Senate – Last Saturday, President Trump announced the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has announced that Judge Barrett’s confirmation hearings will begin on October 12. Senate Republicans are aggressively pushing for a final Senate floor vote as soon as the week of October 26.
It remains to be seen what tactics Senate Democrats may employ to slow consideration both in committee and on the Senate floor. They could include, among other things, invoking the two-hour rule, motions to recess and adjourn, and objecting to lifting quorum calls. Except for Senate Judiciary Committee members, it is expected that most Senators will leave D.C. at the end of this week and not return until needed for the eventual floor votes on Barrett’s nomination.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) filed cloture and set up a final vote, which may take place as late as Wednesday, on the House-passed continuing resolution (CR). Funding for the government in the CR would run through December 11. President Trump is expected to sign the CR into law soon after Senate passage.
Election results in November will influence funding discussions before the next deadline. If Democrats take control of either the White House or Senate, expect another CR punting final decisions on federal spending levels into 2021. Should Republicans retain the White House or Senate, an omnibus or minibus legislation is likely on the table.
Senators will also continue to monitor ongoing discussions between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Should House Democrats elect to pass their new $2.2 trillion relief package at the end of the week (likely on a partisan basis), in good part because of the price tag, but also because it provides funds for, among other things, state and local governments—a red-line that Republicans to date have refused to cross. Thus we expect continued opposition from Senate Republicans to the House bill, as they stand united behind their $650 billion “skinny” COVID-19 relief bill. The debate over Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court will be a major focus of Senators leading up to the election which does not create a favorable political environment for large bipartisan agreements.
House – From a Republican perspective, there are two efforts currently underway in the House. Last evening, Speaker Pelosi laid out the framework of a new Democratic COVID-19 relief package. As stated above, this most recent legislation is expected to be partisan. Republicans will oppose the legislation, and it remains to be seen if there are 218 votes on the Democratic side of the aisle for the bill.
While this whip effort continues apace, there are simultaneous conversations between Speaker Pelosi and Secretary Mnuchin. We will know very soon if the effort to pass this most recent, partisan bill becomes the driving force of the week, or, conversely, if that effort slows and a bipartisan legislating process takes over the attention of the administration and House and Senate leaders.
White House – This week, much of the focus for the White House will be on the campaign trail. The first presidential debate is tonight at the Health Education Campus of Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio. Expect former Vice-President Biden to heavily emphasize the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and potential threats to the Affordable Care Act. For President Trump his focus could center on law and order, the Supreme Court, as well as health and economic recovery efforts. Neither candidate has a strong track record of staying on script which will make the debate tonight worth watching.
The Vice-Presidential debate will take place next week on October 7 at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.