Road ahead: House tackles lynching and flavored tobacco, while Senate considers anti-abortion bills

Bill to designate lynching as a hate crime will be among the first House votes of the week on Wednesday

“This legislation is long overdue, but it is never too late to do the right thing,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said of a bill that would make lynching a federal hate crime.  (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
“This legislation is long overdue, but it is never too late to do the right thing,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said of a bill that would make lynching a federal hate crime. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted February 24, 2020 at 11:28am

The House will vote this week on measures to make lynching a federal hate crime and to ban the manufacturing and sale of flavored tobacco, while the Senate will take symbolic votes on two anti-abortion bills when it pauses from considering judicial and executive nominees.  

The Senate returned earlier than the House from the weeklong Presidents Day recess on Monday, with Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin delivering the annual reading of Washington’s Farewell Address ahead of a cloture vote on the nomination of Robert Anthony Molloy to be a judge for the District Court of the Virgin Islands. The Senate agreed to invoke cloture on the nomination on an 88-1 vote.

The House technically comes back Tuesday to consider several veterans-related bills under suspension of the rules, but most members won’t return until Wednesday since there are no roll call votes scheduled for Tuesday. The bill to designate lynching as a hate crime will be among the first votes of the week on Wednesday.

The Senate passed a similar anti-lynching bill by voice vote earlier this month, but the House version includes different findings and uses different language in adding lynching to the criminal code under hate crimes.  

“This legislation is long overdue, but it is never too late to do the right thing and address these gruesome, racially motivated acts of terror that have plagued our nation’s history,” House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said in a statement announcing the vote. “As we renew our commitment to confronting racism and hate during Black History Month, the House will take this historic step to demonstrate that commitment.”

The House will vote on the anti-lynching bill under suspension of the rules, which requires two-thirds support for passage. It will also consider several bills from the Natural Resources Committee under suspension.

The only measure the House is taking up this week under a rule, which requires a simple majority for passage, is the bill to ban flavored tobacco products.

While the bill mostly targets flavored e-cigarettes, it would also ban menthol cigarettes and cigar flavors. It provides an exception for flavors used in FDA-authorized products that could help cigarette smokers quit as long as they can prove they don’t encourage new users. 

The bill also limits e-cigarette advertising and imposes new fees on e-cigarette companies. 

Senate anti-abortion votes

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has orchestrated a pair of contentious and politically minded votes on anti-abortion legislation this week that are not expected to muster the necessary approval of 60 senators. One bill would ban late-term abortions except in cases of medical peril for the mother, while the other would penalize doctors who do not provide adequate care to babies who survive abortions.

The symbolic votes, expected to fail on the motion to proceed, come as the Conservative Political Action Conference holds its annual gathering in National Harbor starting Wednesday. Several Republican lawmakers are scheduled to appear for remarks, with President Donald Trump closing out the conference on Saturday.

Meanwhile, the Senate will forge ahead with judicial nominations, voting on the aforementioned Molloy nomination, as well as the nominations of Silvia Carreno-Coll to be a judge for the District of Puerto Rico and Travis Greaves to be a United States Tax Court judge.

Senators will also vote on Trump’s pick for deputy secretary of the Interior Department, Katharine MacGregor.

Barr to visit Hill

Some of the more exciting action in the Senate this week will take place off the floor, as Attorney General William Barr heads to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to lunch with Senate Republicans.

While Barr has been in the news lately for the Justice Department’s decisions surrounding Roger Stone’s sentencing and his frustrations with Trump tweeting about department business that should be independent of political pressure, the lunch is not expected to focus on those topics.

Barr’s visit has long been planned as part of the negotiations to reauthorize Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) surveillance authorities that are due to lapse on March 15, according to a source familiar with the planning.

For more than a year, Trump has railed against the secrecy surrounding the FISA court’s deliberations and for its 2016 decision to allow the FBI to monitor his former campaign aide Carter Page.

Earlier this month, Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham requested interviews with 17 DOJ and FBI officials involved in that episode as part of his sweeping — and rapidly accelerating — probe into alleged malfeasance and political bias in the FISA process. Among the requested witnesses are former FBI Director James Comey and ex-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Graham has said he expects the committee to begin deposing witnesses this week or in early March.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats will decamp to a secret location for their annual caucus retreat Wednesday evening and Thursday morning.

Budget hearings galore

Committees in both chambers will spend much of the week holding hearings on the Trump administration’s fiscal 2021 budget request.

The Senate will kick things off Tuesday, with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf appearing for separate hearings before the Appropriations subcommittees that oversee their agencies.

Azar and Wolf will testify before their House subcommittees Wednesday, as will two Justice Department officials. Azar will be back for a third day Thursday to testify before the House Ways and Means Committee.

Other budget hearings in the Senate on Tuesday include the Armed Services Committee examining the European Command and Transportation Command requests and the Energy and Natural Resources Committee considering the Forest Service proposal.

On Wednesday, Small Business Administrator Jovita Carranza will appear before the House Small Business Committee for the first time since she was sworn in last month. She will address the SBA budget request.

In non-budget news, the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs committees on Wednesday will combine forces to receive legislative proposals from various veterans service organizations. The House panel will also hold a hearing Thursday on the budget request from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The House Armed Services Committee will look at the defense budget request, with Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley testifying Wednesday and Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Space Command leaders testifying Thursday.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette and Customs and Border Protection acting Commissioner Mark A. Morgan will defend their budget requests before their various House Appropriations subcommittees on Thursday, as will officials from the Defense Department, Forest Service, Government Accountability Office and Library of Congress.

Former acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire had been scheduled to testify Thursday in a closed House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on worldwide threats. It was not immediately clear if Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany whom Trump named as the new acting DNI effective Thursday, would appear in his place.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee will discuss the Environmental Protection Agency’s request with Administrator Andrew Wheeler on Thursday.

The House Budget Committee will hold a members day hearing Thursday to gather input on budget priorities despite Chairman John Yarmuth having already decided not to do a budget resolution this year.

Niels Lesniewski and Lauren Clason contributed to this report.