Legislative / Policy Update
House and Senate. Before adjourning for a two-week recess, the Senate and House last week passed a disapproval resolution to overturn the President’s actions declaring a national emergency in order to divert federal funds to the border wall. Shortly after the President issued his emergency declaration in February, Congress passed its first disapproval resolution, which was then vetoed by the President; the veto was upheld when the House failed to muster a two-thirds majority on an override vote in March. This latest resolution will meet a similar fate since neither the House nor the Senate passed the measure by a margin sufficient to override a veto. Under the National Emergencies Act, Democrats can force a vote on ending Trump’s emergency declaration every six months.
House Impeachment Inquiry. Although most lawmakers are home in their districts, members of three House committees are in town this week and next to hear from officials with insights on the Ukraine investigation. On Wednesday, Oct. 2, the three panels – Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight – will hold a closed-door session to depose former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. On Thursday, Kurt Volker, who resigned last week as the President’s special representative for Ukraine, will be deposed. On Friday, Michael Atkinson, the U.S. intelligence community’s inspector general, will brief the three committees. Three State Department officials are on the schedule for next week. Additionally, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the President’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, have been subpoenaed for documents pertaining to Ukraine.
Continuing Resolution and FY 2020 Spending Bills. On Friday, Sept. 27, President Trump signed a continuing resolution to fund the federal government through Nov. 21, providing lawmakers more time to reach agreement on FY 2020 appropriations bills. Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee completed work on four more spending bills so that all but three have now been approved by the committee. The remaining three – Labor-HHS-Education, State-Foreign Operations, and Military Construction-Veterans’ Affairs – have been released but are unlikely to see further action for the time being.
Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) would like the full Senate to vote on bills approved by the committee with bipartisan support, but that is a decision that will be made by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Even if the Senate does take action, Republicans and Democrats must still reach agreement on how much money is available for each of the 12 appropriations bills. Yes, Congressional leaders and the President hammered out a deal in July setting new budget caps for defense and non-defense spending, but the two parties are now at odds over how to apportion that money. In short, Democrats believe that Shelby has allotted too much money to pay for the border wall and not enough money for domestic programs, especially those in the Labor-HHS-Ed bill. Shelby said last week that his staffers have been discussing the allocations with staff for Leahy and House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.). Until a deal is reached, none of the bills will be enacted, and no one would be surprised if another continuing resolution is needed to provide funding after Nov. 21.
USMCA. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and the nine-member House working group are continuing to talk and exchange proposals, with the goal of congressional action this year to approve the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. The working group on Friday gave Lighthizer its latest counterproposal and is expecting to receive the Administration’s response when lawmakers return in mid-October from their recess.
GOP Committee Term Limits. Since 1992, House Republican Conference rules have specified that Republicans cannot lead a committee – either as chair or ranking member – for more than six years unless they obtain a waiver from the Republican Steering Committee. Democrats, however, have no such limitations.
President Trump weighed in on the matter in early September, tweeting that Republicans should abandon the rule. While Republicans do not appear to be receptive to the President’s idea, they might be open to tweaking the rules. At a Steering Committee meeting Tuesday, Sept. 24, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy floated the idea of allowing members to serve more time as ranking members when the GOP is in the minority.
At that meeting, the Steering Committee did take action on a related question. The committee agreed that a half-term doesn’t count toward the cap. This change will benefit Kevin Brady (R-Tex.), who took over as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee in November 2015 from Paul Ryan, who became Speaker when John Boehner resigned. Brady, who is now the ranking member, can stay as the committee’s top Republican until the end of 2022 under the rules change.
Today, Brady’s fellow Texan, Mac Thornberry, who is ranking on the House Armed Services Committee and will be term-limited next year, announced he will not run in 2020. Thornberry joins two other Republicans who are term limited to lead committees – Reps. Mike Conaway (R-Tex.) and Rob Bishop (R-Utah) at the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committees, respectively – in announcing their retirements.
Georgia Senate Race. If you’re a Republican who would like to represent Georgia in the U.S. Senate, now’s your chance. Republican Gov. Brian Kemp has set up a website for Georgians who want to be considered as a replacement for Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), who is retiring at the end of this year for health reasons. So far, more than 200 people have submitted their applications. Gov. Kemp will choose Isakson’s successor, who will then face a special election in November 2020 for the last two years of the term. Two of the more well-known names interested in the job are Rep. Doug Collins, ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, and former Rep. Tom Price, who served as President Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Services until he was forced out two years ago.
President Trump’s Campaign. In the first two days after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the House would launch a formal impeachment inquiry into the President’s dealings with Ukraine, the President’s re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee raised over $13 million, including $5 million in the first 24 hours from online donors in all 50 states. The President’s first campaign rally since the impeachment announcement will be Oct. 10 in Minneapolis, Minn., a state he lost in 2016 by just 44,000 votes.
Democratic Primary. All 19 Democratic candidates for president have announced they support the impeachment inquiry into the President. Of the 19, 12 have officially qualified for next month’s debate, which the Democratic National Committee says will be on one night, Oct. 15, rather than two nights as was the case with previous debates.