Senate. This afternoon, the Senate voted 87-7 to confirm Denis McDonough as Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Tomorrow, the Senate will convene for the impeachment trial and will proceed under an organizing resolution agreed to today by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The resolution, which sets out the rules and schedule for the trial, will be voted on by the full Senate at 1 p.m. Tuesday before the trial begins.
The first order of business will then be up to four hours of debate on whether the trial is constitutional, followed by a simple majority vote on that question. Assuming Senators agree the trial is constitutional, opening arguments will start on Wednesday, with up to 16 hours per side permitted over two days for presentations by former President Trump’s defense and the House managers, acting as prosecutors. The resolution also provides an option to debate and vote on whether to call witnesses. The trial, which will begin every day at noon, is expected to last about a week unless witnesses are called, which will prolong the proceedings. There will be no session on Saturday, in order to honor the request of a Trump lawyer, who will be observing the Jewish Sabbath. The trial will reconvene on Sunday afternoon.
In the previous impeachment trial, Senators spent trial days in their seats on the Senate floor. However, to accommodate for social distancing, Senators will now be allowed to sit in the public gallery or in the Marble Room just off the Senate floor, where the trial will be shown on TV.
House. There are no floor votes scheduled until the week of Feb. 22, so Members are focused on committee hearings and markup of reconciliation legislation.
Reconciliation. On Friday, Feb. 5, Vice President Harris cast two tie-breaking votes, the latter one breaking the 50-50 tie on final passage of the FY 2021 budget resolution. The final vote came after a 15-hour vote-a-rama that saw Senators consider some 40 amendments (out of over 800 that were filed). Following Senate passage around 5:30 a.m., the amended resolution then moved back to the House, which approved it on a 219-209 vote.
House and Senate approval of the budget resolution clears the way for consideration of reconciliation legislation to address the Covid pandemic, and the House has a full schedule of committee markups this week: Tuesday, Education and Labor; Wednesday, Transportation and Infrastructure, Financial Services, and Agriculture; Wednesday through Friday, Ways and Means; Thursday, Small Business, Veterans’ Affairs, and Energy and Commerce; Friday, Oversight and Reform. Three other committees have not yet announced markup dates – Natural Resources, Foreign Affairs, and Science, Space, and Technology.
Once all 12 House committees report their measures, the Budget Committee will package them into a single reconciliation bill. (The Budget Committee cannot make substantive changes to the bills.) The reconciliation bill will then go to the Rules Committee to draft a rule that governs floor debate, including the amount of time for floor debate and whether any amendments will be in order. Floor consideration could take place the week of Feb. 22.
With Senators devoting the next week or two to the impeachment trial, it’s possible that Senate Democrats will decide to forego the committee markup process and take the House-passed bill directly to the Senate floor after the trial is completed. Once the Senate takes up the reconciliation bill, get ready for another vote-a-rama. As with the budget resolution, there is a time limit on Senate debate for reconciliation, but amendments can be offered and voted on after the 20 hours of debate time expires. Democrats are hoping to send a reconciliation bill to the President before March 14, when expanded unemployment benefits expire.
Nominations Scorecard. The Senate this week will continue to hold hearings and vote on President Biden’s Cabinet nominees. On Tuesday, the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on Neera Tanden's nomination to be Director of the Office of Management and Budget, followed by a Wednesday hearing in the Senate Budget Committee. Three nominees will receive committee votes: Michael Regan to be EPA Administrator in the Environment and Public Works Committee on Tuesday, and Miguel Cardona for Education Secretary and Marty Walsh for Labor Secretary in the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on Thursday.
Last Wednesday, Feb. 3, the Commerce Committee voted 21-3 to approve the nomination of Gina Raimondo to be Commerce Secretary. However, the next day, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) placed a hold on the nomination, blocking a Senate floor vote until the Biden administration commits to keeping Huawei Technologies on the U.S.’s list of untrusted vendors.
Committee Action of Note:
N.Y. House Race. The race for the NY-22 seat has not yet been certified by the State Board of Elections, but Republican Claudia Tenney has a lead of 109 votes out of more than 325,000 ballots counted and is set to be declared the winner. Incumbent Democrat Anthony Brindisi is expected to appeal rulings on several hundred contested ballots.
Senate Retirements. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) today became the fourth Republican Senator to announce his retirement, joining Senators Rob Portman (Ohio), Richard Burr (N.C.), and Pat Toomey (Penn.).