Today on the Hill: Flake Offers Sharp Rebuke of Trump in Retirement Announcement; Senate Approves Arbitration CRA, Disaster Relief Bill

October 25, 2017

News out of the Senate came fast and furiously yesterday, led by the announcement from Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) that he would not seek re-election in 2018. In a stirring speech on the Senate floor, Sen. Flake said that his beliefs in limited government, free trade, and immigration reform presented a “narrower and narrower path to nomination in the Republican Party” and criticized the party for failing to speak out against the President’s “reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior.”

While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) offered a conciliatory statement following the speech, the Arizona senator’s surprising decision adds to the intraparty strife between Senate Republicans and the White House, which may have an effect on policy discussions in the remaining eighteen months Sen. Flake will be in office. In electoral terms, the announcement clears the way for Dr. Kelli Ward — a member of the Arizona Senate backed by former White House strategist and Breitbart Executive Chairman Steve Bannon — to secure the Republican nomination for the seat, although Republican operatives are reportedly recruiting an establishment Republican to mount a challenge for the nomination.

In Senate legislative action yesterday, senators approved a House-passed disaster relief bill (H.R. 2266) on an 82-17 vote, sending the package to the president’s desk for enactment. That vote was followed by late-night consideration of a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution (H.J. Res. 111) to disapprove of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s rule banning the use of mandatory arbitration clauses in certain consumer contracts. Proponents of the rule see it as an empowerment of consumers’ legal rights, while opponents believe that it would unnecessarily remove a streamlined dispute process that benefits both companies and consumers. The House-passed resolution looks set to be enacted into law after being approved on a tie-breaking vote from Vice-President Mike Pence last night, with Sens. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and John Kennedy (R-LA) joining all Democrats in opposing the measure.

Today, the Senate returns to the confirmation process with two judicial nominations up for floor consideration. A cloture vote is expected today on the nomination of Scott Palk to be a U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Oklahoma, followed by 30 hours of debate before a final up-or-down vote. Another judicial nominee — Trevor McFadden to be U.S. District Judge for the District of Columbia — is next in the confirmation queue.

House lawmakers have four suspension measures on the docket today, all of which are related to reining in Iranian influence in the Middle East. Additionally, the House will consider a bill (H.R. 469) that seeks to reform the so-called “sue and settle” practice wherein agencies and outside interests establish expedited rulemaking schedules under a judicial settlement. Specifically, the bill would force agencies to gather public input on a consent decree agreement for 60 days before officially signing it. A similar bill passed the House in the 114th Congress, and a vote is expected to fall largely along party lines.