Legislative / Policy Update
Senate Floor. The Senate will consider nominations until adjournment on Thursday, when many Republican Senators will attend the “Save the Senate Retreat,” hosted by the National Republican Senatorial Committee at the Trump International Hotel. At the retreat, which begins at 4 p.m. Thursday and ends at 2 p.m. on Friday, major Republican donors will hear from President Trump, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and others.
House Floor. The House is in recess and will return on Tuesday, Nov. 12.
Impeachment Inquiry. The three committees overseeing the impeachment inquiry are continuing their work while the House is in recess, but four senior White House officials refused to appear today for depositions. Energy Secretary Rick Perry will not testify on Wednesday.
After the House voted 232-196 last Thursday to authorize guidelines for the next phase of the impeachment inquiry, the impeachment committees released the transcripts today of the Oct. 11 testimony of Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, and the Oct. 16 testimony of Michael McKinley, a former senior adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Tomorrow, the testimonies of Gordon Sondland, ambassador to the European Union, and Kurt Volker, former special envoy to Ukraine, will be released.
FY 2020 Appropriations. House and Senate appropriations staffers “seriously started” talks last week, according to Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), as the two parties try to reach agreement on spending allocations for FY 2020. Shelby hopes that he and his House counterpart, Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), can talk this week. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke by phone last Monday and agreed that their goal was to finish all appropriations bills by Dec. 31. With that in mind, it’s expected that the next continuing resolution, which will be needed to keep the government open after Nov. 21, will not extend past the end of the year. Of course, if lawmakers have not reached agreement on the border wall and other points of contention, they can pass still another CR to continue funding into next year.
On Thursday, Oct. 31, the Senate voted 84-9 to approve its first appropriations bills – a package of four measures to fund Agriculture-FDA, Commerce-Justice-Science, Interior-Environment, and Transportation-HUD. That bipartisan support did not extend to a second package of bills the Majority Leader wanted to bring to the floor. This second package would provide funding for Defense, Labor-HHS-Education, Foreign Operations, and Energy and Water. Democrats, however, do not want to consider the Labor-HHS measure until negotiators resolve the allocations for all 12 spending bills. Consequently, the procedural vote to move forward fell short of the 60 votes necessary, 51-41.
Export-Import Bank. The House Financial Services Committee on Thursday cleared legislation to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank for 10 years. The 30-27 vote was largely along party lines, with three progressive Democrats opposing the measure in part because it didn’t include amendments to add stronger provisions against financing carbon-intensive ventures. Republicans would like the bill to restrict Ex-Im from issuing loans to any company that is more than 25% owned by the Chinese government. Democrats feel such a provision would, among other things, improperly interfere in foreign policy and is an issue that should be handled by the Foreign Affairs Committee.
Committee Action of Note:
Elections This Week. Kentucky, Virginia, and Mississippi are among the states where voters head to the polls Tuesday. President Trump will hold rallies in Kentucky today and in Louisiana on Wednesday – states he won in 2016 by wide margins – to boost Republican gubernatorial candidates. (The Louisiana gubernatorial runoff is Nov. 16.) Vice President Pence will head to Mississippi tonight to hold a rally for the GOP gubernatorial candidate there.
Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin (R), running in a state Trump won by 30 percentage points in 2016, is tied at 46% in his re-election race with Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, according to a Mason-Dixon poll released in October. A Morning Consult survey shows a 53% disapproval rating for the governor in a state where President Trump remains popular among GOP primary voters although his popularity numbers have slid since he took office.
In Mississippi, Republican Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves faces off against Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood. The candidates are only about three points apart in the polls, but there could be a twist to the election results. The state constitution requires that winners of statewide offices must not only win a majority of the popular vote but must also carry a majority of the state’s 122 House districts. If no candidate wins both, the state House selects the governor from the two highest popular vote winners. In 1999, Mississippi's gubernatorial race ended without either major-party candidate receiving the requisite majority of votes statewide, and the following January, the Mississippi House voted overwhelmingly for the Democratic candidate, the first time a governor's race was decided by the legislature. Republicans currently hold 73 seats, or 60% of the Mississippi House.
In Virginia, Democrats will look to gain two seats in the House and one in the Senate to retake control of the state legislature and gain the power to redraw Congressional districts after the next census. Politico reports that major Democratic groups have dumped $10 million into Virginia's legislative races this cycle, boosting total Democratic fundraising to $31.8 million, compared to the GOP's $21 million. Democrats lead the GOP by 13 points in generic ballot polling.
2018 House Rematches. Of the 30 seats where House Democrats knocked off incumbent GOP Representatives in 2018, 10 will likely see a rematch in 2020. Many of the former lawmakers running for their old seats believe they will gain top-of-the-ticket help from President Trump. The Democratic incumbents most likely to see a rematch (should both candidates make it through their primaries) are: TJ Cox (CA-21), Lucy McBath (GA-6), Abby Finkenauer (IA-1), Cindy Axne (IA-3), Elissa Slotkin (MI-8), Angie Craig (MN-2), Anthony Brindisi (NY-22), Kendra Horn (OK-5), Colin Allred (TX-32), and Elaine Luria (VA-2). Four other freshman Democrats [Xochitl Torres Small (NM-2), Chrissy Houlahan (PA-6), Joe Cunningham (SC-1), and Max Rose NY-11)] could potentially face off against former House members should they progress to the general election a year from now.