Legislative / Policy Update
Senate. Among the nominations to be considered this week is that of James “Trey” Trainor III for a Republican seat on the Federal Election Commission. The Commission has been without a policymaking quorum since Aug. 31, 2019, when the resignation of a commissioner left the panel with only three of six slots filled. Trainor’s confirmation would restore the minimum needed for a quorum.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced this afternoon that Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) will temporarily serve as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, replacing Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who gave up the gavel while he is under investigation related to stock sales he made before the market dropped sharply in reaction to the pandemic. The Intelligence Committee will vote Tuesday on the nomination of Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Tex.) to be the Director of National Intelligence. McConnell did not announce what would happen with the chairmanship of the Small Business Committee, which Rubio chairs.
On Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jay Powell will deliver testimony remotely to the Senate Banking Committee. As required by the CARES Act, the two officials will report on oversight of funds distributed under the Act.
At the end of the week, the Senate will begin its Memorial Day recess, returning the week of June 1. Capitol Hill offices will remain closed to the public until 8 a.m. on June 9 "or until an assessment of prevailing community pandemic health conditions allows for access restrictions to begin to be lifted," according to a statement from the House and Senate Sergeants-at-Arms.
House. In a pro forma session on Tuesday, two new Republican members will be sworn in – Mike Garcia, who won the California seat held by Democrat Katie Hill, and Tom Tiffany, who is taking the Wisconsin seat held by fellow Republican Sean Duffy. Both Hill and Duffy resigned from Congress. The next regular sessions of the House will be May 27 and 28, with the agenda calling for consideration of legislation cleared by the Senate last week to extend provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
Proxy Voting. When the House meets May 27-28, it’s likely to operate under new rules that allow for proxy voting in the full House and in committees. The rules, which were approved by the House May 15 with no Republican support, provide that proxy voting can be implemented for a “covered period” designated by the Speaker, after receiving a notification from the Sergeant-at-Arms in consultation with the Attending Physician, that a public health emergency due to a novel coronavirus is in effect. The authority lasts for 45 days and can be extended or renewed if the public health emergency persists or there is a resurgence.
The rules allow a House member who is present on the floor to vote by proxy for up to 10 members who are not present and have provided exact written instruction as to how the vote should be cast. Committee chairs have the option to hold entirely virtual proceedings or to meet in hearing rooms and allow remote participation. Members participating online would count toward a quorum and be allowed to vote.
HEROES Act. After clearing the proxy voting resolution last Friday, the House voted 208-199 along mostly party lines to approve another package of pandemic-related legislation. While Republicans have said the $3 trillion House bill will be dead on arrival in the Senate, there are a number of areas where the two parties could eventually find common ground, including additional financial aid for state and local governments, revisions to the Paycheck Protection Program and the Employee Retention Tax Credit, money to expand broadband services, and funds for the U.S. Postal Service. The House bill did not address the issue of liability protection, but Senate Majority Leader McConnell has said the next bill must include some form of protection from lawsuits for businesses that follow public health guidelines related to Covid-19. A Senate bill could come together next month, with a possible House-Senate deal before the Fourth of July recess.
Capitol Hill staffers have been busy not only crafting the specifics of the various pandemic bills but also devising appropriate titles. In March, Senate Republican staff drafted the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act” or CARES Act, which was enacted March 27. Not to be outdone, House Democrats designated their just-passed bill as the ‘‘Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act’’ or the HEROES Act.
Committee Action of Note
Convention Plans. With fewer than 100 days until both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, it is still not clear how the coronavirus will impact convention plans. Republican National Convention president and CEO Marcia Lee Kelly wrote in an op-ed for Fox Business that plans to bring thousands of people to Charlotte, N.C. for the Aug. 24-27 event are still moving full speed ahead. The RNC has hired a “health and medical preparedness expert” to help implement safety protocols as they move forward with planning what Kelly called a celebration of “America’s comeback.”
Democrats have been more cautious about planning for their Aug. 17-20 convention. Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers (D) has raised concerns about a large in-person gathering and has been advocating for a virtual event. Democratic National Convention CEO Joe Solmonese told NPR that it “remains to be seen” how many people will be in Milwaukee. Last week the rules and bylaws committee of the DNC unanimously adopted changes to allow for virtual participation in the convention, something the RNC has not yet considered. The full Democratic National Committee will vote by mail in the coming weeks on whether to ratify the committee proposal.
Elections. Oregon and Idaho will hold congressional primaries on Tuesday.