Outlook: Confirming Trump’s Picks and Reversing Obama’s Rules

Rex Tillerson and Trump’s Supreme Court will be the talk of the Senate, while the House takes on energy and environment regulations.

Sens. John McCain and Marco Rubio
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
Jan. 29, 2017, 8:01 p.m.

With congressional Democrats and Republicans back in Washington after their retreats and a controversial White House executive order on refugees, the spotlight returns to the fate of President Trump’s Cabinet nominees on Capitol Hill and his much-anticipated pick to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court.

Despite a rocky confirmation process, former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson is on track to become the next secretary of State this week—albeit by a thin of margin—after garnering support from three hawkish Republicans in the Senate. Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Marco Rubio initially expressed concerns over Trump’s pick to be the top U.S. diplomat, but all three announced over the past week that they would vote for Tillerson.

Rubio’s stamp of approval was particularly important, as Tillerson was able to move to the Senate floor with the backing of a majority of the Foreign Relations Committee. Still, the panel’s party-line vote on Tillerson was the first for a secretary of State nominee in at least four decades, according to the Associated Press.

Tillerson isn’t expected to receive much Democratic support during the full Senate vote, either. So far, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who faces a tough reelection battle in 2018, is the only Democrat to align with Tillerson. But that likely won’t matter, as it doesn’t appear as though any Republicans will defect. The cloture vote for Tillerson is scheduled for Monday evening, and will be followed by up to 30 hours of debate.

Meanwhile, perhaps Trump’s least controversial Cabinet selection, Elaine Chao for Transportation secretary, is also set to receive a vote this week. After a congenial hearing earlier this month, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee voted unanimously to approve Chao, a former Labor secretary and the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, last week. The full Senate is expected to vote on her nomination Tuesday afternoon.

As for the Supreme Court, Trump has indicated he will announce his choice this week to replace the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. He has reportedly narrowed the field down to a small handful of potential nominees. It will soon be up to Senate Democrats to decide whether to filibuster his final pick, and if they do, McConnell will have to decide whether to alter Senate rules by removing that option.

The House, meanwhile, will continue the process of rolling back some of the Obama administration’s regulations, working to repeal certain energy-related rules enacted over the past 60 legislative days using the Congressional Review Act.

Here’s what else is on tap:

DEFENSE AND FOREIGN POLICY

Nearly all Democrats and some Republicans expressed anger or opposition over the weekend in the wake of Trump’s executive order temporarily halting immigration from several Middle Eastern countries. The issue is already being litigated in several courtrooms, and it is not yet clear whether any congressional committees will also decide to weigh in with hearings.

Trump’s pick to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, David Shulkin, is set to appear before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Wednesday afternoon. For its part, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee will have its first meeting of the 115th Congress the day before.

There are a few hearings to keep an eye on as well this week. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to hold one Tuesday morning on “confronting the North Korea threat.” Meanwhile, the House Armed Services Committee has two hearings on the agenda: one Wednesday on “national security threats and challenges,” and another Thursday to consider its oversight plan. Former CIA Director David Petraeus is slated to testify at Wednesday’s hearing.

ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT

The House gets the ball rolling on its bid to get rid of Obama-era regulations with three planned votes under the CRA. The votes will target the Interior Department’s stream-protection rule, which limits mining pollution on waterways, and limits on methane emissions from natural-gas infrastructure. The third resolution would overturn a Securities and Exchange Commission rule requiring publicly traded energy companies to disclose foreign payments. The Senate is likely to take up all of the resolutions, but no schedule has been laid out.

President Trump’s major energy-related Cabinet nominees will face committee votes this week, setting up a showdown over the administration’s environment plans. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will meet Wednesday to vote on Environmental Protection Agency nominee Scott Pruitt, who is likely to face opposition from committee Democrats who say they are unsatisfied with his answers to written questions and his plans for the agency. Interior secretary nominee Ryan Zinke and Energy secretary nominee Rick Perry will likely face easier votes at a Tuesday vote in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

HEALTH CARE

Fresh from the GOP retreat where Obamacare was top of mind, lawmakers are hitting the ground running by holding several hearings this week that focus on the individual insurance market and Medicaid.

Starting Tuesday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s oversight and investigations subcommittee is holding a hearing on existing problems in Medicaid and ways to strengthen the program. The hearing will include witnesses from the Department of Health and Human Services and the Government Accountability Office. Also that morning the Senate Finance Committee will mark up the nomination of Rep. Tom Price to serve as Department of Health and Human Services Secretary. The committee had held a contentious hearing last week where Democrats pressed him on his plans for the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid.

Later that day, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s health care subcommittee is holding a hearing on fraud and waste under the Affordable Care Act.

On Wednesday, the Senate health committee will be holding a hearing on the “Obamacare Emergency” and will focus on stabilizing the individual health insurance market. Chairman Lamar Alexander has outlined this goal as part of his “rescue plan.”

At the same time, the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s health subcommittee will be discussing how to strengthen Medicaid and prioritize the most vulnerable. Lawmakers will examine three draft bills that aim to end “Medicaid benefits for lottery jackpot winners, closing a loophole that lets married couples shelter assets to qualify for Medicaid and helping states who are forced to provide temporary Medicaid coverage for individuals who are unlawfully present.”

The House Education and the Workforce Committee is holding a hearing focused on “Rescuing Americans” from Obamacare and advancing patient-centered solutions.

To wrap up the week, the E&C health subcommittee will hold a hearing Thursday to examine four bills that would loosen age-rating bands to bring younger and healthier patients into the insurance system; ensure patients with preexisting conditions are not denied coverage or care; require verification before a patient signs up for a plan outside of the standard open-enrollment period; and protect patients from premium increases if they maintain coverage.

WHITE HOUSE

The headline of Trump’s second week will come when he announces his choice to fill Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court. On Monday, he will have a breakfast focused on small businesses before signing some executive actions. On Thursday, he will attend the National Prayer Breakfast. On Friday, he plans to sign additional executive actions.

Jason Plautz, Erin Durkin and George E. Condon Jr. contributed to this article.
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