Road ahead: Stopgap spat and Supreme Court tension dominate week

House Democrats introduce their own continuing resolution amid dispute with GOP on farm funding

An American flag is flown at half-staff at the Supreme Court on Monday to mourn the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
An American flag is flown at half-staff at the Supreme Court on Monday to mourn the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Posted September 21, 2020 at 6:01pm

Debate about whether the Senate should take up President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee before the November election will suck up a lot of political oxygen, but the main agenda item for Congress this week remains funding the government.

Floor action on a stopgap funding measure is expected in both chambers this week, while Washington and the nation continue to mourn the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She will lie in repose at the Supreme Court on Wednesday and Thursday and lie in state in the Capitol on Friday.

A bipartisan effort to keep the government funded as the Sept. 30 fiscal year deadline approaches hit some snags over a disagreement on funding for farm payments. With the dispute unresolved, House Democrats introduced their own version of a continuing resolution Monday that they think can get bipartisan support. 

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“The continuing resolution introduced today will avert a catastrophic shutdown in the middle of the ongoing pandemic, wildfires and hurricanes, and keep government open until December 11, when we plan to have bipartisan legislation to fund the government for this fiscal year,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

The House CR would extend fiscal 2020 spending levels through Dec. 11, which is a date both parties had agreed to Friday. Most Democrats, concerned Trump could force a shutdown in December if he doesn’t win reelection, preferred a stopgap running into February.

The measure Democrats introduced Monday excludes a more than $20 billion replenishment of Commodity Credit Corporation funds for farm payments Republicans sought, as well as a $2.7 billion extension of the expiring Pandemic EBT program providing meals for children who would normally receive free or reduced-price lunches that Democrats wanted. Those provisions had been tentatively agreed to as part of a “deal in principle” on Friday, but some Democrats balked at what they viewed as insufficient food aid for low-income families compared to the generous funding for farmers and ranchers.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell signaled Monday on Twitter that Republicans would oppose Democrats’ CR, slamming it as a “rough draft” that “shamefully leaves out key relief and support that American farmers need.” 

“This is no time to add insult to injury and defund help for farmers and rural America,” the Kentucky Republican said.

Still, the House CR includes several provisions, such as extensions of expiring programs, that are likely to make it into any final stopgap. The measure extends surface transportation programs and the National Flood Insurance Program for a year, while reauthorizing various health care “extenders” through the length of the CR.  

Other floor action 

The House is scheduled to vote on a handful of other bills this week in addition to the CR and a lengthy list of suspension measures. Those measures include a package of energy bills that would invest in clean energy technologies and jobs.

Democrats have said the package is bipartisan, but it’s unclear if the vote will reflect that. Although the measure includes some bills that are the work product of both parties, Republicans have complained they were not consulted as Democrats put together the nearly 900-page package and made changes to some provisions. 

The House is also expected to take up two bills designated to further object to China’s detention of Uighur Muslims and forced labor practices in the Xinjiang region. One bill would prevent imports of any goods manufactured in whole or in part by forced labor of Uighur detainees, while the other would require U.S.-traded companies that do business in the region to disclose information about their supply chains that could reveal ties to forced labor practices.

The Senate, meanwhile, is continuing to spend most of its floor time on nominations. First up Monday was a procedural vote on Edward Hulvey Meyers’ nomination to serve a 15-year term as judge on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. 

McConnell has also teed up three nominees for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — Andrea R. Lucas, Jocelyn Samuels and Keith E. Sonderling — and two U.S. district court nominees — John Charles Hinderaker for the District of Arizona and Roderick C. Young for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Off the floor, senators will be focused on preparing for Trump’s upcoming announcement of a nominee to replace Ginsburg on the Supreme Court. Trump has said he will likely announce a nominee Friday or Saturday. 

McConnell pledged within hours of Ginsburg’s death that Trump’s nominee will receive a Senate vote, but he didn’t specify whether that would occur before or after the Nov. 3 election. He reiterated that in floor comments Monday, saying, “President Trump’s nominee for this vacancy will receive a vote on the floor of the Senate.”

The timing considerations, including how best to protect several GOP senators who are considered vulnerable for reelection, are likely to be discussed in closed-door GOP meetings this week.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer has warned against a rushed confirmation, saying if the GOP doesn’t wait until a new president is installed, “everything is on the table” should Democrats win the White House and the Senate. Some Senate Democrats want to end the legislative filibuster and pass legislation to expand the Supreme Court beyond nine justices. 

Committee highlights

Top health and financial leaders will be on Capitol Hill this week to testify about the pandemic response, while senators will also get to grill Trump’s pick to head the Homeland Security Department. 

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hear pandemic response updates Wednesday afternoon from Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will make two joint appearances this week as they provide pandemic response updates to the House Financial Services Committee on Tuesday and the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs panel Thursday. Powell will also testify Wednesday before the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.

The Senate has a couple of noteworthy confirmation hearings this week. The Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday will hear from Eric M. Ueland, a longtime GOP staffer who most recently served as the White House legislative affairs chief, on his nomination to be undersecretary of State for civilian security, democracy and human rights.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is slated to hear Wednesday from Homeland Security acting Secretary Chad Wolf on his nomination to lead the agency.

Wolf’s appearance comes after many Democratic senators signed on to a Friday letter calling on the DHS inspector general to investigate a “whistleblower complaint alleging forced hysterectomies at an ICE facility and conduct a nationwide review of reproductive health policies and practices at ICE facilities.”

The House has a packed schedule of committee hearings, including a Natural Resources session Friday on Puerto Rico’s options for nonterritory status. 

Jennifer Shutt and Paul M. Krawzak contributed to this report.