Capitol Hill Update: May 18, 2020


The Senate is in session this week. The House is in recess.


The Senate returns today at 3:00 pm to resume consideration of the nomination of Scott H. Rash to serve as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona. We do expect the Senate to vote on the cloture motion for the Rash nomination around 5:30 pm. In addition to the Rash nomination, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) filed cloture on four other nominees, each of whom are listed below.

  • James E. Trainor, III to serve as a member of the Federal Election Commission
  • Anna M. Manasco to serve as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama
  • John F. Heil, III to serve as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Northern, Eastern, and Western Districts of Oklahoma
  • John Leonard Badalamenti to serve as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

Last Wednesday and Thursday, the Senate vote on the expected three surveillance reform amendments, sponsored by Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.), and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), to the USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act, H.R. 6172. Although Republican leadership was actively whipping against all three amendments, Senator Lee’s amendment, which increased the presence of experts arguing on behalf of Americans targeted under FISA, passed by an overwhelming 77 to 19. Although the underlying bill is an unfortunate missed opportunity full of largely toothless reforms, adding the Lee amendment was a significant victory for our civil liberties and the Fourth Amendment.

The heartbreaker was the Daines-Wyden amendment, which got to 59 of the needed 60 votes but failed to pass because several senators who would have definitely provided the last needed “yea” vote hadn’t bothered to come to DC. This amendment would have prevented the government from accessing Americans’ sensitive internet search and browser histories without a probable cause warrant. An effort is now underway to convince the House to add this language into the FISA reauthorization bill and send it back to the Senate where it would certainly pass given a second chance.

The full Senate committee schedule for the week is here.


Before adjourning on Friday, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) announced that the House will return on May 27 and May 28. Hoyer said that he expects that the House will take up the USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act on May 27. Additional legislation related to COVID-19 are also expected to be on the floor, although Hoyer said that he hasn’t identified which bills will be considered. Other routine bills that could come up soon, although perhaps not in May, are the Water Resources Development (WRDA) bill and the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

More could be added, considering the House has adopted rules to allow for remote committee meetings, but as of this morning, there are only two committee hearings scheduled. The Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies will hold a hearing on the Department of Veterans Affairs’ response to COVID-19 on Tuesday at 12:00 pm. The Education and Labor Subcommittee on Workforce Protections will have a hearing on the federal government’s actions to protect workers from COVID-19 on Wednesday at 10:15 am. If other committee hearings are added, you’ll be able to find them here.