Road ahead: CR decisions, judicial nominations and anti-discrimination legislation

With COVID-19 talks on ice, leaders focus on “clean” stopgap bill

Speaker Nancy Pelosi talks with members of the press Monday. She said last week that additional COVID-19 aid will not be attached to a continuing resolution. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Speaker Nancy Pelosi talks with members of the press Monday. She said last week that additional COVID-19 aid will not be attached to a continuing resolution. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Posted September 14, 2020 at 2:12pm

The House returns to Washington this week, joining the Senate for a September legislative sprint in which the only law enacted before the election might be a stopgap bill to fund the government.

Floor action on that is not expected until next week, however. This week, the Senate is back to considering judicial nominations, and the House is taking up a handful of bills designed to mitigate discrimination and inequalities in schools and the workplace.

[An issue senators can agree on is … judges?]

With bipartisan COVID-19 relief negotiations on ice, congressional leaders have turned their attention to crafting a continuing resolution to keep the government open before the new fiscal year starts Oct. 1. Leaders have yet to decide how long a stopgap measure should last and what so-called anomalies to allow on a bill they’re striving to keep “clean,” or free of partisan riders.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he favors a continuing resolution that punts the funding deadline into December, while Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer have yet to express Democrats’ preference for the CR’s expiration date.

Pelosi did, however, make clear last week that additional COVID-19 aid will not be attached to a CR.

“There are some what we call anomalies — some things have expired, this or that — that may or may not be continued but still are technically within the definition of clean, ‘clean’ meaning no additional things,” the California Democrat said. “COVID would not meet that definition. And those negotiations are separate from this.”

But discussions over how to break a monthslong stalemate over the amount of additional aid lawmakers are willing to provide have largely stopped, fueling speculation that there won’t be a deal before the November election.

The House passed a $3.4 trillion aid package in May, and Democrats have said they’d be willing to drop the price to $2.2 trillion by moving up expiration dates. White House negotiators have expressed openness to going as high as $1.5 trillion, but Senate Republicans don’t want to spend that much. The consensus position of the Senate GOP conference was the $300 billion (after offsets) measure it put on the floor last week, which was blocked by Democrats.

Pelosi has said Senate Republicans and the White House need to negotiate a unified position among themselves before bipartisan talks with Democrats can move forward. But even if the GOP settled on an amount between $300 billion and $1.5 trillion, it would still fall short of the $2.2 trillion Pelosi has said Democrats need to return to the table.

“I wish I could tell you we were going to get another package, but it doesn’t look that good right now,” McConnell said Friday at a constituent event in Kentucky.

Floor schedules

After the GOP’s “skinny” coronavirus relief bill did not advance last week, McConnell quickly filed cloture on eight judicial nominations. The procedural action tees up votes this week on U.S. district judge nominees for courts in California and Illinois.

The House, meanwhile, is taking up a handful of bills designed to reduce discrimination and inequalities.

First up on Tuesday is a measure from Rep. Marcia L. Fudge, D-Ohio, that would authorize grants for improving diversity and reducing racial or socioeconomic isolation in public schools and publicly funded early childhood education programs.

On Wednesday, the House will take up a bill from Education and Labor Chairman Robert C. Scott that would restore the ability of individuals alleging harm from discriminatory federal education policy to pursue civil action.

Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler has a bill on the floor Thursday that would provide workplace accommodations for workers whose ability to fulfill job functions are limited by pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition.

“All of these would further Democrats’ agenda of ensuring that American workers can succeed in our economy regardless of their race, sex, or background,” House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said in a “Dear Colleague” letter last month announcing the September floor schedule. “They are based on the premise that everyone ought to have a fair and equal chance to make it in America.”

As the House wraps up its week Thursday, the chamber will also vote on a resolution from Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., condemning anti-Asian bias and bigotry stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Committee action

The big committee hearing to watch this week will be the House Homeland Security session Thursday on domestic threats. The hearing comes on the heels of a whistleblower report released last week that alleged acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf asked a top intelligence officer at the department to stop providing intelligence reports on the threat of Russian interference in the 2020 elections partly because it would make President Donald Trump “look bad.”

House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson accused Wolf of reneging on a commitment to testify and issued a subpoena Friday to compel him to show up at Thursday’s hearing.

“From the coronavirus pandemic to the rise of right-wing extremism to ongoing election interference, there are urgent threats requiring our attention,” the Mississippi Democrat said in a statement. “Mr. Wolf’s refusal to testify — thereby evading congressional oversight at this critical time — is especially troubling given the serious matters facing the department and the nation. The committee has not only the authority, but also an obligation to execute its Constitutional oversight responsibilities regarding Mr. Wolf’s decisions and the department’s actions in securing the homeland.”

Homeland Security ranking member Mike D. Rogers said Thompson broke a commitment in unilaterally issuing a subpoena rather than bringing it before the committee. Wolf declining to testify at a hearing unrelated to his confirmation — Trump officially nominated him to head the department last week — is longstanding practice, the Alabama Republican argued.

 “Acting Secretary Wolf offered to appear before our committee in July and August on pressing matters, but Chairman Thompson never scheduled those hearings,” Rogers said in a statement. “We need to get our priorities straight. It’s of the utmost importance to hear from the department on the threats facing our nation.”

The Oversight and Reform panel has two subcommittee hearings this week on matters in the news: one Monday on Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s leadership and alleged conflicts of interest and one Tuesday on white supremacists infiltrating local police departments.

There are a few markups in the House this week as well. The Judiciary Committee will mark up 10 bills Tuesday, including a measure to prevent discrimination on the basis of hair texture.

On Wednesday, the Oversight panel is marking up 10 bills — including legislation to increase restrictions on the political activities of Postal Service leadership — and several post office naming measures. The Small Business Committee will also mark up a handful of bills that day covering a variety of assistance programs.

Committee highlights in the Senate include a Health, Education, Labor and Pensions panel hearing Tuesday on compensating college athletes, a Judiciary subcommittee hearing Tuesday on Google and competition in online advertising, and a Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee hearing Wednesday on the Department of Health and Human Services’ coronavirus response.

Jennifer Shutt contributed to this report.