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Legislative Update

Senate and House. Senate committees today held confirmation hearings on President-elect Biden’s nominees to head the Treasury, Defense, State, and Homeland Security departments as well as the Director of National Intelligence. Democrats were hoping that the full Senate could vote later this week to confirm these nominees, but this afternoon Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) said he would block swift confirmation of Alejandro Mayorkas to lead the Homeland Security Department. Hawley said he could not agree to fast-tracking the nomination because “Mr. Mayorkas has not adequately explained how he will enforce federal law and secure the southern border.”

Before the Senate can vote to confirm General Lloyd Austin to head the Defense Department, both chambers must pass separate legislation providing a waiver from the 1947 law requiring that Defense secretaries must be retired from the military for at least seven years before holding the top Pentagon position. Austin retired from the Army in 2016.

The House Armed Services Committee had planned to hold a hearing Thursday on the waiver, but that hearing was cancelled today because not all members have been named to the committee so the panel has not been formally organized. Instead, the committee will hold a closed-door meeting Thursday, and the full House will vote later that day on legislation providing a waiver for Austin. The Senate has not announced scheduling for consideration of the waiver.

On Wednesday afternoon, three new Democratic Senators will be sworn in – Alex Padilla of California, who will take the seat held by Kamala Harris, and the two Georgia Senators, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. Georgia election officials today certified the results of the Jan. 5 runoff elections, clearing the way for the Senators to be sworn in. On Thursday, the Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on Biden’s nominee for Transportation Secretary.

Senate Organization. The title of Senate Majority Leader will shift Wednesday from Republican Mitch McConnell to Democrat Chuck Schumer, and the two leaders met today to discuss committee ratios, given the 50-50 split between the two parties. Schumer is open to following the most recent precedent, which allowed for an equal number of Democrats and Republicans on every committee.

However, today’s meeting did not result in an agreement, and McConnell wants Schumer to commit that the legislative filibuster will be preserved. In a letter to his Republican colleagues, McConnell said that a “delay in reaching an agreement could delay the final determination of committee assignments but it is important to maintain the status quo on the legislative filibuster.” Until the two leaders reach an agreement, the Senate cannot pass an organizing resolution, which could also delay confirmation of Biden’s nominees.

Impeachment Trial. Senators Schumer and McConnell, in consultation with the Senate parliamentarian, are also no doubt discussing how to proceed on the impeachment trial for President Trump. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has not yet sent the article of impeachment to the Senate, which would trigger the Senate convening for a trial at 1 p.m. the day after the article is received and staying in session every day except Sunday until the trial ends. Democrats are looking at procedural options that would allow Senators to also conduct business, in particular, confirming Executive Branch nominees, while the trial is in process.

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