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Legislative Update

Senate. The Senate will continue to consider nominations. It remains unclear whether the Senate will be able to move forward on consideration of a minibus appropriations measure that packages three FY 2024 spending bills – Agriculture/FDA, Military Construction/VA, and Transportation/HUD. Progress has been delayed as there is opposition to considering the bills as a package rather than separately. The Senate will have a short work week in order to allow Senators to attend the funeral service on Thursday at 4 p.m. EDT (1 p.m. PDT) for Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). The Senate is scheduled to be in recess next week.

House. The House was scheduled to be in recess until Oct. 17 but now will be in session this week and possibly next week. While there’s no official word yet about next week, the new schedule for this week calls for the consideration of two FY 2024 appropriations bills. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the House plans to consider the Energy and Water Development spending bill, followed by votes Thursday on the Legislative Branch bill. Last week, the House passed the appropriations bills for Defense, Homeland Security, and State/Foreign Operations, while failing to approve the Agriculture/FDA measure.

The House schedule, however, may not go as envisioned by the leadership, depending on Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.). Gaetz was one of 90 House Republicans who opposed the Continuing Resolution that was approved Saturday in the House on a 335-91 vote (with one Democrat in opposition due to the lack of aid for Ukraine) and then approved in the Senate 88-9, with all “no” votes coming from Republicans. Gaetz has long been at odds with Speaker Kevin McCarthy and plans to move forward later this week on a motion to vacate the chair, which would remove McCarthy as Speaker if successful.

Motion to Vacate. Under the rules that Republicans adopted at the beginning of this Congress, one member can offer a privileged resolution to vacate the Office of the Speaker. The 2023 change restored the rule to the policy of Congresses before a Democratic change in 2019. Under Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrats changed the rule in 2019 so that a motion to vacate the chair could only be offered if a majority of one party decided to do so. While McCarthy originally proposed changing the rule so that five lawmakers in the majority party could offer the motion, Republican opponents of his candidacy for Speaker insisted that the rule reinstate the ability of just one lawmaker to offer the motion.

Once the privileged resolution is introduced, a lawmaker can request a vote, and a vote must be held within two legislative days. However, another lawmaker could move to table the resolution. If the House were to approve the motion to table, by a majority vote, the resolution would be set aside and McCarthy would remain as Speaker. If the resolution is not tabled, there would then be a vote on whether McCarthy should continue as Speaker. McCarthy’s fate appears to lie in the hands of House Democrats, who have not decided how they will proceed.

If the motion to vacate were to be approved, House business would stop until a new Speaker is elected. There’s no clear front-runner to succeed McCarthy, and there’s no rule to prevent McCarthy from being nominated to retain his Speakership. Also, there appears to be no limit on the number of times a motion to vacate can be offered, and Gaetz has said he could continue to offer resolutions to remove Speaker McCarthy if he retains the gavel.

The Magic Minute. When Speaker McCarthy changed course on Saturday morning and put forth a new proposal to fund the government through Nov. 17, House Democrats asked for 90 minutes to read the 71-page bill. McCarthy, however, denied that request so Democrats resorted to two parliamentary tactics to give them time to comb through the legislative text and discuss their position on the proposal. The first tactic was a motion to adjourn. All Democrats (and Republicans) voted against the motion, but the vote took about an hour.

Next, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries was recognized on the floor to speak for a minute, which magically turned into 50 minutes. House custom allows the House Speaker, Majority Leader, and Minority Leader to speak for as long as they want when they are recognized. The current record holder for “the magic minute” is Kevin McCarthy. On November 18, 2021, McCarthy, who was then the Minority Leader, took the House floor at 8:38 p.m. to delay a vote on the Democrats’ Build Back Better bill. After 8 hours and 32 minutes, he stopped talking. The House then proceeded to pass the measure. The previous record holder was Nancy Pelosi. As Minority Leader in February 2018, she spoke for 8 hours and 7 minutes.

Committee Action of Note

Tuesday, October 2

  • House Rules Committee to formulate rules on: H.R. 4394 – Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act; H.R. 4364 – Legislative Branch 2024 Appropriations Act

Wednesday, October 4

  • Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Hearing: “CHIPS and Science Implementation and Oversight”

Thursday, October 5

  • Senate Budget Committee Hearing: “The Costs of a Government Shutdown”
  • Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Hearing on the Nomination of Michael Whittaker to be FAA Administrator

Political Update

California Senate Race. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has chosen Laphonza Butler to take the seat of the late Senator Dianne Feinstein. Butler, who is the president of EMILY’s List, will be sworn in on Wednesday. Feinstein’s death on Friday means there will now be four elections next year for her seat – a primary in March and a general election in November to elect a Senator who will take office in January 2025 for a six-year term, and a special primary and a special general election (that can be held on the same dates as the regularly scheduled elections) to fill the seat in the short time between the election in November and the start of the new Congress in January 2025. Butler will serve until the general election in November 2024 is decided.

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