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Legislative / Policy Update

Senate Floor. Most of the Senate’s time this week will be spent on nominations, with a confirmation vote possible on Andrew Wheeler to replace Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

House Floor. The House will vote Tuesday on a resolution to nullify the president’s national emergency declaration and on a Senate-passed bill permanently reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Later in the week, the House will vote on two gun control measures expanding background checks.

Emergency Declaration. The legislative action receiving the most attention this week is the vote Tuesday in the House on H.J. Res. 46 by Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.). The joint resolution is only one sentence long, stating that pursuant to the National Emergencies Act, “the national emergency declared by the finding of the President on February 15, 2019…is hereby terminated.” If enacted, the resolution would prevent the President from diverting $3.6 billion from military construction projects to build a border wall. It is not clear which funds will be diverted, but the Pentagon has indicated that money designated for maintenance, leasing, and construction of military housing will not be touched.

Given that Rep. Castro’s resolution has 225 co-sponsors, including Republican Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), the measure clearly has sufficient support to pass the House. The National Emergencies Act, which became law in 1976, provides that the Senate must vote on a House-passed resolution within 18 days and the resolution cannot be filibustered, meaning only a simple majority, rather than 60 votes, is needed for passage. If all 47 Democrats vote for the resolution, they will have to win over four Republicans to reach the 51-vote threshold. So far, they have the word of Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) that she will vote yes, and several other Republicans have expressed concern about the President’s declaration.

While it is possible that the resolution could indeed pass the Senate, it will be promptly vetoed by President Trump. It takes a two-thirds vote in both chambers to override a presidential veto, and there is no question that the President will prevail – at least on the legislative front. On the judicial front, a group of 16 states has filed suit to stop the President’s emergency declaration, and lawsuits by other parties are being considered.

Committee Action of Note.

  • Feb. 26
    • Senate Finance Committee hearing on prescription drug prices.
    • Senate Intelligence Committee’s closed-door hearing with Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former lawyer.
  • Feb. 27
    • House Ways and Means Committee hearing on U.S.-China trade policy.
    • House Oversight and Reform Committee will hear testimony from Michael Cohen.
    • House Agriculture Committee markup of the committee's FY 2020 Budget Views and Estimates Letter for agencies and programs.
    • House Financial Services Committee will hear testimony from Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell on “Monetary Policy and the State of the Economy.”
    • House Agriculture Committee hearing: The State of the Rural Economy.
  • Feb. 28
    • Senate Banking Committee hearing: Legislative Proposals on Capital Formation and Corporate Governance
    • House Judiciary Committee hearing on the National Emergencies Act of 1976

Trade Policy. President Trump on Sunday tweeted that substantial progress has been made in trade talks with China and he would be “delaying the U.S. increase in tariffs now scheduled for March 1.” Without the delay, tariffs would have risen from 10% to 25% on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods imported into the U.S. The President said he hoped to sign a final deal in person in a meeting with Chinese President Xi, most likely in March at Mar-a-Lago, but no new deadline was set.

Political Update

Big Picture. In the 2020 presidential race, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont announced on Feb. 19 he was running for the Democratic nomination, and in the first 24 hours of his campaign, he raised $5.9 million from 223,047 individual contributors across all 50 states, besting the previous high of Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who raised $1.5 million in her first 24 hours. Tonight Senator Sanders will be the third Democratic candidate to be featured in a live town hall on CNN.

New Election in NC-9 Race. On Thursday, Feb. 21, officials in North Carolina ruled that there was election fraud in the 9th Congressional district and ordered that a new election take place. No date has been set, but state elections officials say a May primary and October general election are options. In the November 2018 race, Republican Mark Harris held a 905-vote lead over Democrat Dan McCready when the votes were tallied, but Harris was never certified as the winner.

Both parties have the right to hold new primaries due to a state law passed in December, which is expected to face legal challenges as the primary election was not where the election fraud took place. The new election process could take at least five months, depending on whether there are legal challenges to the new state law. McCready has been fundraising since November and is the Democratic front runner while the Republicans will need to decide on who to back, with Harris yet to announce if he will run again for the seat.

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