgeoning Supreme Court battle.
“Well, none of us has any interest in shutting down government. That — that has such a harmful and painful impact on so many people in our country. So I would hope that we can just proceed with that. There is some enthusiasm among some, exuberance on the left to say let’s use that, but we’re not going to be shutting down government,” she said.
Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Grassley — the chairmen of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and Finance committees, respectively — are set to release a report this week on their months-long investigation centering on Obama-era policy, then-Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.
The GOP report is expected to argue that Hunter Biden’s work impacted Obama-era Ukraine policy and created a conflict of interest given Joe Biden’s work in the area.
The report comes weeks before the November election, when Trump and the former vice president will face off and only days before their first debate.
No evidence has indicated criminal wrongdoing by the Bidens. A narrative, seized on by Trump, that Biden worked to oust Ukrainian Prosecutor Viktor Shokin to protect his son has been widely discredited, though Hunter Biden has said joining the board was “poor judgement.”
Republicans are hoping the report draws fresh scrutiny on Biden. Democrats are preparing to release their own report countering the GOP narrative and raising concerns that the Republican probe mirrors misinformation from Moscow, which top intelligence community officials have warned is trying to “denigrate” Biden.
The House is slated to take up a substantial energy package aimed at combating climate change and creating clean-energy jobs this week.
The more than 900-page package — which is made up of a combination of multiple bills— would allocate funds toward research and development on different types of energy and advocates for energy efficiency throughout the United States.
Proponents of the legislation argue it will spark an influx of jobs and is a step in the right direction in fighting back against global warming. It includes language promoting the use of electric cars and calls for stronger building codes in an attempt to reduce the carbon footprint.
“Our climate is changing, and we not only need to take dramatic steps to slow the carbon pollution that has driven this climate crisis but we must also seize the economic opportunities that this challenge presents,” Hoyer said in a statement.
Hoyer announced the lower chamber could potentially be taking up two bills aimed at pushing back on the exchange of goods made by forced labor that have targeted Uighur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region.
The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act — introduced by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) — would “prevent certain imports from Xinjiang and imposing sanctions on those responsible for human rights violations” from the region.
And the Uyghur Forced Labor Disclosure Act — spearheaded by Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) — would require U.S. publicly traded companies that do business within the region to disclose information on their supply chains and whether their products could be made by forced labor.
The vote comes as Republicans have repeatedly slammed Democrats, alleging they have not been hard enough on China, making it a key component in their campaign strategy.
As the Senate awaits Trump’s decision on whom he will nominate to fill Ginsburg’s seat, the chamber is expected to vote on three additional judicial nominations: Edward Meyers to be a judge of the Court of Federal Claims and John Hinderaker and Roderick Young to be district judges.
The Senate is also scheduled to vote on the nominations of Andrea Lucas, Jocelyn Samuels and Keith Sonderling, each to be a member of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.