Today on the Hill: Tillerson Out at State; House Considers Right to Try Bill; PA-18 Heads to the Polls

Breaking news this morning emerged from the White House as President Trump has ousted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson from his post in favor of current Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Mike Pompeo. Tillerson, a former Exxon-Mobil executive, faced rumors of his imminent departure for months, and this morning’s reports suggest that the White House wanted fresh leadership for the new major diplomatic initiative towards North Korea. Pompeo, a former congressman from Kansas, will slide into the role as the nation’s top diplomat and current CIA Deputy Director Gina Haspel will be nominated to take over at the spy agency. Both Pompeo and Haspel will need to be confirmed by the Senate.

On Capitol Hill, the House is set to consider a revamped version (text) of ‘Right to Try’ legislation that aims to allow very sick patients to request access to experimental drug treatments that have not yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Compared to the version that passed the Senate unanimously in August, the House bill gives the FDA more oversight of the process by requiring drug companies to notify FDA officials within seven days of providing the medicine and requiring immediate notification to FDA of any adverse events. The House measure would also alter the language on who qualifies for the process, limiting it only to patients who are likely to die “within a matter of months” or are “severely premature.” Despite the Senate’s unanimous passage last year, many House Democrats are expected to oppose the measure.

The Senate is continuing to make progress on a banking regulatory relief bill (S. 2155), with cloture successfully invoked on the bill’s substitute amendment last night on a 66-30 vote. It appears that the bill is now ‘fully-baked’ as lawmakers were unable to reach an agreement on additional provisions to be inserted into the bill. No votes are expected today; as the post-cloture time on the substitute amendment drains, the Senate will continue the floor debate and hold its weekly caucus meetings.

Finally, the highly-anticipated election in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district will be held today between Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone. The winner will take former Rep. Tim Murphy’s (R-PA) seat after he was forced to resign in the wake of an affair last October. Both parties are treating the race as a barometer for their chances in November, giving the race — which actually may be relatively inconsequential given Pennsylvania’s ongoing redistricting — additional attention and resources than would normally be expected. Polls have given Lamb a slight edge in the heavily-Republican district, but turnout in special elections are notoriously difficult to predict.