Road Ahead: All Eyes on Brett Kavanaugh and the Senate Judiciary Committee

Senate starting with passage of anti-opioid legislation in another short week

Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, speaks with ranking member Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., before the start of a hearing in June. He doubts she leaked a letter from Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh's accuser. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, speaks with ranking member Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., before the start of a hearing in June. He doubts she leaked a letter from Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh's accuser. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted September 17, 2018 at 10:34am

A scheduled Thursday afternoon Judiciary Committee vote on Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination was always going to be the most significant event on the schedule.

But the decision by Christine Blasey Ford to come forward publicly with an allegation of attempted sexual assault by Kavanaugh while in high school in Montgomery County, Maryland, has put what could have been a fairly perfunctory (though partisan) proceeding in the spotlight.

Attorney Debra Katz said Monday that Ford would testify in a public hearing of the Judiciary Committee.

Some senators, including Republicans, have suggested that the vote might need to be delayed until there is an opportunity to hear from Ford and review the allegations.

It’s not clear whether senators not serving on the Judiciary panel will even be on Capitol Hill by the time that vote is scheduled to happen at 1:45 p.m., on Thursday. Because of Yom Kippur, the Senate will not be in session on Wednesday.

Nonetheless, the Senate’s week will get off to a quick start with passage of a pair of health-related bills, including a big batch of measures designed to combat the opioid crisis.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose home state of Kentucky has been among those most affected by the epidemic, prioritized the legislation, which was negotiated by the leaders of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

“This is a package of more than 70 proposals from nearly three-quarters of the Senate — 72 members — that includes the work of five Senate committees — the health committee that I chair, and the finance, judiciary, commerce, and banking committees,” Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said in a Thursday floor speech. “Since last October, the Senate health committee has held seven hearings on the opioid crisis.”

The other legislation on Monday’s floor agenda comes from Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins. The bill would restrict what are known as “gag clauses” in contracts that can prevent pharmacists from telling patients when it’s cheaper to buy a prescription drug without using their insurance.

Before passage, there’s a vote lined up that would restrict the prohibition on so-called “gag clauses” to self-insured plans, which are largely regulated at the federal level.

The Senate will vote on Lee’s amendment Monday evening, ahead of the vote on passage of the Collins-led legislation.

There is also a new conference report that could be ready for Senate floor consideration as early as this week. Conferees agreed last week on a fiscal 2019 spending package covering the Departments of Departments of Defense, Labor, Health and Human Services and Education.

The appropriations conference report also provides for a continuing resolution for the accounts not otherwise funded ahead of the end of the current fiscal year at the end of the month. The CR would run through Dec. 7, allowing lawmakers breathing space into the post-election lame duck session. As designed, that would come without a battle royale between President Donald Trump and Capitol Hill over spending billions of dollars on a wall at the U.S. border with Mexico.

Once again, the Senate is the only game in town on Capitol Hill. House members get a week on the campaign trail. And even in the Senate, the committee schedule is not particularly heavy.

Aside from the Kavanaugh markup Thursday, the highlight of the week might be a Tuesday Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing where senators will review the decision to reinterpret the Flores Settlement.

The witness list includes officials from the Justice Department, as well as both Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection.

Watch: Booker, Grassley, Cornyn Battle Over Release of Bush-Era Kavanaugh Emails

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Lauren Clason contributed to this report.