This week: Senate tries to avoid landmines on massive spending bill
© Greg Nash

Senators will work this week to navigate a package of spending bills that are normally a political lightning rod across the Senate floor.

Senators are working on their third spending package of the fiscal year that combines funding for the departments of Defense, Health and Human Services (HHS), Labor and Education.

The bill marks the Senate’s toughest funding bill to date after the last two packages passed with overwhelming majorities. The Senate hasn’t approved funding for HHS or the departments of Labor or Education, outside of an omnibus, since 2007.

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The package, which accounts for 60 percent of government appropriations, will tie together stand-alone bills that normally devolve into partisan infighting.

The legislation is expected to attract hundreds of amendments on controversial issues from family detention to abortion.

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerDemocratic senator rips Navy head's 'completely inappropriate' speech on ousted carrier captain Democrats seize on Trump's firing of intelligence community watchdog Trump fires intelligence community watchdog who flagged Ukraine whistleblower complaint MORE (D-Va.), vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, announced on Friday that he would try to attach an amendment to the bill reining in President TrumpDonald John TrumpCDC updates website to remove dosage guidance on drug touted by Trump Trump says he'd like economy to reopen 'with a big bang' but acknowledges it may be limited Graham backs Trump, vows no money for WHO in next funding bill MORE’s ability to revoke security clearances.

“I will be introducing an amendment next week to block the President from punishing and intimidating his critics by arbitrarily revoking security clearances. Stay tuned,” he tweeted.

Warner is expected to unveil additional details about the amendment on Monday. The amendment comes after the White House announced it was revoking the security clearance of former CIA Director and frequent Trump critic John Brennan.

But how many controversial amendments, if any, will get a vote on the floor as part of the Senate’s debate remains unclear.

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Senate leadership has prided itself on returning to “regular order” on spending legislation as they try to avoid passing another omnibus, which would roll the 12 individual bills into one. Trump threatened to veto another omnibus after Congress cleared a similar bill in March.

Sens. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyGraham backs Trump, vows no money for WHO in next funding bill Five things being discussed for a new coronavirus relief bill Infrastructure bill gains new steam as coronavirus worsens MORE (R-Ala.) and Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyGraham backs Trump, vows no money for WHO in next funding bill Justice IG pours fuel on looming fight over FISA court Democratic senators ask Pompeo to provide coronavirus aid to Palestinian territories MORE (D-Vt.), the top two members on the Appropriations Committee, reached a deal to avoid attaching controversial amendments, which would risk sinking bipartisan support, to the funding bills.

“The process has so far been productive and bipartisan in the Senate. Both sides have worked to avoid poison pill riders. That has meant steady progress,” Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerHealth care workers account for 20 percent of Iowa coronavirus cases Pressure mounts on Congress for quick action with next coronavirus bill Schumer names coronavirus czar candidates in plea to White House MORE (D-N.Y.) said last week from the Senate floor.

Congress has until Sept. 30 to pass funding legislation and keep the government open.

Though the House is out of town until after Labor Day, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLawmakers outline proposals for virtual voting Overnight Health Care: Trump calls report on hospital shortages 'another fake dossier' | Trump weighs freezing funding to WHO | NY sees another 731 deaths | States battle for supplies | McConnell, Schumer headed for clash Phase-four virus relief hits a wall MORE (R-Ky.) has said he wants to get nine out of the 12 funding bills to the president’s desk before the September deadline.

Lawmakers are expected to need to pass a short-term continuing resolution to fund at least part of the government, including the Department of Homeland Security.

Kavanaugh

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is stepping up his charm offensive on Capitol Hill ahead of a confirmation hearing next month.

After largely meeting, so far, with senators who either support him or are viewed as likely to support him, Kavanaugh will meet this week with two top Democrats who are expected to use the one-on-one sit downs to pressure him to support releasing documents from his time working for President George W. Bush.

Kavanaugh is expected to met first with Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinCOVID-19 and the coming corruption pandemic Encryption helps America work safely — and that goes for Congress, too Democratic lawmakers demand government stop deporting unaccompanied children MORE (D-Calif.) on Monday. Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, is facing pressure from the left to take a hard line against Kavanaugh.

Her opponent in November, state Sen. Kevin de León, has accused the 85-year-old senator of “playing polite, country-club politics” as she and other Democrats demand documents from Kavanaugh’s three-year period as staff secretary.

Feinstein, Leahy and Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinHillicon Valley: Schiff presses intel chief on staff changes | Warren offers plan to secure elections | Twitter's Jack Dorsey to donate B to coronavirus fight | WhatsApp takes steps to counter virus misinformation WhatsApp limiting message forwarding in effort to stop coronavirus misinformation Democrats ask EPA, Interior to pause rulemaking amid coronavirus MORE (D-Ill.) sent a letter to Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyPresident tightens grip on federal watchdogs Officials sound alarm over virus relief check scams Trump takes heat for firing intel watchdog during pandemic MORE (R-Iowa), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, urging him to request Kavanaugh’s staff secretary documents over concerns that Kavanaugh mislead the committee in 2006 about any work on the Bush administration’s detainee and post-Sept. 11 terrorism policies.

But Grassley shot back in a letter on Saturday that Democrats were trying a “political stunt” and that he would not reopen negotiations on documents tied to the three years as staff secretary.

Kavanaugh will then meet with Schumer on Tuesday.

Schumer told reporters late last week that he would press Kavanaugh on supporting the release of all the documents from his White House tenure.

"I am going to meet with him next week and I'll ask him about these documents and what he intends to do about it," Schumer told reporters.

Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillGOP lukewarm on talk of airline bailout Claire McCaskill: Ron Johnson is an 'embarrassing tool' To winnow primary field, Obama and other Democrats must speak out  MORE (D-Mo.), a red-state Democrat running for reelection in a state won in 2016 by Trump, is also expected to meet with Kavanaugh on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiLawmakers announce legislation to fund government purchases of oil Oil giants meet at White House amid talk of buying strategic reserves GOP senators begin informal talks on new coronavirus stimulus MORE (Alaska), one of two GOP senators who have yet to meet with Kavanaugh, told reporters that she would sit down with him this week.

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Sanctions

Senators are holding hearings this week as part of their effort to figure out what, if any, new sanctions they should slap on Russia.

Sens. Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoLobbying blitz yields wins for airlines, corporations, banks, unions Stimulus empowers Treasury to rescue airlines with billion in direct assistance White House, Senate reach deal on trillion stimulus package MORE (R-Idaho) and Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerMcConnell, Romney vie for influence over Trump's trial RNC says ex-Trump ambassador nominee's efforts 'to link future contributions to an official action' were 'inappropriate' Lindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight MORE (R-Tenn.) — the chairmen of the Banking and Foreign Relations committees, respectively — announced late last month that they would hold a slate of hearings on the current sanctions regime and the broader U.S.-Russia relationship.

The Senate Banking Committee will hold a hearing on Tuesday at 10 a.m. on the impact of the U.S. financial penalties and “potential for next steps.” Officials from the Treasury, State and Homeland Security departments are scheduled to testify.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing Tuesday to examine the U.S.-Russia relationship, with officials from the Treasury and State departments testifying.

Despite growing concern on Capitol Hill that Russia will try to meddle in the 2018 midterm election, where control of Congress hangs in the balance, Republicans have been skeptical that passing new sanctions legislation would result in a change of behavior from Moscow.