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Legislative / Policy Update

Congressional Schedule. The House and Senate are in recess this week. After they return March 25, they will be in session until mid-April, when they leave for two weeks. The Senate will recess April 12, and House members will leave town April 10, allowing Democrats to attend a retreat April 10-12 in Lansdowne, Va. House Republicans are also expected to hold a retreat at that time. When Congress reconvenes next week a number of issues could be brought to the floor, including:

  • Disapproval Resolution. The House is expected to vote March 26 on whether to override President Trump’s March 15 veto of a resolution blocking his use of emergency powers to spend money for a border wall. The House vote will fall short of the two-thirds needed to override the veto, so the Senate will not take a vote.
  • Green New Deal. The Senate could vote next week on the Democrats’ Green New Deal that strives for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. The GND, as it is often called, was introduced as a nonbinding resolution and does not have the specificity of a bill. Nevertheless, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sees this as an opportunity to put Democrats, particularly those GND supporters who are running for President, on the spot. Multiple Democrats have indicated that they will vote "present" on the resolution.
  • Disaster Aid. The Senate could also begin consideration of a disaster aid package. The proposal, which is still being crafted by Republican and Democratic appropriators, would be an amendment to the $14.2 billion bill the House passed in January.
  • Senate Rules Change. Senate Majority Leader McConnell is looking to have the Senate vote on a rules change that would reduce the amount of debate time for certain nominees for federal positions. Under the new rule, debate time on the Senate floor would be reduced from 30 hours to as little as two hours for district court nominees and hundreds of executive nominees. The pared-back time limit would not apply to nominees for the Cabinet, the Supreme Court, circuit court judges, and a number of independent boards. To be approved, the rules change would need the support of only a majority of Senators.

U.S.-China Negotiations. Administration officials say they are in the final weeks of negotiating a trade deal with China, and President Trump predicted March 14 that "we'll have news on China. Probably one way or the other, we're going to know over the next three to four weeks.” A meeting between President Trump and President Xi to sign an agreement won’t take place until April at the earliest, and the South China Post reported that it might not take place until June. Early speculation was that the two leaders would meet at Mar-a-Lago, but the Chinese are now said to be pushing for President Xi’s trip to take the form of a state visit to Washington.

Political Update

Who’s Running. Former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke decided to jump into the Democratic primary fray last Thursday, bringing the Democratic primary field to 15 candidates. O’Rourke spent the first three days of his campaign in Iowa and then stopped off in Wisconsin. His campaign announced this morning that it reached $6.1 million in donations in its first 24 hours, surpassing Sen. Bernie Sanders’ previous high mark of $5.9 million. O’Rourke’s first 24-hour haul has quelled many doubters who questioned whether his impressive Senate campaign fundraising was more about donors supporting anyone but incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz. Presidential hopefuls will be filing their first fundraising reports at the end of March, and the reports become public April 15, which should give us a better insight into what type of donors are contributing to each campaign so far.

Also announcing was New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who officially entered the race Sunday after making an announcement in January that she was exploring a run for the nomination. Next Sunday she will deliver what her campaign is billing as her first speech as a presidential candidate. The speech will take place outside of one of President Trump’s properties in Manhattan.

First Debate. The first of 12 Democratic primary debates will be held in June and hosted by NBC, MSNBC, and Telemundo. Long shot Democratic candidate Andrew Yang announced over the weekend that his campaign officially hit 65,000 individual donations, which qualifies him to be on the debate stage. Yang is an entrepreneur who is basing his campaign on a proposal to give every adult American $1,000 a month, paid for with a value-added tax and a consolidation of welfare programs. The Democratic National Committee has said it will allow up to 20 candidates to be involved in the debates, which will be spread evenly over two nights per scheduled debate.

Issues. The hot topic over the past weekend has been the potential expansion or reform of the U.S. Supreme Court to counter President Trump’s appointments to lower level courts and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s ability to impact court nominations over the past four years. Sens. Harris, Warren, and Gillibrand, Mayor Buttigieg, and former Rep. O’Rourke have each said they would not rule out expanding the Supreme Court if elected president.

Tax Returns. A proposed law in Washington state may cause big controversy in the 2020 election as it requires any candidate for president in the state to release five years of tax returns before appearing on the ballot in a general or primary election. The bill passed the state Senate last week and is currently in the state House. Both the Washington state Attorney General and Solicitor General have said they believe the law would be constitutional but noted it would be challenged in federal court. New Jersey has a similar bill moving in its state house and the Illinois legislature is also considering a similar proposal.

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