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The House and Senate are in session this week.
The House returns tomorrow. Legislative business begins at 2:00 pm. Votes are postponed until 6:30 pm. There are 17 bills coming to the floor under the suspension of the rules.
The House Rules Committee will meet on Tuesday at 5:00 pm to consider the rule(s) for the Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal (FAIR) Act, H.R. 1432, and the short-term continuing resolution (CR), H.R. ____. (Sorry, folks, the bill number and text haven’t been posted.) The timing of the rule bills wasn’t clear this week, but we assume that they’ll be on the floor on Thursday and Friday. The FAIR Act would prohibit pre-dispute arbitration clauses in employment, consumer, and civil rights. Of course, labor union contracts get a carve-out in the bill. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), who was once worried about Guam cap-sizing, says that “[f]orced arbitration agreements undermine our indelible constitutional right to trial by jury, benefiting powerful businesses at the expense of American consumers and workers.” The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, however, argues that a recent study by the Institute for Legal Reform found that such arbitration clauses actually tend to be more successful for the employees and recovered more money.
Although the text of the bill hasn’t been posted as of this morning, we know the CR will run through Thursday, November 21, which is the last scheduled session day in the House before the Thanksgiving recess. We’ll have an update on what the Senate is doing on appropriations further down in the email. What you need to know right now, though, is that there is, at least for now, a difference of opinion between House Democrats and Senate Republicans on how to fund the government.
Last week, the House Judiciary Committee (HJC) adopted a resolution that lays out the committee’s rules in what Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) calls a formal impeachment investigation. I explained some of the problems with these rules here. In summary, the rules are a dramatic departure from past impeachment probes and clearly violate the rules of the House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) claimed to support what HJC was doing but refused to any more than one question about it. “Impeachment is a very divisive measure, but if we have to go there, we'll have to go there,” Speaker Pelosi told reporters during her weekly press conference on Thursday. “But we can't go there unless we have the facts. We will follow the facts.” HJC will hold a hearing on Tuesday at 1:00 pm, “Presidential Obstruction of Justice and Abuse of Power,” which is sure to be one of at least a few hearings that will be a precursor to any specific articles of impeachment that the committee may produce. The witness list for this hearing hasn’t yet been announced.
On Wednesday at 10:00 am, HJC will hold an oversight hearing on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). With the USA PATRIOT Act up for reauthorization, the hearing is incredibly important. There is some concern that the hearing could turn into a debate about spying on Carter Page, who worked on President Trump’s 2016 campaign, in light of Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s completed investigation on alleged FISA abuse by the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The report on this matter hasn’t been released, although it will be at some point. In April, the Wall Street Journal reported that the National Security Agency (NSA) shut down the CDR program and wouldn’t seek reauthorization.
In August, in one of his final acts, then-Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats asked Congress to permanent reauthorize the USA PATRIOT Act. FreedomWorks has made a list of specific asks for Congress to consider in any reauthorization legislation, including repealing the Call Detail Record (CDR) program under Section 215, codifying that surveillance under Section 215 can’t be approved on the basis of First Amendment activities, and speeding up the publication of FISA court and Office of Legal Counsel opinions. FreedomWorks Foundation and Demand Progress Education Fund released a new report, Section 215: A Brief History of Violations, which documents the history of surveillance and the many times the federal government has violated the law. That report and more can be found at Section215.org.
The committee schedule for the week is here.
The Senate returns today at 3:00 pm. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) filed cloture on five nominees on Thursday for consideration this week, each of whom are listed below. A vote on the cloture motion for John Rokolta to serve as the United States Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates will take place around 5:30 pm.
The Senate Appropriations Committee marked up the Defense ($694.8 billion, including overseas contingency operations) and Energy and Water ($48.87 billion) appropriations bills for FY 2020 last week. The committee didn’t mark up the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education and the State and Foreign Operations appropriations bills, as was scheduled. Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) cited “poison pill amendments” that “are expressly prohibited by the terms of the budget deal.” That markup hasn’t been rescheduled.
On Tuesday, the respective subcommittee will separately markup the Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development, Financial Services and General Government, and Agriculture appropriations bills for FY 2020. The full committee is scheduled to markup these three bills on Thursday at 10:30 am. The approaches taken by the House and Senate are, obviously, different. The Senate wants to get as much done on the appropriations front as possible before the September 30 deadline and use a temporary CR to fund what they don’t get done. The House wants a CR for all of the federal government through November 21. Which chamber’s strategy will win in the end is anyone’s guess.
The Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will hear testimony on Thursday at 9:00 am from the nominee for secretary of labor, Eugene Scalia, whose nomination was formally submitted to the Senate last week. Scalia served as the solicitor of labor from January 2002 to January 2003. He is currently a partner at Gibson, Dunn, and Crutcher and developed a reputation as being hostile to over-regulation. Scalia is the son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
The committee schedule for the week is here.