Today on the Hill: Senate to Vote on Conference Motion for Approps Minibus; Trump Starts Europe Trip

The Senate will add to its nominations work today with a vote on a compound motion to go to conference with the House on the appropriations minibus (H.R. 5895) that includes the Energy and Water, Legislative Branch, and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bills. That conference will mark the first bicameral appropriations negotiations as Congress hopes to avoid the use of a continuing resolution (CR) in a budgetary cycle for the first time since 2012. Following a vote on the compound motion, the Senate will vote on the controversial nomination of Brian Benczkowski to be Assistant Attorney General — which passed cloture on a 51-48 vote yesterday — as well as to invoke cloture on the nomination of Paul Ney to be General Counsel for the Department of Defense.

The upper chamber may also move forward with a motion to instruct conferees backed by Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) that would recommend the Senate include language giving Congress some oversight of the President’s unilateral power to implement tariffs due to national security concerns. President Trump has used this authority to place tariffs on Canadian and Chinese aluminum and steel imports, which has drawn consternation from some of his fellow Republicans. Even if it passes, the motion would not have the force of law, but instead act as guidelines for Senate negotiators during the conference process with the House. 

The House has only one measure (H.R. 200) on its docket for the day, a bill changing fisheries possible that has faced opposition from environmental groups and sustainable fishing activists. The measure would roll back elements of the 1976 Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) that aimed to boost fish populations in U.S. waters by setting catch limits and restricting certain fishing practices. Proponents of the bill under consideration today say that the MSA is too prescriptive towards commercial fishers and blocks recreational fishing tourism opportunities. The bill was approved on a party-line 23-17 vote out of the House Natural Resources Committee last December.

Meanwhile, President Trump has begun a weeklong foreign trip to Europe, with his first stop being in Brussels, Belgium for the 29th North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Summit. His first speech focused on criticizing the group of Western allies for not spending enough on defense and Germany specifically for relying on Russia gas exports. The President is due for one-on-one meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron this afternoon before leaving for London tomorrow.