Heard on the Hill

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Maile Pearl Bowlsbey made Senate history Thursday, becoming the first newborn allowed on the Senate floor.

Bowlsbey, the daughter of Illinois Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth, born just last week, came to the Senate floor the day after the Senate changed its antiquated rules to allow senators to bring in children under the age of one.

Duckworth arrived at the Capitol just after Vice President Mike Pence and his motorcade departed. Pence’s tie-breaking function would not be necessary with Duckworth making an appearance to vote, as it meant 99 senators were present. The senator and baby daughter arrived on a blustery afternoon, where they were greeted by an abundance of TV cameras on the East Front, just outside the building.

Senators applauded as Duckworth came into the chamber for what ultimately was not a decisive “no” vote, with Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona coming around to support confirmation of President Donald Trump's choice of Rep. Jim Bridenstine to be NASA administrator, 50-49.

As Duckworth left the floor with her infant child after voting on the Bridenstine nomination, several senators looked up to the press gallery. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., pointed up and said, “The press is finally interested in something worthwhile.”

Duckworth indicated earlier Thursday she was prepared to come to the Capitol to vote, having tweeted out a photo of her new baby’s outfit for the potential floor appearance.

I may have to vote today, so Maile’s outfit is prepped. I made sure she has a jacket so she doesn’t violate the Senate floor dress code (which requires blazers). I’m not sure what the policy is on duckling onesies, but I think we’re ready pic.twitter.com/SsNHEuSVnY

Bridenstine, a Republican from Oklahoma, thus became the answer to one of the great Senate trivia questions of all time — the subject of the first roll call vote with a baby present on the floor.

There will not be a special election to fill Bridenstine’s seat because of the timing of the vacancy, according to Oklahoma election law.

The law states that if a vacancy occurs in an even-numbered year and the term expires the following year, there will not be a special election. Instead, the candidate who wins the general election will be appointed to serve out the last few months of Bridenstine's term.

Under the Constitution, governors must call special elections to fill House vacancies.

Asked about the constitutionality of an appointment to a House seat, Oklahoma State Elections Board spokesman Bryan Deal wrote in an email that he was not aware of any legal challenges to the law.

Bridenstine, who was first elected in 2012, had said he would only serve three terms, so a number of Democrats and Republicans are running for the 1st District. Five Democrats and five Republicans filed last week to run for the seat. The primary is June 26.

The seat is expected to remain in GOP hands. Trump carried the district by 28 points in 2016. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Solidly Republican.

Businessman Kevin Hern had the largest campaign war chest at the end of the first fundraising quarter, according to Federal Election Commission documents.

Hern had $407,000 on hand, and loaned his campaign $500,000. Former Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris had $130,000 in the bank, and nonprofit executive and former military intelligence officer Andy Coleman had $107,000 on hand.

Watch: There Won’t Be Clothing Requirements for Baby: Senate Changes Floor Rules, Allowing Infants

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Bipartisan bills that aim to improve the government’s response to cybersecurity attacks on the electric grid advanced out of a House Energy and Commerce panel Wednesday. The action was the latest sign of heightened awareness on Capitol Hill that malicious hackers might be able to turn out the lights.

Four pieces of legislation — all focused on putting into statute coordination within the Department of Energy to prevent cyber attacks on the grid and other energy infrastructure — were advanced by the Energy Subcommittee by voice votes. The votes showed unusual unity on the often-partisan panel.

That divide was apparent, however, in the subcommittee vote on a measure to speed up the export of liquified natural gas from small-scale export facilities. That bill advanced along party lines, 19-14, as Democrats criticized the legislation as harmful to the environment. They also complained that the bill was an earmark for a Florida-based export project, the only pending facility that would meet the requirements. 

Recent high profile attempts by foreign actors, including groups linked with Russia, to probe nuclear facilities and pipeline control systems across the country since 2016 have raised awareness of committee members of the evolving cyber threat.

“As we’ve learned in classified briefings, and recently through the testimonies of Secretary Perry and our FERC Commissioners, cyber-attacks are a real and growing threat,” said Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., the chairman of the subcommittee, in a statement.

One of the security bills would codify a recent departmental reorganization announced by Energy Secretary Rick Perry in his fiscal 2019 budget request that creates a new assistant secretary position devoted to cybersecurity issues. The bill would ensure position remains part of department leadership in future administrations.

Two of the cyber bills would establish voluntary programs to encourage the private sector and the Energy Department to share research and cybersecurity implementation plans. The fourth bill requires the department to adopt pipeline and LNG export facility cybersecurity plans. 

“The four bipartisan cybersecurity bills before us today will enhance the Department of Energy’s efforts to strengthen the cybersecurity of our nation’s electricity grid and pipeline network,” said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., the top Democrat of the full committee. “It is critical that we ensure our nation’s energy infrastructure is sufficiently protected from cyber threats.”

The bipartisan vibe evaporated with the small-scale LNG export bill. That legislation would streamline the approval process for small-scale facilities that support exports to the Caribbean, Central America and South America, defined as those that ship no more than 140 million cubic feet per day. 

Republican backers argued the measure would ensure speedy gas exports to Western Hemisphere nations, which they said would provide a steady energy supply that would burn cleaner compared to other fossil fuel sources — a benefit to carbon reduction goals.

“This should not be a partisan issue . . .  neither side of the aisle can deny that American small-scale LNG exports provides geopolitical, economic and environmental benefits,” said bill sponsor Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio. 

Democrats complained that the bill’s requirements would essentially only apply to one facility owned by Houston-based Eagle LNG Partners Jacksonville LLC, according to the Congressional Research Service. That “sounds suspiciously like the kind of legislative earmark” Congress did away with, Pallone said. 

Democrats also said that by sidestepping some permits the bill would undermine environmental protections, more so than a separate Energy Department effort to hasten the pace of the permit reviews.

“In my opinion, that rule is already problematic, but this bill is even worse for the environment than the proposed rule,” Pallone said. 

Republicans promised to address Democrats’ concerns, but it remains to be seen how far that effort will extend.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that he would not be making floor time for legislation designed to shield Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III from firing.

McConnell’s determination that the action is not needed is apparently regardless of what happens in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“I don’t think he should fire Mueller, and I don’t think he’s going to,” the Kentucky Republican said. “So, this is a piece of legislation that’s not necessary in my judgement.”

“I’m the one who decides what we take to the floor. That’s my responsibility as the majority leader. We’ll not be having this on the floor of the Senate,” McConnell said during a Fox News interview.

Watch: The Status of Legislation to Protect Robert Mueller

The Judiciary Committee has a bipartisan bill on its agenda for Thursday’s markup, which may be held over for a week before consideration. Republicans and Democrats alike have expressed concern that President Donald Trump may seek to fire Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

The measure being considered by the Senate committee is a hybrid of combines two separate proposals, each backed by Republicans and Democrats.

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