Today on the Hill: Jones Scores Surprise Win for Democrats in Alabama; House Republicans to Talk CR Plans

Democrat Doug Jones will be the newest U.S. senator from Alabama after pulling pulled off an improbable victory last night, beating controversial Republican Roy Moore by about 1.5 points in a race that received widespread national attention. The tightly-run race was called by the Associated Press just after 11 p.m. last night, although Moore has yet to officially concede despite the margin being significantly greater than what would trigger a recount from state officials. Jones’ win brings the Republican advantage in the Senate down to a single seat, although with Vice President Mike Pence as the tie-breaking vote, they will still be able to pass legislation with one defection from their own ranks. While that dynamic will likely be critical in 2018, Jones is not expected to be seated until after Republicans complete their year-end work on tax reform and government funding.

Back in Washington, House Republicans are meeting this afternoon to discuss their strategy to clear a government funding package before the expiration of the current continuing resolution (CR) next Friday. Appropriators and conservatives have taken issue with the continued use of CRs to keep the government running, but that may be the only realistic option available for Congress to avoid a politically costly government shutdown just before the holiday break. Right now, the emerging plan seems to involve passing a short-term CR that would set a date in mid-January as the new government funding deadline and raise budget caps to ease the negotiation of an omnibus early in 2018. Importantly, spending measures will require Democratic votes, giving the minority party a significant amount of leverage – leverage that grew significantly after Jones’ win last night.

Floor action today will see the House consider a pair of measures designed to further restrict Iran’s access to the international financial system. One bill (H.R. 1638) would require the U.S. Department of the Treasury to complete a report outlining Iranian leaders’ financial assets held in American and foreign bank accounts and provide recommendations on how economic sanctions could be further tailored to target those funds. Another bill (H.R. 4324) would require a separate Treasury report on financial institutions’ Iran-related transactions, notably including the sale of passenger aircraft.

In the Senate, lawmakers are scheduled to vote on a pair of nominees, Don Willett and James Ho, to join the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Willet’s nomination passed cloture yesterday on a 50-48 vote, while a cloture vote on Ho’s nomination is expected this afternoon.