Outlook: Senate Judiciary Committee to Vote on Kavanaugh

The House is out, leaving it with only four legislative days at the end of this month.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (left), accompanied by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, speaks with Sen. Patrick Leahy during a Senate Judiciary Committee markup Sept. 13.
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
Sept. 16, 2018, 8 p.m.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will vote Thursday on President Trump's nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court. If confirmed, Kavanaugh, a 12-year judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, is expected to move the ideological center of the Court further to the right on hot-button issues such as abortion rights, affirmative action, death penalty, and environmental law.

Republicans have decided to press forward with Kavanaugh's nomination as reports emerged of an alleged assault more than 30 years ago when he was in high school. Christine Blasey Ford this weekend identified herself to The Washington Post after writing a letter detailing her accusations of Kavanaugh's sexual misconduct. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the committee, received the letter in July after Trump announced the nomination. But it was only last week when Feinstein referred the complaint to the FBI for investigation, as The Intercept reported on the existence of the letter. The New Yorker and CNN then reported on its contents.

Republicans have argued that Kavanaugh has undergone multiple extensive background checks and that no allegation has ever surfaced until now. The FBI is reportedly not pursuing an investigation but added the letter to its files. Kavanaugh denies the charges.

“I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation," said Kavanaugh in a statement. "I did not do this back in high school or at any time."

The Senate will return Monday to consider and vote on a bill to combat the opioid epidemic, as well as the Patient Right to Know Drug Prices Act.

Here’s what else is on tap this week:

DEFENSE AND FOREIGN POLICY

For the first time in a decade, Congress seems set to pass the defense-spending bill on time after conferees reached a deal last week. The compromise bill buys more ships and aircraft than the Pentagon requested, including three littoral combat ships and 93 F-35 joint strike fighters, and also boosts funding for weapon systems and munitions.

The package, which includes funding for the Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services Departments, is expected to pass both chambers before the start of the fiscal year Oct. 1.

On Tuesday, meanwhile, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee gathers in the morning to consider ambassador nominations, followed by a hearing on the status of U.S.-Russia arms-control efforts. Andrea Thompson, State’s undersecretary for arms control and international security, and David Trachtenberg, the Pentagon’s undersecretary of Defense for policy, will testify.

Also that afternoon, the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Cybersecurity will meet for a closed hearing on interagency coordination regarding the protection of critical infrastructure, with officials from the Pentagon and Homeland Security appearing before lawmakers.

ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT

The Senate is diving into foreign threats to U.S. critical infrastructure, such as the power grid. An Armed Services subcommittee is holding a closed hearing Tuesday on safeguards for that infrastructure.

A report authored by the FBI and Homeland Security in March concluded that state-sponsored Russian hackers infiltrated the U.S. grid repeatedly over the past two years. Utilities say the attacks didn’t affect actual control systems. Bruce Walker, a top Energy Department official on grid and cybersecurity policy, will testify, alongside colleagues from Defense and Homeland Security.

Meanwhile, a Commerce Committee subcommittee is holding a hearing on fishery policy. The hearing could shed light on possible Senate action to update the Magnuson–Stevens Act, the country’s legal framework for fish conservation. House Republicans muscled through a revision to the law in July. Major seafood producers back the bill, but fishery operators and conservationists have said the legislation would jeopardize progress in restoring fish populations.

HEALTH

The vote on the Senate’s opioid legislation is expected to be held early this week, per Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander. He said he hopes the Senate and the House will work through their different versions to reach an agreement by the end of next week.

There are key differences that lawmakers will have to smooth out before reaching that goal, however. This includes handling a provision in the House bill that would lift a prohibition on using federal Medicaid dollars for opioid- or cocaine-abuse treatments in institutions for mental diseases. Sen. Rob Portman is pursuing a more expanded version to include all substance-use disorders, but paying for such a proposal may be a challenge.

Meanwhile, the HELP committee will hold its fourth hearing on reducing health care costs Tuesday. This hearing will focus on finding ways to improve transparency around cost and quality of health care, and comes after Sens. Chuck Grassley and Bill Cassidy cried foul over a drug-price-transparency provision that was reportedly stripped from a spending bill. The measure would have required pharmaceutical companies to include prices in TV commercials.

“Let patients know the prices. Give patients the power. Patients deserve to know the price of medications advertised on TV,” said Cassidy in a statement. “The Senate passed this pro-transparency legislation, but now the D.C. swamp is quietly killing it and patients will lose again.”

TAXES AND TRADE

Kevin Brady’s Tax Reform 2.0 package is out of the Ways and Means Committee and on its way to the full House. The three-bill package would make permanent a host of individual tax breaks and includes provisions for retirement security and promoting startups.

It’s not clear when House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy will give the bills a vote, but it’s unlikely that the Senate will take up most of the legislation soon. Sen. John Thune, a member of leadership, said there’s probably no time before the midterms to deal with another tax package.

While it’s unlikely that the bill making the tax breaks permanent will go anywhere in the Senate, Brady appeared optimistic that the upper chamber may consider the other two. And in fact, the startup-promotion part of the tax package moved out of Ways and Means on a voice vote.

“We designed the three to go as a package so that the Senate could pick up the separate elements as they see support surface,” Brady told reporters Thursday.

Putting the best face on it, Brady said he anticipates “strong bipartisan support” for elements of the retirement portion and the startup package. “On the permanence issue, I think Leader McConnell has told me directly that when he see 60 votes available for that provision, that’s when he will make a decision on moving it,” he said.

That 60-vote support is not likely to materialize, though. Still, House Republicans can take their Tax Reform 2.0 vote back to their districts in October as they finish up their reelection campaigns.

The deadline for the U.S. and Canada to arrive at a deal reworking NAFTA is approaching quickly. The Trump administration must submit language of the deal to Congress by Sept. 30, even as talks between the two countries grind on. The U.S. is close to meeting that deadline with Mexico, but just barely. The U.S. announced an agreement with Mexico in August, but they’ve yet to draft legal language and iron out the fine details.

And in a move unlikely to calm the business community, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer was supposed to brief Brady and other lawmakers Friday on negotiations with Canada and other trade issues, but the meeting was postponed.

TECHNOLOGY

Brendan Carr and Jessica Rosenworcel, both commissioners at the Federal Communications Commission, are set to speak Thursday at a Politico Live event regarding the latest developments in the deployment of 5G wireless technology in the U.S. Carr has led efforts at the commission to streamline state and local permitting processes for next-generation wireless infrastructure, and a plan that Carr introduced Sept. 4 is expected to get a vote during the FCC’s open meeting later this month. Carr is also slated to speak on the issue during an American Enterprise Institute event Monday.

The Federal Trade Commission continues its examination of competition and consumer protection in the 21st century with a hearing scheduled for Friday. As the U.S. tech industry continues to face charges of over-concentration and misuse of corporate power, the daylong hearing will consider the state and evolution of U.S. antitrust law and whether that law should be applied to the largest tech firms.

Panelists include Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz and several current and former FTC commissioners. The hearing is the second of six FTC-led meetings on antitrust, with the last hearing scheduled for mid-November.

The Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Cybersecurity plans to hold a closed hearing Tuesday regarding interagency coordination in the protection of critical infrastructure. Representatives from the Pentagon, Homeland Security, and Energy are all slated to attend.

WHITE HOUSE

The centerpiece of President Trump’s week is likely to be something not yet on his schedule. That will be a visit to parts of the Carolinas damaged by the heavy rain and flooding of Hurricane Florence. The president has promised a trip once the recovery efforts will not be impeded by his presence.

His official schedule begins Monday with a celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month and a fundraising dinner for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. On Tuesday, he will meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda, who has been under fire for his authoritarian ways. Duda wants to talk to Trump about his fear of Russian military activity on his borders. On Thursday, Trump is expected to go to Las Vegas for one of his rallies and to support embattled Republican Sen. Dean Heller.

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