Today on the Hill: Executive Order Fallout, SCOTUS Nominee Precede Floor Action on Confirmations, Regulatory Rollback

January 30, 2017

Lawmakers are returning to Capitol Hill today to a busy legislative schedule as well as a chaotic political environment due to the fallout from President Trump’s executive order issued on Friday suspending the nation’s refugee program and temporarily barring visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said over the weekend that the minority party will introduce legislation to overturn the President’s orders and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is organizing a protest to be held outside of the Supreme Court tonight. A few Senate Republicans have also expressed their concerns with the order, including foreign policy hawks Sens. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and John McCain (R-AZ), but Democrats will need the support of a dozen Republican senators in order to advance any legislation to the Republican-dominated House.

This week, the House is planning a series of votes on resolutions that would nullify Obama Administration rules under the powers given to lawmakers by the Congressional Review Act (CRA). Among the regulations being targeted are a rule requiring the Social Security Administration to report whether an individual receives disability benefits for mental health conditions to the national database used for firearm purchase background checks (text), an environmental regulation that aims to protect U.S. streams from waste (text), and a Bureau of Land Management rule related to the emission of the powerful greenhouse gas methane (text). The CRA stipulates that Congress may undo any regulation finalized within the last 60 legislative days of the previous Congress, and requires only a Senate majority to reach the president’s desk – meaning that Democrats cannot block the measures. Additionally, the House has seven bills lined up for consideration today under suspension of the rules, most of which deal with the administration of federal parks and lands.  

In the upper chamber, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has teed up votes on more of President Trump’s Cabinet nominees, including controversial Secretary of State pick Rex Tillerson. Tillerson has been questioned by both parties over his ties to Vladimir Putin’s Russia, but Republicans have largely fallen in line to support his nomination. The cloture vote for his confirmation will be held this evening and a final vote is expected on Wednesday. A vote on the nomination of Elaine Chao – a Bush Administration Labor Secretary and wife of Leader McConnell – is scheduled for Tuesday and she is considered to be the least contentious of Trump’s choices. Many of Trump’s other picks will be voted on in their respective committees of jurisdiction early in the week and could reach the Senate floor by Friday. 

President Trump tweeted earlier this morning that he will announce his Supreme Court pick tomorrow evening, setting up what may be one of the fiercest political battles in the Senate all year. The three contenders on the President’s reported shortlist are all currently federal appeals court judges: Judge William Pryor in Alabama, Judge Neil Gorsuch in Colorado, and Judge Thomas Hardiman in Pennsylvania. Of the three, Gorsuch – who is well known in conservative circles for his stances on religious liberty – is considered the frontrunner. Unlike other nominees, Supreme Court confirmations require 60 votes in the upper chamber; however, if Democrats maintain a united voting bloc against Trump’s nominee, Republicans could elect to use the so-called “nuclear option” – changing Senate rules so that a Supreme Court confirmation requires only a simple majority vote. President Trump has tacitly endorsed the procedural change, reportedly telling Leader McConnell last week that he wants to block any possible filibuster of his nominee.