Outlook: Picking Up the Pace on Confirmations

The Senate will push forward on Steven Mnuchin and David Shulkin, with more of President Trump’s Cabinet picks right behind.

Treasury Secretary-designate Steven Mnuchin
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Andrea Drusch
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Andrea Drusch
Feb. 12, 2017, 8:01 p.m.

The Senate is expected to spend the week confirming at least three more of President Trump’s nominees, including one of the Left’s biggest targets, Treasury pick Steven Mnuchin.

Mnuchin’s Monday evening vote comes after Republicans punted plans to hold the chamber in session over the weekend—when members’ travel plans could have complicated the whip count. The weekend break also allowed Democrats to recharge for one more ideological slog, before moving on to less-controversial nominees.

After Mnuchin, the Senate will move immediately to confirm Veterans Affairs nominee David Shulkin on Monday, followed by Small Business Administration nominee Linda McMahon on Tuesday. Shulkin received unanimous support from the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and only one Democrat, Sen. Cory Booker, voted against advancing McMahon from the Senate’s Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee.

Republicans could file cloture on more nominations Monday evening, but haven’t indicated the order for the remaining nominees. Still to come are two other nominees likely to see Democratic pushback: Environmental Protection Agency nominee Scott Pruitt and Housing and Urban Development nominee Ben Carson. Less likely to face headwinds are Interior nominee Ryan Zinke and Commerce nominee Wilbur Ross. Labor nominee Andrew Puzder is still awaiting a hearing with the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee that is scheduled to begin Thursday.

Mnuchin is likely to face the same treatment other controversial nominees received last week, when Democrats held the chamber in session for a grueling 57 hours. Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee boycotted hearings to try to keep Mnuchin and Health and Human Services nominee Tom Price from advancing. They then used almost all of their debate time on confirmation votes for Price, Betsy DeVos for Education secretary, and Jeff Sessions for attorney general, dragging the final vote until after 2 a.m. Friday.

Debate on Mnuchin can run up to seven hours Monday if Democrats use all of the time, which expires at a more reasonable 7 p.m. As with the debate over Price, which focused on the GOP’s plans to repeal Obamacare, Democrats will use the time to criticize the White House’s plans to unravel Dodd-Frank financial protections. An executive order from Trump earlier this month specifically called on the Treasury secretary to oversee those changes—potentially scrapping the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that Sen. Elizabeth Warren helped create.

Aside from the Cabinet, the Senate could also vote on whether to roll back more Obama-era regulations passed up from the House under the Congressional Review Act. One potential contender is a rule that forced the Social Security Administration to submit names of mentally impaired adults to a list that would prohibit them from buying guns.

The House, meanwhile, will wade back into the abortion fight this week, voting to allow states to cut federal family-planning funding to Planned Parenthood or other health clinics that provide abortions.

The measure would do away with an Obama administration rule, which went into effect last month, that barred states from withholding Title X funding from clinics because they provide abortions.

The vote is one of several this week that seek to roll back Obama-era regulations. The House will also vote to give states leeway to drug-test more people who receive unemployment benefits, allow Alaskan authorities to kill wolves and bears on public land, and make it harder for states to start savings plans for private-sector employees who do not have a 401(k).

Here’s what else is on tap:

DEFENSE AND FOREIGN POLICY

Defense Department officials Robert Work and James H. Baker are scheduled to testify Tuesday at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, which is closed to the public, about long-term defense challenges and strategies. On Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is set to hold a hearing on ending modern slavery.

On the House side, the Armed Services panel will have a hearing Tuesday on counterterrorism strategies. The Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee will meet Thursday to discuss the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Defense Secretary James Mattis recently ordered a review of the costs associated with the F-35 jet. The House Foreign Affairs Committee is also set to hold a hearing Thursday called “Iran on Notice,” an echo of comments made earlier this month by National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT

Congress will continue its rollback of President Obama’s environmental regulations through the Congressional Review Act, with the House set to bring up a Fish and Wildlife Service rule regarding wildlife management on refuge lands in Alaska. The Senate is also expected to vote on a House-passed measure rolling back Interior Department rules limiting methane waste from gas-drilling operations.

A long-simmering desire among Republicans to overhaul the Endangered Species Act is the subject of a Wednesday hearing in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Chairman John Barrasso has said he’d like to update and reform the law, which he’s said makes it too easy to block industry activity. Democrats and environmentalists have blocked previous efforts to roll back the ESA, but the effort has new life under the Trump administration and Republican-controlled Congress.

Expect the ghost of Solyndra to be invoked when the House Science Committee holds a hearing Wednesday on the Energy Department’s loan-guarantee program. The initiative—which caught flak from Republicans after the failure of the solar-power company despite its broader success—is potentially on the chopping block under Trump.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s environment subcommittee will examine opportunities to modernize or rewrite landmark environmental laws—including the Clean Air Act, Brownfields cleanup programs, and laws governing hazardous waste—at a Thursday hearing. The panel’s energy subcommittee also holds a hearing Wednesday on the electricity grid and distribution systems.

HEALTH

The White House now has its Health and Human Services secretary after Price was confirmed in the early morning hours Friday. With him in place, the Senate Finance Committee will be moving on to consider Seema Verma, President Trump’s pick to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

But first, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Monday will be marking up a resolution that disapproves the D.C. Council’s approval of a “Death with Dignity” bill.

The Research and Development Caucus on Tuesday will be holding a briefing on medical innovation with representatives from Celgene, the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, and Avalon Health Economics.

The Senate health appropriations subcommittee holds a hearing Wednesday on examining treatments and services for mental health care.

The House Judiciary Committee holds a hearing Thursday on GOP Rep. Paul Gosar’s bill that would restore the application of federal antitrust laws to the health insurance business. “Ending this special-interest exemption is an integral piece of any Obamacare-repeal effort and is the only reform that will actually rein in insurance company practices, increase competition, and lower prices for consumers,” Gosar said when the legislation was introduced.

The same day, the Senate Finance Committee will consider the nomination of Verma, who has experience redesigning Medicaid programs in several states, and was the architect of the Healthy Indiana Plan.

Additionally, Rep. Mark Meadows told reporters last week that Majority Whip Steve Scalise will be hosting briefings with members on health savings accounts and Medicaid reform.

WHITE HOUSE

President Trump welcomes two foreign leaders to the White House this week. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with him on Monday, with energy and a possible renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement on the agenda. On Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is here, seeking to thaw a relationship that became frosty in the final year of President Obama’s administration. On Thursday, he will take his first non-vacation trip away from Washington except for his visit to Delaware to witness the arrival of the coffin of a SEAL killed in an overseas mission. He will go to Vienna, Ohio, just north of Youngstown, to sign into law a bill reversing the Obama administration’s ban on dumping waste into streams near coal mines. In his speech, he is expected to cast the ban as a key part of what he has called Obama’s “war on coal.”

Daniel Newhauser, Adam Wollner, Jason Plautz, Erin Durkin, Alex Rogers and George E. Condon Jr. contributed to this article.
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