Outlook: Gorsuch, Health Bill Headline Huge Week for Trump

Two of the administration’s top priorities will face tests on the Hill.

President Trump shakes hands with Judge Neil Gorsuch on Jan. 31.
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
Daniel Newhauser and Alex Rogers
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Daniel Newhauser and Alex Rogers
March 19, 2017, 8:01 p.m.

It will be a high-stakes week for President Trump and Republicans on Capitol Hill, beginning with Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation hearing and ending with House Republican leaders’ biggest gamble yet, daring their reticent members to vote against their embattled bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.

GOP leaders were emboldened by a meeting last week between Trump and members of the Republican Study Committee, after which the members committed for the first time to voting for the bill and Trump committed to pushing it across the finish line.

Pressure from Trump will be key to delivering the final holdouts needed to pass the measure. Objections remain, however, among members of the House Freedom Caucus, moderates, and others with parochial concerns, so the vote will be a nail-biter.

All eyes will be on the Rules Committee early in the week to see whether leaders can craft policy fixes to address some members’ concerns about Medicaid block grants, work requirements, and premiums for low-income seniors without alienating other members. As the bill is currently written, at least three Republican senators—Rand Paul of Kentucky, Susan Collins of Maine, and Dean Heller of Nevada—would vote against it, enough to sink the bill. So more changes will be necessary even if the House passes it this week.

The Senate Judiciary Committee hearings for Gorsuch’s nomination, meanwhile, will begin Monday, more than a year after Antonin Scalia’s death left the Court with a vacant seat. Senators will deliver their opening statements the first day and will have the chance to question Gorsuch himself on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the committee will hear from legal experts about Gorsuch’s record and qualifications.

So far, Democrats haven’t mounted a particularly robust or enthusiastic case against Gorsuch, a judge on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals whose judicial philosophy is relatively similar to Scalia’s. They’ve signaled that their main line of attack this week will focus on how Gorsuch’s decisions have affected workers—questions he’ll likely be able to bat away pretty easily by saying judges have to focus on the law even if they personally don’t like the practical outcomes of their rulings.

Here’s what else is on tap:

DEFENSE AND FOREIGN POLICY

The House Intelligence Committee is scheduled to hold its much-anticipated open hearing Monday morning on Russian interference in the 2016 election. FBI Director James Comey and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers are set to testify.

Defense Secretary James Mattis will testify Wednesday at his first public hearing since joining Trump’s Cabinet before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on defense. Joint Chiefs Chairman Joseph Dunford is also slated to appear at the hearing, which will focus on the Pentagon’s budget.

Meanwhile, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley are set to testify at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on America’s role in the world. The panel will also meet Wednesday for a hearing on the evolution of hybrid warfare.

On Tuesday, the chairs and ranking members of the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs committees will host an event focused on Syria, while the Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on U.S. policy and strategy in Europe. The Armed Services panel will convene again Thursday for a hearing on the United States European Command.

ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT

The White House could release long-stewing executive orders to roll back President Obama’s climate agenda as early as this week. The action—expected for weeks—would undo major rules like the Environmental Protection Agency’s limits on greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants and the Interior Department’s moratorium against coal leasing on federal lands. Bloomberg reported last week that the orders could also restrict agencies from considering climate impacts in environmental reviews for major projects.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will vote on bipartisan legislation meant to increase the use of nuclear energy by enabling new reactor licensing, overhauling Nuclear Regulatory Commission budgeting programs, and setting up a regulatory framework to promote advanced reactors. The legislation, which has three Democrats among its eight original sponsors, is expected to clear the committee.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing Tuesday on improving infrastructure important to federal land and water resources.

HEALTH

The American Health Care Act will head to the House Rules Committee early this week, with a floor vote tentatively expected Thursday.

The vote will come after the White House backed two changes pushed by the Republican Study Committee: providing an option for a Medicaid block grant if a state wants it and optional work requirements for Medicaid. This will shift the legislation further to the right, but it’s unclear whether this will bring all conservatives on board.

While many eyes will be on Phase One of the GOP’s plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, the House Rules Committee will be moving forward with Phase Three Monday evening. The committee will consider the Competitive Health Insurance Reform Act, which eliminates antitrust protection for insurance providers, and the Small Business Health Fairness Act, which allows small businesses to pool together and purchase plans.

On Tuesday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing on Food and Drug Administration user-fee agreements. Witnesses include FDA drug-center director Janet Woodcock, biologics-center director Peter Marks, and medical-device-center director Jeffrey Shuren.

At the same time the House Appropriations labor and health subcommittee will have a budget hearing on the National Institutes of Health. Witnesses include several directors from NIH, including NIH Director Francis Collins.

The House Energy and Commerce oversight and investigations subcommittee will also be holding a hearing Tuesday on fentanyl. “While fentanyl is a tightly controlled prescription medicine used to treat extreme pain, it is also easy to illicitly manufacture and has been increasingly seen on the streets and the Internet,” a committee press release states.

On Wednesday, the Energy and Commerce health subcommittee will examine FDA’s prescription-drug user-fee program.

The House Oversight and Government Reform health subcommittee will have a hearing Wednesday examining the impact of voluntary restricted distribution systems in the pharmaceutical supply chain.

WHITE HOUSE

Trump will continue this week to lobby for the Republican plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act, both with the public during a rally in Louisville on Monday and with interest groups and Republican lawmakers during the week. That includes planned meetings with the vice president, the speaker of the House and Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price. He is also expected to meet with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for a report on his trip to Asia. The Congressional Black Caucus has also announced its executive committee will meet with the president on Thursday.

Jason Plautz, Adam Wollner, George E. Condon Jr., Erin Durkin and Sam Baker contributed to this article.
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