Both chambers are picking up on the work they left off before last week’s recess, with the Senate working through the remaining confirmations for President Trump’s Cabinet and the House targeting executive branch regulations. Wilbur Ross’ confirmation as Secretary of Commerce starts action in the Senate, and given that a cloture vote for his nomination passed prior to this week’s recess, he is likely to be installed sometime this evening. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already filed cloture for the three nominees to follow Ross, namely Rep. Ryan Zinke for Secretary of Interior, Ben Carson for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and Rick Perry for the Secretary of Energy. While this batch of nominees is considered less controversial than some previous selections, Democrats are likely to continue using the maximum allotment of debate time in order to delay votes on each nominee.
The Week in Review
Lawmakers enjoyed a week away from Washington in honor of the President’s Day holiday. Many Republicans, including Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), Dave Brat (R-VA) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), encountered raucous crowds at town hall events as constituents voiced their opposition to the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and some of President Trump’s more controversial executive actions since taking office. Liberal activists are trying to replicate the successful protests – and wave midterm election – that conservatives were able to create against the ACA when it was first considered early Barack Obama’s presidency. Late in the week, a leaked version of the anticipated Republican bill to repeal and replace the ACA was widely circulated by media outlets; full coverage of that development is in our roundup below.
- Both the House and the Senate are in Recess this week.
- Chairman Hensarling is expected to release the latest iteration of his Dodd-Frank replacement bill, known as the Choice Act, perhaps as soon as the week Members return. According to some accounts, he has left version 2.0 behind and is now working on version 3.0.
On Wednesday February 8th, Bloomberg Government released an analysis highlighting Thorn Run Partners (TRP) as one of its top-performing lobbying groups for 2016. The report identified TRP as one of its 31 lobbying firms that “displayed impressive performance in 2016” by exceeding thresholds in several key metrics such as “growth, client satisfaction, and profitability.” Among the firms listed, TRP was the highest ranked among firms with more than $8 million in lobbying revenue. Since its founding in 2010, TRP has consistently ranked among Washington's fastest growing lobbying firms according to analysis from Politico, The Hill, Bloomberg Government, and others.
The Week in Review
The Senate worked to continue filling President Trump’s Cabinet last week, with successful confirmations including David Shulkin for Veterans’ Affairs Secretary, Linda McMahon for Small Business Administrator, Mick Mulvaney for Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Scott Pruitt for Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Both Mulvaney and Pruitt faced sharp opposition from Democrats, who have been keeping the Senate in session overnight in order to protest particularly contentious nominees, but neither nominee was ever in real danger of being blocked. The Senate also moved to approve a few House-passed resolutions rolling back Obama-era rules, including a measure (H.J. Res. 40) that blocks a rule mandating the Social Security Administration provide information on those receiving disability benefits due to mental health issues to the national background check system for firearm purchases.
Earlier this week, in a very excellent piece that ran in Axios (totally worth adding to the morning subscription list if you haven’t already), Jim VandeHei laid out a very rationalized reason why he thinks the current state of American politics will only get worse. While he may be correct, it seems the real question is one of scope – how long will it be worse before it gets better. For years, there appeared to be a silent majority that understood, and more importantly, appreciated the American tradition of compromise. The success of the tea party in 2010, and whatever liberal reflection is currently rising like a phoenix out of the ashes of the 2016 election, are willing to forgo incremental changes achieved via compromise in favor of intransigence. Whether the anger currently being demonstrated on the left will lead to the same results is yet to be determined. At the end of the day, Democrats, even liberal stalwarts like Senator Edward Kennedy, were always willing to take half a loaf in order to get the deal made. For years, they had some Republicans willing to dance. It seems like the music has stopped… for now. But even minor changes in the incentives to reach across the aisle could alter that process, and with the consummate deal maker sitting in the White House those changes could come sooner than conventional wisdom might think.
The week will bring a sense of déjà vu to Washington as the House lines up another series of resolutions taking aim at Obama-era agency regulations and the Senate plods through the confirmation process for more of President Trump’s Cabinet nominees. Under the powers of the Congressional Review Act, the House plans votes to walk back five separate rules related to: (1) drug testing of certain unemployment compensation applicants (H.J. Res. 42); (2) a predator hunting rule from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (H.J. Res. 69); (3) federal funding of family planning services (H.J. Res. 43); (4) auto-enrolling employees in state-run retirement plans (H.J. Res. 66); and (5) allowing large cities and counties to set up auto-enrollment retirement savings programs (H.J. Res. 67). The family planning resolution is a part of Republicans’ continued effort to drain federal funding from the health organization and abortion provider Planned Parenthood, with the measure specifically undoing an Obama Administration rule that prohibited states from denying Planned Parenthood funding for non-abortion medical services.
The Week in Review
The Senate spent most of the last week working to confirm President Donald Trump’s nominees to top administration posts, spending a total of 90 hours of debate to confirm three key cabinet officials: Betsy DeVos as secretary of Education, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) as attorney general, and Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) as head of the Health and Human Services Department. During the debate on Sessions, Senate Republicans stopped Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) from participating, invoking the rarely used Rule 19, after they said she “impugned” the character of her fellow-Senator. Despite the made-for-TV theatrics, Sessions was ultimately confirmed on a party-line vote, and Gov. Robert Bentley (R-AL) appointed his state's attorney general, Luther Strange, to replace Sessions in the Senate.
- A relatively tame week could be on tap as the Senate continues to slog through the nominations process, while the House continues to push through a series of Congressional Review Act resolutions.
- The House Financial Services Committee is scheduled to meet to approve the Committees’ oversight plan for the coming year. Following last week’s contentious organizing meeting, it likely that Democrats will not concur with the Majority’s view for the coming year.
- February 14th and 15th will have Fed Chair Yellen before the House and Senate for her semi-annual appearance
- President Donald Trump has been invited to present a joint address to Congress on February 28th.
According to House Republicans, these are the following goal posts for the House to hit in 2017
- FY2017 Reconciliation – March
- Border Defense Supplemental – March / April
- FY 2018 Budget – April
- FY 2017 Funding Expires – April 28
- FY 2018 Reconciliation bill – May / June
- FDA User Fees – June
- FY 2018 NDAA – June
- CHIP Reauthorization – July
- Debt Ceiling – July / September
- FAA Reauthorization – September 30th
- Flood Insurance – September 30th
- FY 2018 Appropriations – September 30th
- FISA Section 702 – December 31st
Democrats are using every tool at their disposal to prevent the one Cabinet nominee who has attracted some Republican opposition – Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos – from being confirmed on the Senate floor. The minority party kept the upper chamber in session throughout the night in an attempt to convince one additional Republican to oppose her confirmation. Lawmakers speaking against DeVos have cited concerns on her long history of supporting voucher programs and private schooling over the public system, as well as her shaky hearing performance where she appeared to be ambivalent on the Education Department’s regulations related to civil and disability rights. With Democrats united and Republican Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) also opposing DeVos, today’s final vote looks to be set for a 50-50 tie, meaning that Vice President Mike Pence will need to be on hand to cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of President Trump’s selection. Cloture has already been filed for the next Cabinet confirmation due to hit the Senate floor, Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions, who has also been the subject of intense criticism from many Democrats over his time as Alabama’s Attorney General and his role in crafting President Trump’s recent travel ban targeting certain Muslim-majority countries.