Schumer vows votes on background checks, voting rights after break
This week: Senate works to confirm Biden picks ahead of break
The Senate will spend its final week ahead of a two-week break confirming more of President Biden's nominees.
The Senate will likely be in session through Thursday before adjourning until mid-April, capping off a five-week in-session stretch. The House left town last week.
The Senate has confirmed 20 of 23 nominees for Biden's Cabinet since Jan. 20. They'll take a final vote on Marty Walsh's nomination to lead the Department of Labor on Monday night.
"After we confirm him, the Senate will have confirmed every available Cabinet secretary and many more Cabinet-level appointments besides. That is excellent progress," said Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Schumer thanked Republicans for supporting some of the nominees and said getting them confirmed will allow the administration to have folks in place to carry out the sweeping $1.9 trillion coronavirus bill, "finish the fight against COVID-19 and bring our country roaring back."
"In the meantime, the Senate must continue to work to get the rest of the president's team in place," Schumer said.
Once Walsh is confirmed, Biden will still have two empty Cabinet spots. Eric Lander has been nominated to be director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, but still needs to get through the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
The Senate is also waiting for Biden to name his second pick to lead the Office of Management and Budget after withdrawing Neera Tanden's nomination. Tanden was struggling to get the 50 votes needed to be confirmed after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) announced his opposition.
Top Democrats have publicly pressured Biden to pick Shalanda Young, whom he has nominated to be the deputy director.
In addition to Walsh, Democrats are expected to hold votes on a slate of sub-Cabinet nominees, including Young's nomination.
Schumer has also teed up Vivek Murthy's nomination to be surgeon general, Rachel Leland Levine's nomination to be assistant secretary of Health and Human Services and David Turk and Adewale O. Adeyemo's nominations to deputy secretaries of Energy.
Biden so far has 16 nominations confirmed, according to data compiled by the Brookings Institution. This week's confirmations will tee up Biden to get more nominees confirmed during his first 100 days compared to Trump, who got 19 confirmed during his first 100 days.
But Biden is facing a growing crisis at the border without agency heads in place that would likely be involved in untangling the situation.
Biden hasn't yet nominated officials to lead Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services - three key components of the immigration system.
"All important agencies," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last week when asked by The Hill about the vacancies. "I don't have any update on the personnel process, but we're working our way through and ensuring we have the right people we can nominate for each of those important roles."
The Senate is expected to try to clear legislation to extend the deadline for applying for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) assistance.
Small businesses currently have until March 31 to apply for a loan. The bill would bump that deadline until the end of May.
The bill passed the House last week in a 415-3 vote. Though the latest coronavirus bill passed along party lines, the PPP program, which was created last year, has garnered bipartisan support.
"I hope and would ask our Republican colleagues to cooperate. That we can move this bipartisan PPP proposal without delay. It passed the House overwhelmingly," Schumer said.
The extension would give the Small Business Administration more time to implement recent changes to the loan calculation formula and a focus on applications from women or minority-owned or rural businesses.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will get a closed-door briefing Monday on Biden's recent strike in Syria, after lawmakers grumbled about the need for better congressional notification.
The briefing comes weeks after an airstrike targeting Iran-backed militias that restarted a dormant debate on Capitol Hill about war powers, an area where Congress has increasingly ceded its authority to the executive branch.
Democratic senators said at the time that they weren't properly notified about the strike, or offered briefings immediately in its aftermath. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), a member of the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, told reporters that he learned about the strike on the news.
The committee had been expected to get the briefing last week, but it was canceled at the last minute due to technology problems.