Outlook: A Turning Point for the Supreme Court—and the Senate

By the end of the week, Neil Gorsuch will likely be on the high court and another piece of the Senate’s filibuster rules could be history.

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
April 2, 2017, 8:01 p.m.

The futures of both the Senate and the Supreme Court are in the balance this week as push finally comes to shove on Judge Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the high court.

Liberals are dug in against Gorsuch—or, more to the point, dug in against letting President Trump get an easy win on anything, especially something this important. But Republicans and conservative advocacy groups have vastly outspent and out-organized their progressive foes, putting moderate or vulnerable Democrats in an especially tough bind: Gorsuch is almost certainly going to be confirmed at the end of all this; the only question is whether the Senate’s minority party will ever again have any real leverage in the process.

Several Democrats haven’t yet announced their positions on Gorsuch, so a last-minute deal is still possible. But at the moment, the Senate looks to be headed toward a “nuclear” showdown, eliminating the 60-vote threshold for Supreme Court nominees.

The Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on Gorsuch’s nomination Monday. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could then set up a cloture vote as early as Tuesday. If it fails, the Senate would pause to execute the nuclear option, changing its rules on a party-line vote, then turn back to Gorsuch, who would likely be confirmed with a handful of Democratic votes. McConnell has vowed that this will all be done by Friday, when the Senate breaks for its Easter recess.

Although the House remains in a state of gridlock following the collapse of the Republican health care bill, it will take up a measure this week that deals with health insurance. The House will vote on a bill that seeks to keep the federal government from regulating stop-loss coverage for self-insured group health plans.

The House will also vote on two bipartisan financial measures. One is a bill to exempt certain venture-capital funds from Securities and Exchange Commission regulation. The other would try to incentivize private companies to give stock options to their employees by raising the cap on the amount of stock options the companies can offer without having to comply with certain SEC disclosure requirements.

Here’s what else is on tap.

DEFENSE AND FOREIGN POLICY

On Tuesday, there are three hearings worth keeping an eye on: the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the European Union as a partner against Russian aggression, the Senate Armed Services Committee on U.S. strategic command programs, and the House Armed Services Committee on defense reforms.

The House Armed Services panel will meet again Wednesday for a hearing on the consequences of a continuing resolution on the military. The Senate Appropriations subcommittee on defense will also hold a closed hearing that day on intelligence programs with CIA director Mike Pompeo and National Security Agency director Michael Rogers.

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing Thursday on the U.S. northern and southern commands.

ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT

The House will continue work on a reauthorization of a program to clean up contaminated former industrial sites, one of Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt’s stated priorities for the organization. A week after the House Transportation Committee held a hearing on the program, the House Energy and Commerce Committee holds a hearing on a discussion draft of reauthorization legislation Tuesday. The House Natural Resources Committee will also meet Wednesday to consider a bill from Kentucky’s Harold Rogers to redevelop communities affected by coal’s downturn.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee meets Tuesday to look at ongoing efforts to protect the U.S. electricity grid from cybersecurity threats. Among the witnesses will be Patricia Hoffman, the Energy Department’s acting assistant secretary in the office of electricity delivery and energy reliability.

The House Oversight Committee continues its investigation into the federal response to August’s deadly floods in Baton Rouge at a Wednesday hearing following up on an initial probe last fall. The committee’s investigation has focused on deployment of mobile housing units, including the death of an elderly man in an overheated housing unit.

HEALTH

Republicans are still feeling out a way forward on repealing Obamacare. In the meantime, this week, the Senate health committee will continue its work on the Food and Drug Administration’s user-fee agreements. The committee will have a hearing Tuesday that will include witnesses from the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, the Association for Accessible Medicines, the Advanced Medical Technology Association, and the Alliance for Aging Research.

Also Tuesday is a House Energy and Commerce oversight and investigations subcommittee meeting on cybersecurity in the health care sector and strengthening public-private partnerships.

On Wednesday is a House Appropriations labor and health subcommittee hearing on the federal response to the opioid-abuse crisis. The Senate health committee will be holding a hearing on the nomination of Scott Gottlieb to head the Food and Drug Administration. And on Friday, the Alliance for Health Reform will convene a summit on the future of health insurance.

TECHNOLOGY

The White House said last week that Trump supports the resolution passed by the House last Tuesday to rescind the Federal Communications Commission’s rules on broadband privacy. White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the president intends to sign the resolution, though he offered no specific timeline.

The Senate Commerce Committee meets Wednesday to mark up the MAIN STREET Cybersecurity Act, bipartisan legislation that would direct the National Institute of Standards and Technology to update voluntary cybersecurity standards for small and medium-sized businesses and direct additional cybersecurity resources to those businesses. The bill was introduced by Hawaii Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz just last week, and already has the support of both committee chairman John Thune and ranking member Bill Nelson. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has also thrown its weight behind the bill.

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology also convenes Wednesday for a hearing on facilitating the wireless economy. Under discussion is the Senate’s MOBILE NOW Act, legislation that would free up additional broadband spectrum and streamline the approval process for broadband deployment. E&C Chairman Greg Walden and subcommittee chairman Marsha Blackburn previously expressed their support for the Senate bill.

TRANSPORTATION

As discussions continue on a major infrastructure bill, the House Transportation Committee will hear from state and local witnesses on implementation of the 5-year highway bill passed by Congress in 2015. Expect Republicans to gather input on the effectiveness of project-approval streamlining measures in the bill, which could provide a model for delivering infrastructure projects faster.

The House Transportation Committee’s subcommittee on aviation meets Tuesday to discuss innovation in the national airspace as the committee prepares for a bill reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration ahead of a September deadline.

WHITE HOUSE

Trump faces a busy week dominated by foreign policy and including summit meetings with three key world leaders. On Monday, he will host Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi at the White House. On Wednesday, King Abdullah II of Jordan comes to the Oval Office. Both meetings will focus on ongoing problems in the Middle East and the next steps in the battle against Islamic State terrorists, as well as the continuing bloodshed in Syria. On Thursday, the focus shifts to another region of the world when the president welcomes Chinese President Xi Jinping to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. After a dinner Thursday night with Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan, the talks will continue Friday.

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