Congress

Road ahead: Changing Senate rules, reupping Violence Against Women Act

McConnell heads into cloture clash with nothing much to lose

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has set up votes to make it easier to confirm President Donald Trump’s nominees. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senators are gearing up for a much-anticipated standoff over the debate time for confirming President Donald Trump’s nominees, as the House turns its attention to reviving and updating the Violence Against Women Act.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg will address a joint meeting on Wednesday, following an invitation extended by the bipartisan congressional leadership to highlight the importance of the alliance.

And the House will seek to force another presidential veto, this time of a resolution to pull the U.S. out of the war in Yemen.

First up, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has set a Monday evening test vote on a disaster relief supplemental spending package by Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, but Democrats want to see additional aid for Puerto Rico and votes on other priorities.

Watch: The back and forth on why Mueller’s report hasn’t been released yet

 

That includes an effort by Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer to block the use of funds by the Justice Department to argue in court that the 2010 health care law is unconstitutional.

But the Senate’s real battle for the week will once again be over the process of confirming presidential nominees. Last week, McConnell moved to limit the debate on a resolution that would reduce to up to two hours (from 30 hours) the post-cloture debate time for an assortment of lower-level executive branch posts, as well as district judges.

 

“Some of our colleagues who are leading this systematic obstruction are actually running for president themselves. Well, these tactics will virtually guarantee that any future Democrat administration is subjected to this same paralysis. Everybody will be doing it,” McConnell said on the floor.

While McConnell set up a vote on adopting the new standing order under the regular process, it is all but assured that effort will fall short of the 60 votes necessary to cut off debate. Then he is expected to move forward using the “nuclear option” — shorthand for pursuing a rules change from the presiding officer that requires only majority support. It’s a move used by McConnell and former Majority Leader Harry Reid before him to cut off the regular order of procedural roadblocks available to senators in favor of a simple majority vote. 

“Senator McConnell’s approach has always been to manipulate Senate rules when it helps him and then change Senate rules when the tables turn; this is just another step in his effort to limit the rights of the minority and cede authority to the administration,” Schumer said in a statement in response.

Meanwhile, the House is set to take up the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization this week, which the Judiciary Committee approved in March.

The bill, sponsored by California Democrat Karen Bass and Pennsylvania Republican Brian Fitzpatrick, would reauthorize and expand the landmark domestic violence law first enacted in 1994.

The protections and programs authorized by the 1994 law lapsed during the partial government shutdown last year, but were reinstated in the January short-term fiscal 2019 spending deal. An extension was not included in the eventual deal that provided for spending through the end of fiscal 2019. Speaker Nancy Pelosi felt agreeing to a short-term extension would reduce the incentive for the Senate to negotiate with the House on a broader reauthorization of VAWA.

The House bill on the floor this week includes new provisions that aim to curtail the purchase and possession of firearms by individuals deemed to be a threat by a court.

Some Republicans have claimed that many of the provisions placed in the bill by the Democratic majority make the bill impossible for them to support. The National Rifle Association has come out against the reauthorization, citing the firearms provisions. Pelosi still sees a smooth path for the measure.

“Stalkers having guns. There’s very discrete provisions that relate to protecting women’s safety. And they’re against it. I don’t see that it has much impact on the passage of the bill in the House of Representatives,” the California Democrat said last week.

The bill would also increase protections for gender and sexual minorities set forth by the last authorization in 2013 and update law enforcement grants and health care provisions and increase penalties for cyberstalking, as well as require federal law enforcement to regularly evaluate and update practices to combat online harassment and cyberbullying.

The House will also revote on a resolution that would remove U.S. armed forces assisting the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen.

The House passed the measure in February, but the last-minute addition of an amendment, adopted through a Republican motion to recommit, adding language about combating anti-Semitism caused the resolution to lose its privileged status, making a revote necessary. 

The Senate-passed Yemen resolution should easily pass the House on a similar margin to the 248-177 vote the chamber took in February. But Trump has plans to veto it — the second veto of his presidency — and the two-thirds support needed to override that does not exist in either chamber.

The House will also continue its streak of voting on nonbinding resolutions, taking up a measure to condemn the Trump administration’s decision to get involved in Texas’ legal challenge to the 2010 health care law by siding with the state in its argument that the entire law should be struck down.

In committee action, the Budget panel is expected to announce Monday whether it will mark up a full fiscal 2020 budget resolution or legislation just to raise the statutory budget caps implemented under the 2011 Budget Control Act’s sequestration levels.

Budget Chairman John Yarmuth of Kentucky has signaled it will likely be the latter, which will provide a larger increase for nondefense spending than for defense over the next two fiscal years.

Ultimately, the House will have to negotiate those topline spending numbers with the Senate, and the two chambers’ leaders will have to convince the president to sign legislation raising the caps even though his administration has said they don’t want to do so.

While the budget cap battle wages on, appropriators are still preparing to write their fiscal 2020 bills by holding hearings on various agencies’ spending requests.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will testify before the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees his agency’s funding. Ross declined to appear before the equivalent subcommittee in the Senate.

Other administration officials testifying this week before the House subcommittees that oversee their agencies’ funding include EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Benjamin S. Carson, outgoing FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai.

The House’s Select Committee on Climate Change will hold its first hearing on “Generation Climate,” the coalition of young leaders urging immediate action to combat the climate crisis.

Hearings in other committees include a Financial Services review of the Fair Housing Act, testimony on the Equality Act in the Judiciary Committee and discussions in the Foreign Affairs and Intelligence Committees on climate change threats to national security.

There’s also a House hearing scheduled on the FBI budget, featuring Director Christopher Wray. It seems likely that hearing could devolve into a discussion about special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Six House committee chairmen wrote to Attorney General William P. Barr last week asking that he turn over the full report to Congress by April 2, but Barr has already informed House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York that he won’t meet that deadline.

 

Watch – Violence Against Women Act witness: Title IX is moot ‘because men can be women’

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