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The Senate is in session. The House is in recess.
The Senate returns today at 3:00 pm to resume consideration of the nomination of John Leonard Badalamenti to serve as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida. Cloture was successfully invoked on Badalamenti’s nomination on May 21. The Senate will proceed to a roll call vote on the confirmation around 5:30 pm today. There are four other nominees expected to see floor action this week.
The Senate will also consider the Great American Outdoors Act, S. 3422. Introduced by Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and co-sponsored by 58 senators, the Great American Outdoors Act would create the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund, which would be financed by revenues collected from the sale of oil, gas, coal, and other energy produced on federally owned land and waters to support deferred maintained projects in federal parks and other federally owned lands. The bill would also make the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) permanent, bringing it outside the annual congressional appropriations process. Critics rightly say that the bill would require the LWCF to purchase more land annually at a time when the federal government already owns roughly 28 percent of land in the country. The federal government owns a majority of land in a handful of states, including Nevada (80.1 percent), Utah (63.1 percent), and Idaho (61.9 percent).
As you know, Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) were able to get their amendment to expand the instances for which an amici curiae could be appointed to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) added to the Senate version of the bill by an overwhelming supermajority vote. Surveillance reformers worked hard to get the amendment offered by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.) to prohibit warrantless searches of internet browser and search histories included in the House when it considered the bill, after the amendment failed by one vote in the Senate. The amendment, however, was altered.
Although the version of the amendment sponsored by Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Warren Davidson (R-Ohio) won the support of Wyden, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) dropped a bomb when he said that the amendment wouldn’t stop bulk collection of IP addresses visiting a targeted website. Wyden dropped his support of Lofgren-Davidson and blasted Schiff. Progressives were unhappy with the underlying bill, as well as the amendment. It was clear Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) didn’t have the votes to pass the USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act, H.R. 6172, on Wednesday evening when the bill was supposed to be considered.
Pelosi couldn’t rely on Republicans to support the bill because President Donald Trump encouraged Republicans to vote against it. He later tweeted, “WARRANTLESS SURVEILLANCE OF AMERICANS IS WRONG!” and threatened to veto the bill if it was passed. The FBI warned that it would recommend a veto, but this was because, they claimed, the bill went too far in its reforms. On Thursday, Pelosi pulled the bill from consideration.
Although she pulled the USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act, Pelosi took another route to keep the bill alive. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) made a motion that the House go into conference with the Senate to resolve the differences between the bills. The motion passed and Nadler, Schiff, and Lofgren were named to the conference committee, as were the rankers from the Judiciary and Intelligence committees, Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). We do find this interesting. The two judiciary committees haven’t been in conference in 14 years, which, ironically, was over the reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act.
Certainly, some legislative items have been pre-conferenced in advance of floor time (e.g. the First Step Act), but there was distrust that came from the reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act back in 2006 and a provision inserted in the legislation related to U.S. attorneys. Given divergent opinions in this reauthorization, it could get interesting this time around. In any event, the Senate may take up the conference motion this week. The motion in the Senate is subject to a 60-vote threshold and can be amended to include instructions to the Senate conferees. It’s also possible that the Senate doesn’t take up the motion at all.
Senate committee schedule for the week: The full Senate committee schedule for the week is here.
Last week, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) released the updated calendar for the remainder of 2020. As the new calendar shows, the House isn’t expected to be back in session until Tuesday, June 30. The weekdays until then are designated as “Committee Work Day.” House Democrats are keeping the August recess. Based on the updated calendar, there are 13 legislative days until the August recess. There are another 16 legislative days between September 8 and October 2, after which members will be in recess to campaign for re-election. There are 13 legislative days scheduled after the election and the year of the year. The calendar is available here.
The full House committee schedule for the week can be found here. It’s possible that more committee hearings will be added.
We forgot to mention last week that there are two new members of the House, Reps. Mike Garcia (R-Calif.) and Tom Tiffany (R-Wis.). Both were sworn in on May 19. Garcia flipped a seat from Democratic to Republican in CA-25 while Tiffany maintained Republican control with his victory in WI-07. The current party divisions in the House are 233 Democrats, 197 Republicans, and one Libertarian. Currently, there are four vacancies in the House, CA-50, NY-27, NC-11, and TX-04. The latter two are the most recent vacancies and come due to the resignations of Mark Meadows, who is now the White House Chief of Staff, and John Ratcliffe, who is now the Director of National Intelligence.