Capitol Hill Update: May 4, 2020


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


Although Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has come under criticism from Democrats for scheduling a session week, the Senate will convene at 3:00 pm to resume consideration of the nomination of Robert J. Feitel to serve as Inspector General of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. A confirmation vote is expected around 5:30 pm. The Attending Physician has issued a new set of social distancing guidelines. The Senate will also continue to stretch out the time for votes to limit the number of senators in the chamber at any given time.

After days of rumors that Senate leadership would neither confirm nor deny, a member of Majority Leader McConnell’s staff has finally confirmed to CNN that reauthorization of expired portions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) will be an early priority now that the Senate is coming back. Although McConnell is not abiding by the 77-day extension agreement that was agreed to in March (but which Pelosi specifically refused to pass in the House), he is presumably still honoring his agreement to allow votes on reform amendments led by Senators Lee, Paul, and Daines. McConnell also reserved the right to offer “side-by-side” amendments to each of these three. Historically, leadership amendments on surveillance reform have been designed to provide an alternative to strong reforms so that more hawkish senators can pretend to be for civil liberties protections while accomplishing nothing. The urgency to quickly reauthorize these expired surveillance authorities is curious since Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) made the alarming claim in March that the executive branch could conduct similar surveillance without legal authorization, based on a flawed interpretation of their authority under Executive Order 12333.

Some committees are meeting this week. The schedule can be found here and below.

  • Hearing on the Nomination of John L. Ratcliffe to be Director of National Intelligence (Intelligence, Tuesday at 9:30 am)
  • Nomination Hearing for the Honorable Brian D. Miller to be Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery, U.S. Department of the Treasury; and Mrs. Dana T. Wade to be Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, Tuesday at 2:30 pm)
  • Nomination Hearing (Judiciary, Wednesday at 10:00 am)
  • Roundtable – COVID-19: How New Information Should Drive Policy (Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Wednesday at 2:00 pm)
  • The State of the Aviation Industry: Examining the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic (Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Wednesday at 2:30 pm)
  • Department of Defense Spectrum Policy and the Impact of the Federal Communications Commission’s Ligado Decision on National Security (Armed Services, Wednesday at 3:00 pm)
  • Nomination Hearing for the Honorable Kenneth J. Braithwaite to be Secretary of the Navy; Honorable James H. Anderson to be Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy; and General Charles Q. Brown, Jr. for reappointment to the grade of General and to be Chief Of Staff, United States Air Force (Armed Services, Thursday at 9:30 am)
  • Shark Tank: New Tests for COVID-19 (Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, Thursday at 10:00 am)
  • Business Meeting for the Nomination of James E. Trainor to be a Member of the Federal Election Commission (Rules and Administration, Thursday at 10:30 am)


Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced early last week that the House would return today, but those plans were scrapped almost immediately. House Majority Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) reversed course after criticism from members, leaving only the Senate in session. It’s unclear when the House will return, but we hope to get some guidance this week.

In a post on Medium, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Rules Committee Ranking Members Tom Cole (R-Okla), and House Administration Ranking Member Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) offered their ideas on how to safely bring the House back to work. The plan, which stands in contrast to what House Democrats have proposed, has four basic principles: modify existing practices and structures to promote social distancing on the floor and in offices, a phased return of committees and “directing committees to focus on legislation that has bipartisan and bicameral appeal,” using technology in a smart and targeted way to conduct committee business (excluding hearings in which sensitive matters may be discussed), and emphasizing risk mitigation through protective gear like masks and gloves, as well as eventually including randomized testing.

The week of May 4 was supposed to be a district work period. Members weren’t supposed to be in Washington, DC. Excluding pro forma, the House has been in session only two days since March 23. There are 37 legislative days scheduled between May 11 and July 31. (There are recess weeks mixed in during these dates.) The House would then break for five weeks for the August recess. Between September 7 and October 2, there are 16 legislative days scheduled. That’s it until the election. So, to recap, there are 53 legislative days currently scheduled over the next six months, until the 2020 presidential election. This isn’t to say that members aren’t working during the pandemic. We know they are, but we also know that Congress has some deadlines coming up. Remember, the fiscal year ends on September 30. Appropriations bills still have to get done unless the plan is to get down to the wire again and pass a short-term continuing resolution (CR) to the lame-duck session after the election when Congress will consider another omnibus.