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This week: Senate set for chaotic sprint before break

This week: Senate set for chaotic sprint before break
© Greg Nash

The Senate is set to have a jammed-packed week as senators try to bring a massive piece of legislation across the finish line and huddle behind the scenes on a slew of increasingly time sensitive issues. 

The House is out of town until mid-June. The Senate is likely to leave on Thursday afternoon for a one-week break. 

In the meantime, Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerIn Congress, what goes on behind closed doors? Senate Judiciary begins investigation into DOJ lawmaker subpoenas America needs a stable Israeli government MORE (D-N.Y.) is trying to get one of his priorities, a bipartisan China competitiveness bill, across the floor, while facing GOP opposition to legislation establishing a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol attack and trying to wrangle his own caucus amid growing impatience from progressives about the pace of legislation. 

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China

Amid partisan divisions on some of President BidenJoe BidenFormer Rep. Rohrabacher says he took part in Jan. 6 march to Capitol but did not storm building Saudis picked up drugs in Cairo used to kill Khashoggi: report Biden looking to build momentum for Putin meeting MORE’s biggest agenda items, the Senate is quietly making progress on a bill to invest more than $100 billion to counter China’s competitiveness, a rare area that has attracted across-the-aisle agreement. 

The Senate voted last week to start debate on the bill, and Schumer wants to get it wrapped up before the chamber leaves town. 

Schumer took his bill with Sen. Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungThis week: Democrats face fractures in spending fight Bipartisan lawmakers want Biden to take tougher action on Nicaragua Senate passes long-delayed China bill MORE (R-Ind.), the Endless Frontier Act, and has merged in other legislation and amendments. 

“By making these bold investments, we will send a very strong message, if we can get this passed out of the Senate floor in the next couple of weeks — which I believe we will, in addition to some other pieces of legislation also pertaining to China and countering China’s malign behavior,” Young told Fox Business last week. 

But Republicans are still pushing for additional amendments to the legislation, after the Senate took a handful of votes last week. 

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“As I was discussing with Sen. Schumer  this morning, for most members, this 1,500-page substitute bill landed on their desks just a little bit earlier this week, so it is going to take a little time for us to understand and to digest the complexity and the ambitions, really, I should say, of this bill,” Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSenate confirms Garland's successor to appeals court Bipartisan infrastructure deal takes fire from left and right Rising crime rejuvenates gun control debate on campaign trail MORE (R-Texas) said from the Senate floor last week. 

“In the coming days, I hope the Senate will vote on amendments from members on both sides that will strengthen this legislation and ensure that it addresses the broad range of strategic threats we are facing,” he added. 

Jan. 6 commission

Republicans are hardening against a House-passed bill to establish a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, signaling that without significant shifting it’s unlikely to get the 10 GOP votes needed to pass the Senate. 

The two biggest sticking points for Republicans are concerns that while the membership on the commission would be evenly split, Democrats would be able to pick all the staff. The legislative language is the same as the bill to establish the 9/11 commission. 

Republicans are also concerned that it will stretch into next year, bleeding into the 2022 election and keeping the Jan. 6 attack in the forefront as much of the party is eager to move on. The bill includes an end-of-the-year cut off date but GOP senators are skeptical it could realistically be met. 

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate confirms Garland's successor to appeals court Bipartisan infrastructure deal takes fire from left and right Outrage grows as Justice seeks to contain subpoena fallout MORE (R-Maine) predicted that, with changes on those two areas, the bill could get enough GOP support to pass the Senate. 

"I'm optimistic that we can get past these issues based on recent conversations I've had with the Speaker of the House and the House majority leader," she told ABC News’s “This Week.” 

But few Republicans have sounded overly interested in having a commission, raising the prospect that the House-passed bill could be Senate Republicans' first filibuster of the 117th Congress. 

Of the seven GOP senators who voted to convict former President TrumpDonald TrumpDOJ asks Supreme Court to revive Boston Marathon bomber death sentence, in break with Biden vow Biden looking to build momentum for Putin meeting DOJ tells media execs that reporters were not targets of investigations MORE of inciting an insurrection earlier this year, Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze Burr House Democrats to Schumer: Vote again on Jan. 6 probe Lara Trump lost her best opportunity — if she ever really wanted it Trump touts record, blasts Dems in return to stage MORE (N.C.) has already said he will not support the commission. 

Sens. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyBlack women look to build upon gains in coming elections Watch live: GOP senators present new infrastructure proposal Sasse rebuked by Nebraska Republican Party over impeachment vote MORE (R-Pa.) and Ben SasseBen SasseGOP senators applaud Biden for global vaccine donation plans Pence: Trump and I may never 'see eye to eye' on events of Jan. 6 White House: Biden will not appoint presidential Jan. 6 commission MORE (R-Neb.) are undecided, while Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenate confirms Garland's successor to appeals court McConnell warns he's willing to intervene in 2022 GOP primaries Pelosi: 'No intention' of abandoning Democrats' infrastructure goals MORE (R-Alaska) has routinely declined to comment. 

Collins and Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Sights and sounds from Biden's European trip Pelosi: 'No intention' of abandoning Democrats' infrastructure goals What the Democrats should be doing to reach true bipartisanship MORE (R-Utah) have both signaled support for the idea if their concerns about staffing and the end date could be worked out. Sen. Bill CassidyBill CassidyPelosi: 'No intention' of abandoning Democrats' infrastructure goals What the Democrats should be doing to reach true bipartisanship Bipartisan lawmakers want Biden to take tougher action on Nicaragua MORE (R-La.) has appeared the most likely to support the House-passed bill. 

But that would still leave Democrats significantly short of the 10 GOP votes needed, even after 35 House Republicans backed it. 

The bill could come up for a vote as soon as this week, though Schumer hasn’t said he will give it a vote before the recess. Complicating the timing is that the Senate is still in the middle of the China legislation, which could eat up the chamber’s floor time before Memorial Day. 

Infrastructure 

Infrastructure talks between the Biden administration and a key group of GOP senators are getting bogged down over big differences between the scope of the bill, the price tag and how to pay for it. 

The Biden administration lowered its top line in an offer sent to Republicans late last week from $2.3 trillion to $1.7 trillion. 

“In our view, this is the art of seeking common ground,” White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiHarris highlights COVID-19 vaccination safety, efficacy in SC event to kick off tour Biden prepares to confront Putin Biden aims to bolster troubled Turkey ties in first Erdoğan meeting MORE told reporters at a briefing Friday. “This proposal exhibits a willingness to come down in size, giving on some areas that are important to the president ... while also staying firm in areas that are most vital to rebuilding our infrastructure and industries of the future.”

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But Republicans, who have been led in the talks by Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoGOP senator introduces constitutional amendment to ban flag burning Biden fails to break GOP 'fever' Pelosi: 'No intention' of abandoning Democrats' infrastructure goals MORE (W.Va.), quickly warned that they still saw the figure as substantially above what could get enough GOP support in Congress to overcome a 60-vote filibuster. 

“The White House came back with a counteroffer that is well above the range of what can pass Congress with bipartisan support. There continue to be vast differences between the White House and Senate Republicans when it comes to the definition of infrastructure, the magnitude of proposed spending, and how to pay for it,” Capito’s office said. 

“The groups seem further apart after two meetings with White House staff than they were after one meeting with President Biden. Senate Republicans will further review the details in today’s counteroffer and continue to engage in conversations with the administration,” it added. 

The statement came after a call between White House senior staff and Republican Sens. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoBiden land management pick faces GOP scrutiny over decades-old tree spiking case Senate passes long-delayed China bill OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden ends infrastructure talks with key Republican | Colonial Pipeline CEO grilled over ransomware attack | Texas gov signs bills to improve power grid after winter storm MORE (Wyo.), Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP Rep. Vicky Hartzler launches Missouri Senate bid Cryptocurrency industry lobbies Washington for 'regulatory clarity' Bipartisan group prepping infrastructure plan as White House talks lag MORE (Mo.), Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoGOP senator introduces constitutional amendment to ban flag burning Republicans open new line of attack on IRS Senate passes long-delayed China bill MORE (Idaho), Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerOvernight Defense: Pentagon details military construction projects getting .2B restored from wall funds | Biden chooses former commander to lead Navy | Bill seeks to boost visa program for Afghans who helped US Senate bill would add visas, remove hurdles to program for Afghans who helped US Bipartisan bill proposes to add billion in restaurant relief funds MORE (Miss.), Toomey and Capito. 

Time is quickly running out to strike a bipartisan deal. Democrats and the White House have pointed to the end of May as the timeline for Republicans to signal whether they will get on board. 

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders won't vote for bipartisan infrastructure deal Bipartisan infrastructure deal takes fire from left and right Politics of discontent: Who will move to the center and win back Americans' trust? MORE (I-Vt.) told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that it was “probably right” to assume that Democrats would need to use reconciliation — a budget process that lets them bypass the filibuster — to pass Biden’s plan. 

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“We would like bipartisanship, but I don’t think we have a seriousness on the part of the Republican leadership to address the major crisis facing this country. And if they’re not coming forward, we’ve got to go forward alone,” Sanders said. 

Amid the divisions on Biden’s package, the Environment and Public Works Committee, where Capito is the top Republican, will vote on a surface transportation bill this week that would provide $303.5 billion for Department of Transportation programs dealing with highways, roads and bridges. 

S. 1

Democrats are poised to have another family meeting this week on the For the People Act, the party’s top legislative priority heading into 2022. 

The closed-door talk comes after they met earlier this month but with little movement. The caucus’s biggest holdout, Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinIn Congress, what goes on behind closed doors? Jayapal to Dems: Ditch bipartisanship, go it alone on infrastructure Harris discusses voting rights with advocates in South Carolina MORE (W.Va.), wasn’t able to attend the last meeting because he was traveling with first lady Jill BidenJill BidenBiden meets Queen Elizabeth for first time as president Overnight Health Care: FDA says millions of J&J doses from troubled plant must be thrown out | WHO warns Africa falling far behind in vaccinations | Top CDC official says US not ready for next pandemic The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Sights and sounds from Biden's UK visit MORE

To pass the bill under the current Senate rules Democrats need the support of 10 Republican senators, an impossible task given unified GOP opposition to the legislation. Complicating the political landscape for Democrats, they don’t have the votes to nix the 60-vote legislative filibuster and Manchin has said he doesn’t support the sweeping bill to overhaul elections. 

In addition to making changes to voting access, the bill also overhauls campaign finance rules, changes the makeup of the Federal Election Commission, imposes new ethics rules for public officials and establishes new requirements on congressional redistricting.

Manchin isn’t the only hurdle for Democrats, with senators fielding requests for smaller changes to help solidify the backing from the 49 senators already signed on as co-sponsors. 

Schumer has said he will give the bill a vote before August, meaning once the Senate returns from the one-week break he’ll have a matter of weeks to figure out how to bring it to the floor and if he’s going to be able to unify his caucus.