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Capitol Hill Update: March 16, 2020

03/16/2020

Schedule:

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

Senate:

The Senate was supposed to be in recess this week, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) canceled the recess for the chamber to work on the reauthorization of the expiring surveillance authorities and the COVID-19 response bill. The Senate will convene at 3:00 pm today.

On Thursday, Leader McConnell filed cloture on the USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act, H.R. 6172. The three surveillance authorities -- Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act and the “lone wolf” and “roving wiretaps” -- expired at midnight. FreedomWorks opposes the bill. As we explained in our key vote ahead of the vote in the House, the USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act “contains a lot of window dressing to conceal that it largely leaves untouched the legal authorities that have been abused to circumvent the Constitution and acquire the data of millions of innocent Americans without a warrant.” Two of the reforms in the bill -- the repeal of the call detail records program (CDR) program and the ban on using Section 215 to acquire records on cell tower and GSP location -- simply codify what has been established practice. The House passed the USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act last week by a vote of 278 to 136. The Senate will vote at 5:30 pm today on the cloture motion for the motion to proceed to consideration of the USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act.

The House was supposed to consider the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, H.R. 6201, on Thursday, but the bill was pulled because of opposition from the White House and congressional Republicans. The House came into session briefly on Friday morning, but members stuck around while Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin came to an agreement on the details of the bill. As negotiated, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act includes several “temporary” measures, such as increased funds for nutrition programs for those who may be impacted by the COVID-19-caused disruptions, “free” COVID-19 testing, and 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave. A full summary of the bill is available here. The House didn’t come back into session to consider the Families First Coronavirus Response Act until after midnight on Saturday morning. The bill passed by a vote of 363 to 40. Most members who voted against the bill because of the process behind it, which was truly awful.

The Senate is expected to consider the Families First Coronavirus Response Act at some point this week. If Leader McConnell’s strategy for the USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act doesn’t go as he planned, he can seek unanimous consent to switch to begin the process for the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. We’ve heard that some technical changes will be made to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act in the Senate, which means it’ll have to go back to the House, where leadership is expected to try to voice vote it through.

The only committee hearing currently scheduled is in the Senate Health, Education, and Labor, and Pensions Committee on Wednesday at 10:00 am (the notice says 10:00 pm, but we’re assuming this is a typo). The hearing will be the second one covering the United States’ response to COVID-19.

House:

The House is scheduled to return on Monday, March 23.