Capitol Hill Update: January 8, 2018


The House and Senate are in session this week.


Welcome to the second session of the 115th Congress! The House calendar for 2018 is available here. The chamber will begin the year with 432 members. There are currently three vacancies, not including non-voting delegates. The vacant seats are the Arizona 8th, Michigan 13th, and Pennsylvania 18th. Additionally, Rep. Pat Tiberi, who represents the Ohio 12th, is expected to resign on January 15. Each of these seats will be filled by special election.

Separately, the House Budget Committee is currently without a chair. Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), who is running for governor of Tennessee, stepped down at the end of 2017. There are three names being mentioned to lead the committee — Reps. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), Rob Woodall (R-Ga.), and Steve Womack (R-Ark.).

None of the candidates have particularly good lifetime scores with FreedomWorks. Reps. Johnson and Womack have 58 percent and 56 percent lifetime scores, respectively. Rep. Woodall has the best lifetime score out of the three, at 78 percent. The House Republican Steering Committee will meet Tuesday to decide the next chair of the Budget Committee. Rep. Womack is thought to be the favorite.

The House is back this week after a two-week recess. This week and next will be incredibly busy in both chambers, with action likely on a government spending bill through September 30, reauthorization of the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act (FISA), and a potential deal on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

The first vote in the House is expected Monday evening. The vote will be a quorum call, which will establish the 100-member quorum requirement. There are 15 bills on the suspension calendar for Tuesday. As noted previously, bills on the suspension calendar generally aren’t controversial, requiring a two-thirds vote for passage or passage on a voice vote. On Wednesday, the House will consider S. 140. The bill will amend the White Mountain Apache Tribe (WMAT) Water Rights Quantification Act to allow WMAT settlement funds to be used for "the planning, design, and construction of the WMAT rural water system."

On Thursday, the House will take up the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act. The vehicle for the latest version of the bill is S. 139. Originally, S. 139 was the Rapid DNA Act, and it passed the Senate and was transmitted to the House. The Senate, however, passed the House version of the bill, which became law. The House Rules Committee will substitute the new text of the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act in S. 139 when it meets on Tuesday for consideration.

The latest version of the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act would reauthorize Title VII of FISA, including Section 702, for six years. The bill would allow the Federal Bureau of Investigation to conduct queries on U.S. persons, known as the "U.S. person query" or the "backdoor search," for domestic criminal investigations that have nothing to do with terrorism. It would also provide a path for the National Security Agency (NSA) to re-start "abouts" collection, which allowed the agency to obtain electronic communications that are simply about but not to or from a target.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) forced the end of "abouts" collection because the NSA failed to disclose rule violations for months. The FISC blasted the NSA for an "institutional lack of candor" in its failure to disclose the rule violations. The practice also wasn’t specifically authorized by the FISC, which led to Judge Rosemary Collyer to call the practice "a very serious Fourth Amendment issue."

The full committee schedule for the week can be found here.

Although nothing has been announced just yet, the House Rules Committee will announce hearings at some point in the next few weeks on bringing back earmarks. We had heard this would happen, but there wasn’t any timeline given. House Republicans came close to restoring earmarks at the end of 2016 until Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) killed the proposal. This time around, it appears that Speaker Ryan is directing the Rules Committee to examine the issue. Senate Republicans have their own earmark ban in place, although that could change should the House move forward with restoring earmarks.


The Senate began legislative business for 2018 last week. Two new senators — Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Doug Jones (D-Ala.) — were sworn into office on January 3. The Republican majority in the Senate now stands at 51. Democrats hold 49 seats, including two independents who caucus with them.

The Senate took only one vote last week, on the confirmation of John Rood to serve as the under-secretary of defense for policy. There were cloture motions filed on several court nominees, who will be considered this week, beginning Monday, with a vote on the nomination of William Campbell to serve as a judge on the U.S. District Court for Middle Tennesee. Additionally, dozens of nominees were returned to the White House because of the Senate’s failure to confirm them. These nominees will have to be resubmitted by the White House to be considered in 2018.

Like the House, the Senate will consider a government spending bill and a FISA reauthorization bill before or on January 18. There are other issues that may arise in the Senate, such as consideration of the Alexander-Murray ObamaCare bailout and DACA.

The full committee schedule for the week can be found here.