This week: Congress returns to Ukraine crisis, Supreme Court fight
Lawmakers are returning to Washington, D.C., with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and a burgeoning Supreme Court fight hanging over President Biden’s State of the Union address.
Monday marks the start of a crucial six-week sprint for Congress, while Biden faces a historic international crisis as well as tepid polling numbers back home as Democrats fight to keep control of both chambers heading into the November midterm elections.
Biden is expected to use his first State of the Union to tout his first year in office, outline his vision for the rest of the year and talk about getting the country past heights of the coronavirus pandemic and combating economic pains being fueled by the fallout from the virus.
“I think what the president will do is lay out his vision for the next year, but also talk about the challenges that we met during the first year,” Cedric Richmond, who leads the White House Office of Public Engagement, told The Hill’s Steve Clemons in an interview.
As Biden addresses lawmakers there will be noticeable differences to the speech he gave in 2021, which was not an official State of the Union address: Unlike 2021, when limits were put on lawmaker attendance, every member of Congress will be able to be in the House chamber. The attending physician also announced on Sunday that masks for the speech were optional.
But even as Biden tries to use the prime-time address to lay out his vision for the country, much of the political oxygen this week will be focused on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and ratcheted up tensions with the West.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told ABC News on Sunday that Biden will address Russia’s invasion of Ukraine during the speech.
“I think there’s no question that in the State of the Union, the American people and anybody watching around the world will hear the president talk about the efforts he has led over the past several months to build a global coalition to fight against the autocracy and the efforts of President Putin to invade a foreign country,” Psaki said.
The speech comes as the United States and Western allies have ratcheted up sanctions against Moscow.
The White House on Saturday announced that the United States and allies will kick certain Russian banks out of a major international banking system, a significant step in a bid to cripple the Russian economy in response to the country’s invasion of Ukraine.
The White House also announced sanctions on Russian President Vladimir Putin last week as well as penalties on Russian banks and blocking technology exports to Russia.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield indicated on Sunday that additional penalties could be coming over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and said that U.S. officials had not “taken anything off the table.”
Lawmakers are also wrestling with their own response after sweeping sanctions legislation stalled out in the Senate earlier this month. The Senate will get a briefing by top administration officials on Monday night.
The White House is requesting $6.4 billion in emergency assistance related to the conflict, including $2.9 billion for the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development for humanitarian assistance as well as security assistance to Ukraine, Poland, the Baltic states and allies on NATO’s eastern flank, according to a Biden administration official.
The Biden administration is also asking Congress for $3.5 billion in additional funding for the Pentagon, according to the official.
One option being mulled by lawmakers would be to include the money in a mammoth government funding deal lawmakers are hoping to draft and pass by March 11.
Supreme Court nominee
The fight over Biden’s Supreme Court nominee kicks off this week, after Biden announced last week that he would name federal appeals court judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to succeed retiring Justice Stephen Breyer.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) will meet with Jackson on Wednesday, his office announced, marking her first sitdown with a senator.
Democrats are hoping to have Jackson confirmed by April 8, when the Senate would leave for a two-week break. If confirmed she would be the first Black female Supreme Court justice.
Democrats could confirm Jackson on their own if they have unity from all 50 of their members and Vice President Harris to break a tie. Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), whose office announced earlier this month that he had suffered a stroke, is expected to be back in the Senate by the time Jackson’s nomination reaches to the Senate floor.
“Well, we’re going to wait till we have a full complement of Senators. I’ve spoken to Senator Luján, and I believe he’s recovering well, and his recent illness will not stand in the way of us moving quickly,” Schumer told reporters in New York last week.
Democrats are also cautiously hopeful that they could pick up at least one GOP vote.
Three Republicans voted last year to confirm Jackson to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit: Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.).
The House will pass legislation this week to make lynching a federal hate crime, the latest effort in recent years to get a bill through both chambers and to the White House.
The bill has had bipartisan support in both the House and Senate but faced roadblocks to becoming law.
A 2018 bill passed the Senate, but stalled in the House. Then in 2020, the House passed legislation but Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) blocked quick passage of the bill in the Senate. Under the Senate’s rules, any one senator can try to pass a bill by unanimous consent but any one senator can also block that request.
Senate Democrats will force a vote on Monday night on legislation ensuring national access to an abortion, as the Supreme Court weighs a a court case that challenges Roe v. Wade.
The bill is expected to get blocked in the Senate on Monday night, where Democrats need 60 votes to even start debate on the legislation. Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Bob Casey (Pa.) also aren’t formal co-sponsors of the bill, but Casey said in a statement earlier this month that he would vote to start debate on the bill.
“Across the country, the assault on women’s health care has intensified to levels not seen in decades, so the Senate is going to vote when we return on February 29 to take action,” Schumer said earlier this month, teeing up Monday’s vote.