This week: Congress braces for monster sprint
Lawmakers are facing down a rough, frantic week as they juggle multiple priorities with only days until they are set to leave town until late April.
The looming break has Congress scrambling to wrap up negotiations on bipartisan legislative priorities, including coronavirus aid and Russia trade legislation, while Democrats will also take steps on Monday to allow them to confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Biden’s Supreme Court nominee, by the end of the week.
The full plate could see some items kicked until after Congress returns to Washington, unless all 100 senators agree to speed things up. The House and Senate are expected to leave this week and not return until the week of April 25.
“I think it’s going to be very complicated trying to do anything but the justice,” Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Republican senator, told The Hill.
The biggest priority for Senate Democrats this week is to get Jackson confirmed as the first Black, female justice to the Supreme Court before they leave town.
Jackson’s nomination is on a glide path that only multiple absences, for example senators falling ill, could throw a wrench into.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will meet at 10 a.m. on Monday to debate and vote on whether to advance her nomination to the full Senate.
The committee meeting could drag on for hours, with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) indicating he will let senators on the 22-member committee speak their piece.
The committee vote is expected to deadlock in a 11-11 tie, the first time a Supreme Court nominee has faced a tied committee vote since Justice Clarence Thomas’s nomination.
Democrats will then move on Monday to formally discharge Jackson’s nomination from the committee. It is the first time the Senate has had to do so for a Supreme Court nominee since 1853. To discharge Jackson from committee and make her nomination available for a full Senate vote, Democrats will only need a simple majority to support moving forward.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is then expected to move on Tuesday to set up votes on Jackson’s nomination. Under the Senate rules, the earliest an initial vote will happen is on Thursday, unless senators agree to speed things up.
After that, senators could still force an additional 30 hours of debate, making a final vote on her nomination as late as Friday, if there isn’t an agreement to yield back time and try to hit the Senate’s normal Thursday exit from Washington.
Jackson currently has the votes to be confirmed. All 50 Democrats are expected to support her, though Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) hasn’t yet said how she will vote. Though Sinema has bucked her party on legislation, she’s supported all of Biden’s lower court judicial nominees.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) is the only Republican so far that has said she will support Jackson. Assuming all 50 members of the Senate Democratic caucus vote “yes,” that’s enough to let her avoid a history-making tie on the Senate floor.
GOP opposition to Jackson’s nomination has hardened since last week with Sens. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) all saying that they will oppose her. Each voted against Jackson last year for her appeals court seat. Tillis, however, was viewed as a potential sleeper “yes” vote after his tone during Jackson’s hearing last month, and Blunt and Burr are retiring, freeing them of potential political repercussions for supporting Jackson.
Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah) are both viewed as potential “yes” votes and haven’t yet said how they will vote on her nomination.
Murkowski previously supported Jackson for her appeals court seat. Romney voted against her last year but has said that he’s keeping an open mind and has been critical of some of his colleagues’ attacks on Jackson.
Jan. 6 committee
The House will vote as soon as Wednesday to recommend contempt of Congress charges for Trump’s former trade adviser Peter Navarro and former deputy chief of staff for communications Dan Scavino.
The floor vote comes after the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol voted last week to advance contempt of Congress proceedings. Even if the House votes to send the recommendations to the Justice Department, the agency will still have to decide if it will pursue charges.
Both men have been subpoenaed by the committee, but neither have provided documentation to the committee or showed up for depositions. The two have claimed executive privilege concerns as a reason for their absence, though documentation executive privilege concerns were waived by President Biden.
Navarro called the committee’s investigation a “witch hunt,” while lawyers for Scavino said that a recent court decision on the release of Trump records to the committee does not cover Scavino’s own.
Senators are working to finalize legislation to provide $10 billion in coronavirus relief.
The tentative deal, worked out between Schumer and a group of GOP senators, comes after House Democrats yanked $15.6 billion out of a massive government funding bill last month.
The Hill first reported last week that Senate negotiators were shrinking the size of a coronavirus relief bill to $10 billion.
As senators worked to finalize text, they were still haggling over whether up to $1 billion of the bill would go to the U.S Agency for International Development after initially indicating that global vaccine efforts would be dropped completely from the deal.
Senators are also waiting for a Congressional Budget Office analysis of the bill as Republicans demand that any new coronavirus legislation be fully paid for.
It’s not clear if senators will be able to pass the coronavirus legislation before they leave for the two-week break. The Supreme Court nomination is expected to eat up most of the Senate’s floor schedule this week. And they would need total agreement from all 100 senators to speed up passage of the coronavirus relief measure.
Meanwhile, the House is expected to take up legislation to provide $42 billion in assistance to restaurants and $13 billion for other “hard hit” industries.
Russia trade, oil ban bills
Senators are still working through final sticking points for legislation to end normal trade relations with Russia and reauthorize sanctions targeting human rights violations and corruption.
The House-passed bill to end permanent normal trade relations with Russia is tied to a separate House-passed bill codifying the Biden administration’s oil import ban because Republicans want to see them both passed.
Senators had hoped they had resolved the biggest hurdle — language Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) wanted inserted into the reauthorization of the Magnitsky Act sanctions that target human rights violations and corruption. A reauthorization of the sanctions, which can include visa bans or asset freezes, is being included in the trade legislation.
But they are still working through several other sticking points. Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) said that they were “working through all of the existing issues.”
“We have had multiple issues raised. … This is sort of an ebb and flow type situation,” Crapo added.
To pass the bills this week they would need a deal with all 100 senators. And because both bills are expected to be changed by the Senate, they would need to bounce back to the House before they could go to Biden’s desk.
“It’s hard to see now next week with the judge being on the calendar and on the floor how you could find windows to either of those things unless there’s unanimous consent,” Thune said, referring to both coronavirus relief and the Russia trade bill.
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