House. The House is not in session.
Senate. This evening the Senate voted 84-15 to confirm Janet Yellen as Treasury Secretary. Last week, the Senate voted 93-2 to confirm Lloyd Austin as Defense Secretary and 84-10 in favor of Avril Haines as Director of National Intelligence. This week, Senate committees will vote on nominations for State, Homeland Security, and Transportation and hold hearings on nominees to head the Commerce, HUD, Energy, and Veterans’ Affairs departments as well as the ambassador to the United Nations. It’s possible that the full Senate could vote as soon as Tuesday on Tony Blinken’s nomination as Secretary of State.
Organizing Resolution. One nominee whose confirmation hearings have not yet been scheduled is Xavier Becerra, who has been chosen to head the Department of Health and Human Services. Two committees traditionally hold hearings on the HHS nominee – Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) and Finance, which votes to send the nomination to the floor.
The HELP Committee, however, can’t hold hearings because it doesn’t have a chairman. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) chaired the committee in the last Congress, but (a) he has retired, and (b) the Senate has not approved a resolution that will allow committees to be formally organized. Until the organizing resolution is approved by the full Senate, Republicans still control the committees, Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) cannot take over as chair, and Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.) can’t be named as ranking member. Like HELP, the Agriculture and Budget committees are currently without chairs because Republican chairmen Pat Roberts and Mike Enzi, respectively, retired.
Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has said he is willing to adopt the 2001 power-sharing arrangement allowing committee membership to be split equally between Democrats and Republicans. However, Schumer is not willing to agree to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s demand that the legislative filibuster will be preserved. If the impasse drags on, Democrats could decide to “go nuclear” and overcome current filibuster rules to clear the way for passage of an organizing resolution, which, like all bills on final passage, requires just a simple majority. That outcome, however, is viewed as a last resort for Democrats, who would prefer to come to an agreement with McConnell.
Impeachment. At 7 p.m., the House impeachment managers presented the article of impeachment to the Senate. Under an agreement reached between Schumer and McConnell, the earliest a trial can begin is Feb. 9. Between now and then, the Senate will spend most of its floor time on confirmation votes. Once the trial starts, floor time will be devoted solely to impeachment issues. While no one knows how long a trial will last, the Senate is scheduled to be in recess for Presidents’ Day the week of Feb. 15. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the Senate’s longest-serving Democrat, will preside over the trial. "The president pro tempore has historically presided over Senate impeachment trials of non-presidents," Leahy said in a statement today.
Covid-Relief Package. The extra unemployment benefits provided in the December Covid-relief bill expire March 14, and Schumer said today he hopes the next relief package can be enacted “in the next month, month and a half.” Given Republican opposition to the $1.9-trillion package proposed by President Biden, a group of bipartisan Senators may try to put together a smaller, more targeted proposal designed to win 60 votes in the Senate.
Democrats, though, are skeptical that a comprehensive package can garner the support of 60 Senators, and they are continuing to examine how the budget reconciliation process could be used for Covid relief. While budget resolutions and reconciliation bills cannot be filibustered and, therefore, can pass in the Senate with a simple majority, an unlimited number of amendments can be voted on after debate time has expired. In January 2017, the vote-a-rama on the budget resolution took seven hours.
Committee Action of Note:
Senate Retirements. With Senator Rob Portman’s (R-Ohio) announcement today that he will not seek re-election in 2022, there are now three Senate Republicans who are retiring – Portman, Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), and Richard Burr (R-N.C.).
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