The House will return on Monday, and is scheduled stay in session through Thursday. The Senate will come back on Monday, and will stay in session through Thursday. But remember, the deadline to fund the government is Friday, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the departure date slips by a day or even two or three – and once they’re done, both houses will be on their Easter Recess for two weeks. The Senate will return on Monday, April 9, while the House will return on Tuesday, April 10.
LAST WEEK ON THE HOUSE FLOOR:
The House returned on Tuesday, and passed one bill under Suspension of the Rules.
On Wednesday, the House passed H.R. 4909, the Student, Teachers, and Officers Preventing (STOP) School Violence Act of 2018, by a vote of 407-10. Then the House passed H.R. 1116, the Taking Account of Institutions with Low Operation Risk (TAILOR) Act, by a vote of 247-169.
On Thursday, the House passed H.R. 4263, the Regulation At Improvement Act, by a vote of 246-170. Then the House took up and passed H.R. 4545, the Financial Institutions Examination Fairness and Reform Act, by a vote of 283-133.
Then the House passed a Rule governing floor consideration of two bills, and then they were done.
THIS WEEK ON THE HOUSE FLOOR:
The House will return Monday, with the first vote set for 6:30 PM. At that time, the House is scheduled to take up 11 bills under Suspension of the Rules.
On Tuesday, the House is scheduled to take up H.R. 4566, the Alleviating Stress Test Burdens to Help Investors Act.
The House may also consider H.R. 5247, the Trickett Wendler, Frank Mongiello, Jordan McLinn, and Matthew Bellina Right to Try Act of 2018. They tried to pass that under Suspension of the Rules last week but did not get the two-thirds majority necessary, so they will try again this week.
And, of course, at some point in the week – most likely Wednesday – the House will attempt to pass an omnibus spending bill to fund the government through the rest of the fiscal year.
LAST WEEK ON THE SENATE FLOOR:
The Senate came back to work last Monday and voted to invoke cloture on the Crapo amendment to S. 2155, the Dodd-Frank reform bill. That was the manager’s amendment to finalize the changes to the bill.
On Wednesday, the Senate passed the manager’s amendment by a vote of 67-31. Then the Senate voted to invoke cloture on the amended bill, also by a vote of 67-31. And then the Senate voted to pass the bill, yet again by a vote of 67-31.
Later Wednesday evening, Majority Leader McConnell filed cloture on H.R. 1865, the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act.
Finally, the Senate voted to invoke cloture on the nomination of Kevin McAleenan to be Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
And then they were done.
THIS WEEK ON THE SENATE FLOOR:
The Senate will return Monday, with the first vote set for 5:30 PM. That will be a vote to confirm Kevin McAleenan to be Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Then the Senate will resume consideration of H.R. 1865, the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act. And at some point before Friday, I expect that the Senate will take up an omnibus spending bill.
Two items of note on the FBI front this week.
First, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe was fired on Friday night, less than two days short of retiring with his full pension benefits. Attorney General Sessions cited both the DOJ Inspector General and the Office of Professional Responsibility in announcing the decision – both offices had recommended McCabe be fired for “lack of candor” in statements he had made to FBI officials following the October 2016 release of information to the media.
On Saturday, Democrat Congressman Mark Pocan of WI announced that he had offered McCabe a job to work on “election security” in the Congressman’s office, “so that he can reach the needed length of service” to retire with full benefits. A spokeswoman for McCabe acknowledged the offer and did not rule it out. “We are considering all options,” she said.
According to a former federal official with knowledge of retirement rules, “the job doesn’t matter so much as the fact that he’s working within the federal government with the same retirement benefits until or after his 50th birthday.”
Frankly, whether he gets his full retirement benefits or not is less important than the fact that the Attorney General followed the recommendation of the IG and OPR. McCabe crossed a line, and was called out for it, and the Attorney General responded appropriately. McCabe was held accountable for his actions, and that’s what is important here.
Second, Senators Chuck Grassley, Lindsey Graham, John Cornyn, and Thom Tillis – all of whom are members of the Senate Judiciary Committee – on Thursday sent a letter to Attorney General Sessions seeking the appointment of a second special counsel to investigate the Department’s handling of the investigation into Trump transition team or campaign officials. In doing so, they are backing up the argument made last week by Congressmen Bob Goodlatte and Trey Gowdy that the Justice Department’s Inspector General lacks the power to compel testimony from people who do not work for the Department of Justice. Attorney General Sessions is believed to be looking into the possibility of appointing a second special counsel.
On the immigration front, there was apparently some movement last week on White House backing for a proposal to offer three years of protection for so-called “Dreamers” in exchange for three years of wall funding – a deal that would be attached to the omnibus spending bill. But it met resistance among Republicans on Capitol Hill. Conservative House Republicans were so turned off by the possibility that they let it be known that it would threaten Speaker Ryan’s position. Said Republican Steve King of IA, “Forcing amnesty into a must-pass bill? That’s beyond the toleration level [of] conservatives in this conference.” Mark Meadows echoed the thought, saying, “Why would we punt this to three years when we potentially have a different Congress? I see no rationale for us to do this.”
Perhaps more importantly, with the March 5 DACA deadline having slipped because of legal challenges to the President’s order, there is no sense of urgency on finding a resolution. And it’s one of the most difficult public policy questions Congress is trying to resolve, so trying to solve it in a week AND put it in a funding bill would be a very heavy lift.
We’ll keep our eyes peeled, but for now I’m feeling confident that no DACA fix is going to find its way into the omnibus bill.
The departure of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his replacement by current CIA Director Mike Pompeo – about which we’ll talk at greater length in a few moments – could mean the end for the Iran nuclear deal, which next has to be certified by the President by May 12.
In discussing his decision to remove Tillerson, President Trump mentioned only one area of disagreement over policy – and the disagreement was over Iran. “We disagreed on things,” Trump said. “When you look at the Iran deal – I think it’s terrible; I guess he thought it was OK. I wanted to either break it or do something, and he felt a little bit differently. So we were not really thinking the same.”
Pompeo, on the other hand, was a strong opponent of the Iran deal while he served in Congress, and as CIA Director, his animus towards the Iranian regime has only grown. He recently put the CIA officer who led the hunt for Osama bin Laden in charge of the CIA’s operations desk for Iran.
Meanwhile, Sen. Bob Corker suggested on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday that he believes it’s likely that President Trump will pull us out of the Iran deal in May.
There are still some Republicans determined to insert language into the omnibus spending bill bailing out health insurance companies with tens of billions of dollars of taxpayer money, and there are still many Republicans who are opposed to that and are doing their best to prevent a bailout. Our latest information suggests that the bailouts are going to be included in the omnibus, but we will not be sure until we see the bill later in the week.
In the meantime, Republican Sen. John Barrasso has introduced S. 2507, the Improving Choices in Health Care Coverage Act, which would enshrine in legislation the proposed rule offered a few weeks ago by the Trump Administration. That proposed rule would extend back to 364 days the length of time a short-term, limited-duration health care plan could be in effect. The Barrasso legislation would go a step further, and allow for renewal of those plans, so people would not have to change health insurance every year.
According to a report in The Hill, the Trump Administration is pressuring Senate Republicans to find a way to push through Democrat attempts to block Trump nominee confirmations. We’ve talked about this before. GOP Sen. James Lankford of OK is leading the charge for the GOP. He points out that Democrats have forced the GOP to hold 80 cloture votes on Trump nominees. Each of those votes is then followed by 30 hours of floor debate on the nominee, which uses up a lot of clock.
Let’s put that in context. During the past four administrations, going back to that of George H.W. Bush, the Senate held 17 such votes … TOTAL. So 80 cloture votes for the Trump Administration is roughly five times the number of cloture votes on nominations of the last four administrations COMBINED. Clearly, something needs to be done.
We still have not seen a draft of the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill that will have to be voted on before the end of the week to keep the federal government open.
Republican House members will meet this evening to see the bill for the first time. They expect to vote on the spending package on Wednesday, so it can go to the Senate with enough time for them to vote on it before the midnight Friday deadline.
As negotiators went into the weekend, there were still several outstanding issues yet to be decided:The inclusion of $900 million in funding for a new tunnel underneath the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey, part of the Gateway Project, which is being strongly promoted by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of NY, but which the President has threatened to veto; Inclusion of up to $30 billion in subsidies to health insurance companies to pay for three years of Cost Sharing Reduction payments and reinsurance, so they can avoid increasing premium payments for the 2019 plan year; Inclusion of the “STOP School Violence Act” that passed the House last week and which has already passed the Senate, and, possibly, inclusion of the “Fix NICS” bill, which has already passed the House as part of a combined bill along with concealed carry reciprocity. The bill has 72 cosponsors in the Senate.
We won’t know about any of this for sure until late tonight.
So, there were several key changes in Trump Administration staffing last week.
Ten days ago, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly spoke with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was in Africa on a diplomatic mission, to inform him that the President had decided to make a change. Tillerson asked if the announcement could be held off until after he had returned to U.S. soil, so the news did not break until a Trump tweet last Tuesday morning, about five hours after Tillerson had returned.
The President announced his intention to move Mike Pompeo from his position as CIA Director to take over the job as Secretary of State, and also announced that Pompeo’s deputy at CIA, a career CIA officer by the name of Gina Haspel, would be promoted to Director of the CIA. If confirmed, Haspel would be the first woman to serve as CIA Director.
Sen. Rand Paul has announced he will vote against both their confirmations, which could make matters more complicated. With Sen. McCain now regularly missing votes because of his cancer treatment, that effectively cuts the number of GOP votes in the Senate from 51 to 50. And with Sen. Paul’s announced opposition to both Pompeo and Haspel, that means the Administration will need at least a few Democrats to vote to confirm.
Pompeo had 15 Democrat votes for his confirmation as Director of the CIA. Presumably, at least a few of them would vote to confirm him as Secretary of State – after all, NOT voting for his confirmation could be characterized as a flip-flop. But in this highly polarized atmosphere, when the midterm elections are just eight months away, who knows?
Haspel’s nomination has a tougher road ahead. Unlike Pompeo, the Senate never confirmed her to her position as Deputy Director of the CIA, for the simple reason that that position does not require Senate confirmation. That means there’s no list of a dozen or 15 Democrat Senators who have already voted once to confirm her to a position in the Trump Administration, and no concerns of being charged with flip-flops.
Second, earlier in her career at CIA, she supervised a so-called CIA “black site” in Thailand where terror suspects were subjected to Enhanced Interrogation Techniques, including waterboarding. Contrary to some of the reporting that was done at the time of her promotion to deputy director in early 2017, she was NOT in charge of the site when Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times. Nevertheless, she advocated for the destruction of videotapes of the interrogation sessions, and that will be problematic.
So Gina Haspel’s confirmation hearings are going to renew a debate about “torture” and the proper methods of prosecuting the war on terror. Stay tuned.
Later in the week, President Trump announced he had chosen Larry Kudlow to replace Gary Cohn as Director of the National Economic Council. Kudlow is well-known as a free market economist with a strong presence on television, a trait that apparently appealed to the President.
We also learned this week of a possible fourth personnel move in the upper ranks of the Trump Administration – according to The Washington Post, the President has decided to remove National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster from his position. Chief of Staff John Kelly disputes this, and said so publicly on Friday. We’ll wait and see.
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