Outlook: With Health Care Off the Table, Gorsuch Leads the Agenda

The Senate had planned to tackle Obamacare repeal this week. Instead it will start moving on confirming President Trump’s Court pick.

Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch
AP Photo/Susan Walsh
March 26, 2017, 8:01 p.m.

With health care suddenly off the agenda, Senate Republicans will get moving on a new challenge this week: confirming President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.

The Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on Judge Neil Gorsuch next Monday, and GOP Leader Mitch McConnell has said he’ll do whatever is necessary to confirm him before the Senate’s April recess. While Democrats don’t have to votes to stop Gorsuch, they’ll use the coming week to strategize for a politically tricky confirmation process.

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced last Thursday that he planned to filibuster the nomination, daring Republicans to change Senate rules if they can’t get 60 votes. While that strategy matches demands from Democratic outside groups, other members last week were floating possible (though unlikely) negotiations to avoid a rules change that could hurt them in a future opening.

Republicans also hope to push through the last of Trump’s Cabinet nominees before leaving for recess. Agriculture nominee Sonny Perdue and Labor nominee Alexander Acosta both met with their respective committees last week, and the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee is expected to advance Acosta Thursday. No vote has been scheduled yet for Perdue with the Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee.

The Senate will vote Monday evening on cloture for the Montenegro treaty—more on that below—while the House will meet Monday at noon to consider a handful of disaster-preparedness bills.

Here’s what else is on tap.

DEFENSE AND FOREIGN POLICY

The Senate is set to hold a cloture vote Monday evening to ratify Montenegro as a member of NATO. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sent a letter to Senate leadership earlier this month urging approval of the country’s accession, which Russia opposes, Reuters reported. So far, Montenegro’s membership has been approved by 24 of the 28 necessary NATO allies. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has already voted in support of the move, though Sens. Rand Paul and Mike Lee have previously blocked a quicker vote in the full Senate. The upper chamber is expected to formally approve the treaty, which requires two-thirds support, later in the week.

The House Intelligence Committee had initially planned to hold a hearing Tuesday on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, featuring former CIA director John Brennan, former national intelligence director James Clapper, and former acting Attorney General Sally Yates as witnesses. But the panel’s chairman, Devin Nunes, told reporters Friday that he was postponing the session and instead inviting FBI Director James Comey and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers back for a closed hearing, a decision that ranking member Adam Schiff called an “attempt to choke off public info.” Comey and Rogers both testified at an open hearing last Monday. Nunes also announced that Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, has volunteered to testify before the committee, but it’s unclear when that will occur.

There are several hearings to keep an eye on this week as well. On Tuesday, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford will appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee for a closed briefing on the defense supplemental budget request. That same day, the House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on the president’s budget proposal. Meanwhile, the House Armed Services Committee is scheduled to have hearings on the military’s assessment of security challenges in Russia and Europe on Tuesday and the Middle East on Wednesday.

And on Thursday, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley are set to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for a hearing titled “The Road Ahead: U.S. Interests, Values, and the American People.”

ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT

Trump will sign an executive order Tuesday that would begin the process of undoing President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” The move has been widely expected and will surely spark a backlash from environmental groups.

House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith continues his campaign to challenge the scientific consensus on climate change with a Wednesday hearing featuring well-known climate skeptics Judith Curry, John Christy, and Roger Pielke Jr. Democrats invited climate scientist Michael Mann as their sole witness.

Ahead of potential tax-reform discussions, the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s energy subcommittee will examine existing energy-tax credits and the way the tax code has influenced development of the energy market. Much of the focus of Wednesday’s hearing will be on Department of Energy programs, which are likely to be the focus of fierce debate in the budget and tax-reform process.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hear from the U.S. Geological Service and executives from several industry groups as part of a hearing Tuesday on U.S. dependence on foreign sources of minerals.

Following a Senate hearing on Endangered Species Act reform, the House Natural Resources Committee will look into whether the act has impeded economic development at a hearing Tuesday. Republicans in both chambers have discussed overhauling the act, a long-held goal that has more potential under the Trump administration.

HEALTH

The House GOP leadership decided to walk away from its Obamacare-repeal-and-replace bill Friday, though there remain some lesser health-related issues on the agenda.

On Tuesday, the Energy and Commerce health subcommittee will be holding a hearing on the Food and Drug Administration’s medical-device user-fee program.

On Wednesday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will have a hearing on federally funded cancer research. The House Appropriations labor and health subcommittee will also be holding a hearing on the Health and Human Services Department budget.

The Senate Special Committee on Aging will hold a hearing Wednesday on preventing cognitive decline and assuring quality care for Americans living with Alzheimer’s. And the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee will be holding a hearing to review the defense health program and military medicine funding.

TRANSPORTATION

The Senate Commerce Committee meets Wednesday to consider Jeffrey Rosen’s nomination to be deputy Transportation secretary. Rosen served as general counsel at DOT for three years under George W. Bush before moving to the Office of Management and Budget in that administration. Most recently, Rosen worked as a senior partner at Kirkland & Ellis LLP.

The House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on digital commerce meets Tuesday to explore the future of autonomous vehicles.

WHITE HOUSE

In the wake of his big health care defeat, Trump plans a quiet week at the White House with no out-of-town trips on the schedule. In addition to signing the executive order Tuesday on climate policy, on Thursday he welcomes Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen to the Oval Office, and he is expected to meet on Friday with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Earlier in the week, he will meet with women’s and police groups.

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