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Legislative Update

Senate. The Senate this week will continue to consider nominations. On Wednesday at noon, Mark Kelly will be sworn in as the new Democratic Senator from Arizona, having defeated Republican Senator Martha McSally in the Nov. 3 special election. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told his Republican colleagues on Saturday that their weekly Tuesday lunch meetings will now be held by phone rather than in-person, socially-distanced meetings in the Hart office building. (Democrats already hold their weekly meetings by phone.)

Senate Judiciary. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Nov. 23 that she will step down as the lead Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, setting up a potential battle to replace her. Following her announcement, Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he would seek the position. Durbin is the most senior Democrat on the panel who doesn’t chair another committee, but he holds the Number 2 spot in the Democratic leadership as Minority Whip and chairs the Defense Subcommittee of the Appropriations panel. The next Democrat in line is Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who did not explicitly throw his hat in the ring but, rather, issued a statement saying, “I look forward to the question of succession on the Senate Judiciary Committee being decided by the caucus. I will abide by the caucus’s decision.”

House. The House has made a slight change in its schedule. Instead of holding votes on Monday and Tuesday, the first vote will now be on Wednesday, with the last votes of the week on Friday. In the schedule update Majority Leader Steny Hoyer sent out Nov. 27, he said, “Following last votes on Friday, Members are encouraged to remain in Washington. As conversations surrounding legislation related to government funding, coronavirus relief, and NDAA are ongoing, these bills will be considered by the House as soon as they are ready. The House may complete legislative business early the week of December 7th.”

Among the bills to be considered under suspension of the rules on Wednesday is a Senate-passed measure (S. 945), the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act. Under the bill, publicly traded companies that use foreign accounting firms would be barred from trading on U.S. stock exchanges if the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board is not allowed to inspect their audits for three consecutive years. The companies would also have to disclose whether they’re owned or controlled by a foreign government. While the bill applies to all foreign accounting firms, it is targeted at China, which does not allow the PCAOB to inspect Chinese audit firms. About 200 Chinese companies are listed on U.S. exchanges.

House Committee Leadership. This week, the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee will vote on who should chair House committees. Three panels have contested races: Agriculture (Chair Collin Peterson lost his re-election bid), Appropriations (Chair Nita Lowey is retiring), and Foreign Affairs (Chair Eliot Engel lost his primary race).

The candidates for the Agriculture gavel are Reps. David Scott (Ga.) and Jim Costa (Calif.). Vying for the top spot on Appropriations are Reps. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), Marcy Kaptur (Ohio), and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.). The three candidates at Foreign Affairs are Reps. Gregory Meeks (N.Y.), Brad Sherman (Calif.), and Joaquin Castro (Tex.). Once the Steering and Policy Committee makes its decisions, the next step is a vote by the full Democratic caucus, which can affirm the recommendation of the Steering Committee or choose another candidate as the chair.

On the Republican side, three members are bidding to replace retiring Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Greg Walden – Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), Michael Burgess (Tex.), and Bob Latta (Ohio). At the Natural Resources Committee, Ranking Member Rob Bishop is retiring, setting up a contest between Reps. Bruce Westerman (Ark.) and Paul Gosar (Ariz.).

FY 2021 Appropriations. On Nov. 24, House and Senate appropriators reached an agreement on the top-line, 302(b) allocations for the 12 individual spending bills for FY 2021. Staff of the 12 subcommittees are hoping to hammer out details of the bills by this Thursday and will kick any outstanding matters up to the committee level for final decisions. It appears that deals are currently within reach for everything except the Homeland Security bill, where funding for the border wall is the biggest area of disagreement. If an omnibus bill is not ready to go by Dec. 11, when the current continuing resolution expires, lawmakers could pass a short-term CR to give themselves a few extra days.

Still unknown is whether certain Covid-related funding, such as money for the Paycheck Protection Program for businesses and the Payroll Support Program for airlines, might be added to the omnibus absent a deal on a Covid-relief package. There has been no movement on the package, with Republicans still pushing for liability protections and Democrats advocating for funds to help state and local governments.

Committee Action of Note:

  • Tuesday, December 1
  • Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee hearing to examine the quarterly CARES Act report to Congress. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell to testify.
  • Wednesday, December 2
  • House Financial Services Committee hearing: Oversight of the Treasury Department’s and Federal Reserve’s Pandemic Response with testimony from Mnuchin and Powell.
  • Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee hearing to examine agricultural research and securing the United States food supply.
  • Senate Commerce Committee vote on nomination of Nathan Simington to the Federal Communications Commission.
  • Senate Environment and Public Works Committee markup of S. 4897 to reestablish U.S. global leadership in nuclear energy, revitalize domestic nuclear energy supply chain infrastructure, support the licensing of advanced nuclear technologies, and improve the regulation of nuclear energy.
  • Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to examine Navy and Marine Corps readiness.
  • Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations hearing on Covid-19 vaccine safety and distribution.

Political Update

House Elections. The closest election in the country is the race in the second district of Iowa to replace retiring Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack. A recount that ended Saturday shows Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks with a six-vote lead over Democrat Rita Hart, 196,964 to 196,958. State officials certified the results today, and a legal challenge is expected.

In NY-22, Republican Claudia Tenney has a 13-vote lead after one county corrected a “tabulation error” this morning, erasing the small lead Democratic Rep. Anthony Brindisi had been holding onto before Thanksgiving. Brindisi’s team is expected to file a legal challenge, arguing that the tabulation correction was not completed in public view. A New York State Supreme Court justice is expected to rule later this week on the challenges to more than 2,000 disputed absentee and affidavit ballots.

In CA-25, Republican Rep. Mike Garcia has a 405-vote lead, but there are still 2,000-3,000 ballots that have not yet been counted. Garcia has been gaining ground as more votes are counted and has claimed victory, but Democrat Christy Smith has not yet conceded and independent decision desks are not calling the race until more votes are counted.

George Senate. The Georgia State Election Board voted today to extend the use of the secure ballot drop off boxes through the Jan. 5 runoffs and also voted to allow absentee ballot processing to begin on Dec. 29. As of this morning, over 762,000 absentee ballots have been requested, with many voters already receiving their ballots, which were sent out starting on Nov. 18.

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