This week: House to vote on Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus bill

Greg Nash

Democrats are preparing to take up a $1.9 trillion coronavirus plan that will test their unity in a closely divided government.
House Democrats are expected to vote on the bill, modeled after President Biden’s plan, this week, allowing for the Senate to vote as soon as next week. Democrats want the bill signed into law by mid-March, when federal unemployment benefits will expire.
“I feel as if we’ve worked the staff 24/7 for a number of weeks now to make sure that we stay on schedule with the American Rescue Plan, the Biden plan,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters during a press conference late last week
Pelosi is hoping to have the bill on the floor by Friday, but it first needs to go through both the Budget and Rules Committees.
The Budget Committee is scheduled to meet on Monday, where it will condense the various pieces of the package into one bill. The panel is expected to need to tweak the package, which is currently estimated to cost more than the $1.889 trillion allowed under a budget resolution that included the instructions for crafting the coronavirus bill.
“This reconciliation bill is the next step toward implementing the American Rescue Plan and finally changing the direction of these crises. … We are in a race against time,” House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) said in a statement Friday.
The House Rules Committee hasn’t yet said when it will take up the coronavirus bill. It already has a meeting scheduled for Tuesday to set up for the debate for two other unrelated bills on the House floor this week.
House GOP leadership is whipping against the bill, which they’ve named “Pelosi’s Payoff to Progressives Act.”
“Democrats rejected hundreds of Republican amendments and any efforts to advance bipartisan solutions that are targeted, temporary, and tied to COVID relief. It’s clear Democrats have no interest in approaching COVID relief in a timely and targeted fashion and are instead using the reconciliation process to jam through their liberal wish list agenda,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise’s (R-La.) office said in a notice to GOP members about the bill.
That means Pelosi will likely need to pass the bill with only Democratic votes. Rep. Jared Golden (Maine) was the only Democrat to join every Republican earlier this year in voting against a budget resolution that teed up passing the subsequent coronavirus bill under reconciliation.
After the bill passes the House, it goes to the Senate, where it faces the potential for more significant roadblocks.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on Sunday that he has been shaping the bill as it has been drafted by the House.
Schumer also sent a letter to his caucus late last week urging them to provide input to his office and Senate committees.
“We have already incorporated many of your suggestions, as well as a number of bipartisan proposals, into the bill and the Senate is on track to send a robust $1.9 trillion package to the president’s desk before the March 14 expiration of Unemployment Insurance benefits. We will meet this deadline,” Schumer said.
Because Democrats are using reconciliation to pass the coronavirus bill they’ll be able to bypass the 60-vote legislative filibuster in the Senate and pass it by a simple majority and without GOP support.
Several Republican ranking members sent Senate leadership a letter arguing that the process is “devoid of any shred of meaningful bipartisanship.”
Schumer, in his letter, said Democrats were willing to work with Republicans on “constructive amendments.” Like the budget resolution, the Senate will need to go through a vote-a-rama, where any senator can force an amendment vote, before it passes the coronavirus bill. Any changes will require it to go back to the House.
But Senate Democrats are still waiting to see if the $15 per hour minimum wage can pass muster with the parliamentarian, who needs to make a determination on if it complies with the Byrd rule that governs what can, and cannot, be passed under reconciliation.
Even if the parliamentarian greenlights it, the increase, which would be phased in, faces pushback from some Democratic senators. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has said he opposes it.
Democrats also supported several GOP amendments during the budget vote-a-rama, including the idea of further targeting the next round of relief checks, voicing support for the Keystone pipeline and preventing checks from going to undocumented immigrants.
Republicans are likely to force similar votes during the Senate’s consideration of the coronavirus bill.
D.C. Circuit Judge Merrick Garland will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, nearly five years after Senate Republicans refused to give him a hearing or a vote for his 2016 Supreme Court nomination.
Garland will testify on Monday as part of his nomination to be Biden’s attorney general. An outside panel is expected to testify on Tuesday.
The Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol is expected to hover over the hearing, with the Justice Department leading a sprawling investigation into the riot.
Garland is expected to use his opening statement to note his law enforcement background. Before joining the federal bench, he worked as a DOJ attorney investigating and prosecuting the Oklahoma City bombing.
“If confirmed, I will supervise the prosecution of white supremacists and others who stormed the Capitol on January 6 – a heinous attack that sought to disrupt a cornerstone of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected government,” Garland is expected to tell the committee, according to a copy of his prepared remarks
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who is overseeing his first hearing as committee chairman, is also expected to bring up the Capitol attack, telling Garland that, if confirmed, he “will be in a unique position with unique responsibility.”
“As the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, you will be tasked with the solemn duty to responsibly investigate the events of that day; to prosecute all of the individuals responsible; and to prevent future attacks driven by hate, inflammatory words, and bizarre conspiracy theories,” Durbin will say, according to his prepared remarks.
Durbin is also expected to paint DOJ as being at a crossroads after the Trump administration, when then-Attorney General Bill Barr found himself in the center of several scandals and faced claims of politicizing DOJ.
“Should you be confirmed — and I have every confidence that you will be — you will oversee a Justice Department in an existential moment.  After four tumultuous years of intrigue, controversy, and brute political forces, the future course of the Department is clearly in transition,” Durbin will say.
Garland is also expected to face questions on a litany of other topics, including DOJ investigations into Hunter Biden, John Durham’s probe into the origins of the Russia investigation, criminal justice reform and reforms to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, Courts.
Even though Republicans stonewalled Garland during the Obama administration, members of the committee, including Sens. John  Cornyn (R-Texas) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), have praised Biden for picking him, signaling that they are likely to support him.
Capitol attack
The Senate Rules and Homeland Security committees will have their first public hearing as part of their probe into the January 6 attack on Tuesday.
Paul Irving, the former House sergeant at arms, Steven Sund, the former Capitol Police chief, and Michael Stenger, the former Senate sergeant at arms, are expected to testify. Each of the men were either fired or stepped down in the wake of the January 6 attack amid fierce backlash about the lack of security at the Capitol, despite public plotting online by insurrectionist groups about storming the building.
Robert Contee, the acting D.C. police chief, is also expected to testify.
A House Appropriations subcommittee will also hold a hearing on Thursday about security failures ahead of the attack. Timothy Blodgett, the acting House sergeant at arms, and Yogananda Pittman, the acting Capitol police chief, are expected to testify.
In addition to Garland, the Senate is expected to work on several additional nominees this week.
The Senate will hold an initial vote on Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s nomination to be U.N. ambassador on Monday night.
The Senate Budget and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committees will hold votes this week on Neera Tanden’s nomination to be OMB director. Her path to confirmation was thrown into limbo after Manchin said he couldn’t support her.
But Biden has indicated that he’s not pulling the nomination and Schumer told reporters on Sunday that he is working to try to find the votes.
On Tuesday the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing for Rep. Deb Haaland’s (D-N.M.) nomination to be Interior secretary and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra will testify before the Health committee for his nomination to be secretary of Health and Human Services.
The Senate Intelligence Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday on William Burns’ nomination to be CIA director.

Equality Act

The House is slated to take up the Equality Act — led by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) — which aims to extend federal discrimination protections for LGBTQ people.

The legislation would amend current civil rights laws to bar discrimination against the LGBTQ community in the workforce,  education, credit and housing, in addition to other areas.

Proponents argue it is a necessary step to ensure there are equal rights for all Americans.

“In 2021, every American should be treated with respect and dignity,” Cicilline said in a statement. “Yet, in most states, LGBTQ people can be discriminated against because of who they are, or who they love. It is past time for that to change. I’m proud to introduce the Equality Act today, and I look forward to continuing to work with Senator Merkley to get this bill signed into law.”

The legislation previously passed the lower chamber in 2019, but was blocked by the then-Republican controlled upper chamber. 

Tags Byrd Rule Capitol attack Charles Schumer coronavirus legislation coronavirus relief legislation coronavirus stimulus bill David Cicilline Deb Haaland Dick Durbin Garland nomination Joe Biden Joe Manchin John Durham John Yarmuth Judiciary Committee Linda Thomas-Greenfield Lindsey Graham Merrick Garland Nancy Pelosi Neera Tanden Office of Management and Budget parliamentarian Reconciliation Steve Scalise William Burns Xavier Becerra

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