Outlook: Pompeo on Track for Negative Committee Vote

Just how far Mike Pompeo's opponents will go to hold up his confirmation for secretary of State remains to be seen.

Secretary of State-designate Mike Pompeo listens during his confirmation hearing with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 12.
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
April 22, 2018, 8 p.m.

Mike Pompeo is poised to become the first secretary of State nominee in recorded history to receive an unfavorable committee vote. What's in question is whether that will be a slight bump or a major roadblock on his path to full Senate confirmation.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where Republicans hold a 11-10 advantage, is set to vote on Pompeo on Monday evening. Every Democrat on the panel and Republican Sen. Rand Paul has announced their opposition to the current CIA director's nomination, enough to result in an unfavorable report. There are no instances of that happening to a secretary of State nominee since 1925. Before that, all committee business was conducted in private.

The Foreign Relations panel can still advance Pompeo's nomination with a negative vote. However, Paul and the committee's Democrats could take the extra step of refusing to send Pompeo to the full Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could still try to bring the nomination to the floor, but Pompeo's opponents would have the opportunity to filibuster that attempt.

Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker acknowledged Thursday that Pompeo was likely headed toward an unfavorable panel recommendation, but didn't think the nominee would be blocked from advancing.

"At the end of the day, whether the committee gives a negative recommendation and you still get 50 votes on the floor, even if it takes 50 plus the vice president, you're still secretary of State and all of this dissipates," Corker said. "I don't think it matters."

If Pompeo makes it through the committee, there is a chance the Senate could vote on his nomination before the end of the week. Pompeo should have an easier time on the floor if he makes it there. One Democrat, Heidi Heitkamp, has already publicly stated that she will vote for him. And several of her fellow red-state colleagues who are facing reelection this fall and supported Pompeo's CIA nomination, including Joe Donnelly, Joe Manchin, and Claire McCaskill, are under pressure to do the same.

Outside of Paul, Jeff Flake is the only other potential wild card on the Republican side. Flake, who also sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, was still undecided on Pompeo.

The Senate will also continue to churn through judicial nominations as part of McConnell's strategy to leave a conservative imprint on the courts at a time when Republicans can't pass much more legislation with a slim Senate majority. On Monday evening, the Senate will hold a procedural vote on the nomination of Stuart Duncan to be U.S. Circuit Judge for the Fifth Circuit.

The House, meanwhile, will vote on a bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration through 2023, a measure that will incorporate a previously passed House bill that would mandate that the Federal Emergency Management Agency emphasize mitigation rather than recovery. The bipartisan bill is expected to have broad support, especially since Republicans dropped their plans to privatize air-traffic control.

With the U.S. engaged in bombings in Syria, the chamber will also vote on a bill looking ahead to the aftermath of that conflict. The bill would make reconstruction aid for Syrian-controlled areas conditional on the Syrian government's commitment to stop attacking its civilians, protecting human rights, and complying with international treaties.

Here’s what else is on tap this week:

DEFENSE AND FOREIGN POLICY

All of the House Armed Services panel's six subcommittees are set to mark up the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2019 Thursday. The full-committee markup is scheduled to take place after the recess on May 9. The Trump administration has requested a defense budget totaling $716 billion for the next fiscal year, the same amount outlined in the two-year spending bill that Congress passed last month.

The Senate Armed Services Committee is expected to begin marking up its version of the NDAA next month. In the meantime, the panel will hold posture hearings for the Air Force on Tuesday and the full Defense Department on Thursday.

Elsewhere, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will consider the following nominees on Tuesday: Adm. Harry Harris Jr. to be ambassador to Australia; Jonathan Cohen to be deputy representative of the U.S. to the U.N., and to be representative to the sessions of the General Assembly of the U.N.; and Jackie Wolcott to be representative of the U.S. to the Vienna office of the U.N. and to be representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Corker had originally hoped to hold a markup for the Authorization of Military Force proposal he introduced with Tim Kaine this week. But he said Thursday that the Foreign Relations panel's ranking Democrat, Bob Menendez, had asked for more time to review the legislation, which was released last week.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is also scheduled to have two closed briefings this week.

ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT

A nearly daylong fireworks show featuring embattled Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is set for Thursday in the House. Pruitt plans to testify in the morning before the House Energy and Commerce Committee and later in the day before an appropriations subpanel.

Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden says committee members, including traditional Republican allies of Pruitt, intend to press the EPA chief on his laundry list of alleged ethical violations, which include millions of dollars in taxpayer funds for an unprecedented security detail and an apparent sweetheart accommodation deal with a high-profile lobbyist couple in D.C.

The hearings are formally designed to allow Pruitt to sell the Trump administration's fiscal 2019 budget for the EPA. That proposal aims to slash agency funding by $2.5 billion, or roughly a quarter of the current budget. Funding for Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay restoration projects would suffer serious hits, while the document would boost funding for water-infrastructure initiatives.

The EPA also faces Wednesday and Friday deadlines to produce documents related to House Oversight and Government Reform Committee investigations into Pruitt’s spending and security detail.

Meanwhile, the House is set to take up the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill this week, which environmental groups are criticizing for its Endangered Species Act and other conservation language. The bill, according to those groups, would expand the Army Corps of Engineers’ authority to build flood-control projects that could harm species. Those groups also say the bill would allow the National Flood Insurance Program to move ahead with projects without interagency consultation over threats to species.

The Senate Energy and Commerce Committee will look into the fiscal 2019 Forest Service budget on Tuesday, and the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday on maritime-transportation and mammal-protection bills.

HEALTH

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer announced Friday—4/20—that he plans to introduce a bill to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level and remove the drug from the list of scheduled substances. The legislation would also establish a funding stream for female- and minority-owned marijuana businesses and would invest in research into the efficacy of medical marijuana.

In the meantime, members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will be considering legislation to tackle other health priorities Tuesday, including a measure brought forth by the committee’s leaders to combat the opioid crisis. Another measure sponsored by Johnny Isakson and Bob Casey aims to modernize the way that over-the-counter medications are regulated and brought to market in order to protect public health.

Senate appropriators who oversee the budget for the Food and Drug Administration will examine the proposed budget estimates and justifications for 2019 on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s disability-assistance and memorial-affairs subcommittee will hold a hearing to review the Veterans Affairs Department's life-insurance programs.

The House Ways and Means Committee’s trade subcommittee will also have a hearing on stopping the flow of synthetic opioids in the international mail system. Then on Thursday, the committee’s subcommittee on health will hold a hearing on innovation in health care.

TAXES

It’s only a couple hundred days until the November midterms, and the GOP is pushing hard to sell last year’s tax overhaul, their campaign cornerstone.

But they have some headwinds, as shown in a poll last week from The Wall Street Journal and NBC News. About 27 percent of respondents said the law was a good idea, while 36 percent said it was a bad idea.

That’s not where Republicans want to be as the midterms loom, so some lawmakers and administration officials are hitting the road. Ivanka Trump headed to Ohio on Friday to tout the tax overhaul. In tow were Sen. Rob Portman and Rep. Jim Renacci, who hopes to unseat Sen. Sherrod Brown in November. Ivanka Trump spoke Tuesday in New Hampshire with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Upcoming events boosting the tax bill include a Tuesday Senate Finance Committee hearing where business owners and academics will weigh in on the legislation.

Sens. Marco Rubio and Tim Scott spent the weekend in southern Florida to tout their tax-bill provision, which doubles the Child Tax Credit.

President Trump has made a few stops to sell the tax bill, but has often strayed off message to deliver impromptu speeches on immigration and trade. At an April 5 event in West Virginia, Trump ditched his prepared remarks on taxes, calling them “boring,” to instead rehash his claim that millions of undocumented immigrants voted in the 2016 election.

Instead, much of his tax messaging has been on Twitter, where Friday he said the tax bill was driving House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi “crazy,” and that Republicans were working to make them permanent.

Making the individual tax cuts permanent has been a goal of House taxwriters and Speaker Paul Ryan, but has received a cooler response in the Senate. A House vote may come in the summer, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will then have to decide whether to take it up in the Senate. Last week, McConnell hedged, saying, “we’ll take a look at it.”

Pelosi is set to hold a town-hall conversation Tuesday at Georgetown University to push the “Better Deal” economic plan, which proposes tax credits for employers who hire at high wages. Democrats, however, are divided on how to roll back the GOP tax overhaul.

TECHNOLOGY

Pro-Trump YouTube stars Diamond and Silk will testify before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday over their alleged censorship by YouTube, a subsidiary of Google. The two sisters—who also worked as paid consultants of the Trump campaign during the 2016 election—allege that YouTube displayed its bias against conservatives by limiting the reach of their videos and by labeling their videos as “unsafe” earlier this month. In his congressional testimony, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that label was a mistake made by the company’s content moderators.

Their testimony is part of a broader hearing on social-media censorship, and comes as Republican lawmakers express concerns that Facebook, Google, and Twitter work to downplay or silence conservative political opinions while elevating liberal ones. Officials from Facebook, Google, and Twitter have all been invited to testify, but are not yet slated to attend. Marsha Blackburn, the chairwoman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, will also address the issue, along with representatives from the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the News Media Alliance.

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection is set to meet Thursday to discuss potential reform of the review process conducted by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. The committee has scuttled several high-profile tech mergers in the past several years over concerns that foreign companies—principally Chinese or Chinese-linked firms—use mergers or stateside investments as a means to steal or spy on critical U.S. technology.

Legislation now percolating in both chambers would seek to broaden CFIUS’s reach even further to prevent foreign takeovers in the computer-chip sector and other sensitive areas. But some tech companies remain skeptical of the legislation, worrying it could cut into their ability to export goods and services abroad.

On Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs will hold a hearing on the Homeland Security Department's work to mitigate cybersecurity risk to both government systems and the private sector, as well as the department's ongoing efforts to secure states' election infrastructure ahead of the 2018 midterms. Lawmakers will hear from a representative from the Government Accountability Office as well as DHS.

The committee on Wednesday will consider the nomination of Christopher Krebs to head the DHS’s National Protection and Programs Directorate, the office in charge of overseeing the cybersecurity and physical security of America’s critical infrastructure. Krebs—who is already filling the job in an acting capacity—is widely respected in the cybersecurity community.

And one week after senators released a series of bills to combat the scourge of unwanted and misleading robocalls, the House is taking its own crack at the issue. The Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection is set to hold a hearing Friday on how to stop scams fueled by robocalls and caller ID spoofing. Lawmakers are set to hear from both consumer groups and developers designing new apps to block or screen unwanted calls. The hearing was originally scheduled for last Thursday.

WHITE HOUSE

President Trump’s week will be dominated by the visits of two key allied leaders, including the first State Dinner of his presidency. French President Emmanuel Macron arrives Monday and will travel to George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon for dinner with the Trumps. On Tuesday, the two leaders will hold talks and a joint press conference before Trump hosts the State Dinner in the evening. On Friday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives at the White House for a working visit without the diplomatic bells and whistles of Macron’s arrival.

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