Outlook: Kavanaugh Showdown

Congress is also working toward a Sept. 30 deadline to fund the federal government.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley speaks to reporters Wednesday.
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
Sept. 23, 2018, 8 p.m.

A hearing Thursday to deliberate Christine Blasey Ford's allegation that Judge Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her over three decades ago while they were teenagers in the Washington area will determine whether the Supreme Court nominee will be confirmed.

Kavanaugh has rejected Ford's charges, and will need to convince a handful of swing votes, including Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, that he's innocent. Since Republicans control a 51-49 majority, Kavanaugh can't afford to lose more than a single senator on the vote.

The weeklong negotiations between Republicans and Democrats to set up the hearing have been acrimonious, as they try to figure out the date, potential witnesses, order of testimony, and other factors. Last week, Sen. Dianne Feinstein said Republicans were "bullying a survivor of attempted rape in order to confirm a nominee" as they pushed for a hearing early in the week. The Republican staff on the Senate Judiciary Committee reiterated that they want to hear from Ford and said that they have been "extremely accommodating" to her requests.

A new allegation of sexual misconduct emerged Sunday night, as Deborah Ramirez, a Yale University classmate of Kavanaugh's, came forward. The New Yorker reported, "After six days of carefully assessing her memories and consulting with her attorney, Ramirez said that she felt confident enough of her recollections to say that she remembers Kavanaugh had exposed himself at a drunken dormitory party, thrust his penis in her face, and caused her to touch it without her consent as she pushed him away." The offices of at least two Senate Democrats have begun investigating the claim, according to the magazine. Kavanaugh denied the allegations, saying the event “did not happen” and calling the story “a smear, plain and simple.”

The House, meanwhile, will seek to finish up as much work as possible before the end of the fiscal year while punting other measures until after the midterm elections and setting up a busy lame-duck session. The chamber will vote on a House-Senate conference agreement on defense and health care spending, which will also include a continuing resolution pushing the deadline for most other government-spending bills until Dec. 7. Included in that measure is a short-term reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.

A short-term extension of the farm bill is also expected, as negotiators run short on time to iron out the policy differences between House and Senate versions of the bill. Additionally, Republicans will follow up their tax law by bringing to the floor a package of bills that would make the individual tax cuts permanent, loosen rules for contributions to individual retirement accounts, and allow some startup businesses to deduct more expenses.

Here’s what else is on tap this week:

DEFENSE AND FOREIGN POLICY

The House is expected to pass the Defense and Labor-Health and Human Services-Education appropriations minibus this week—if Trump signs it into law by the Sept. 30 funding deadline, it would be the first time in a decade that the defense-spending bill would be on time.

On Tuesday, the Senate Armed Services Committee meets for a hearing on the nominations of Army Gen. Robert B. Abrams to be commander of the United Nations Command, the Combined Forces Command, and the U.S. Forces in Korea; and Navy Vice Adm. Craig S. Faller to be commander of the U.S. Southern Command. The next day, the Subcommittees on Cybersecurity and Personnel will have an open hearing on the cyber operational readiness of the Defense Department.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has a busy week of business ahead. On Tuesday, members consider the nominations of Bonnie Glick to be deputy administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Michael Harvey for assistant USAID administrator for the Middle East, and Mark Montgomery as an assistant USAID administrator for democracy, conflict, and humanitarian assistance. The next day, the committee will consider a spate of bills and resolutions, and on Thursday, members will hold a hearing on several ambassador nominations.

Across the Hill, the House Armed Services Committee gathers Wednesday morning to assess the impact of national defense on the economy, diplomacy, and international order with outside experts. That afternoon, U.S. strategy in Syria will be the focus of a Subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations hearing featuring Robert Story Karem, assistant secretary of Defense for international security affairs, and Brigadier General Scott F. Benedict.

Thursday afternoon, the Subcommittee on Military Personnel will hear an update on review-board agencies, with representatives from the Army, Navy, and Air Force appearing. And Friday morning, the Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces will hear from the Navy and Air Force on contributing factors to C-130 mishaps and other intra-theater airlift challenges.

On Wednesday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a morning hearing on the genocide against the Burmese Rohingya with Voice of America’s Greta Van Susteren and Stephen Pomper of the International Crisis Group. In the afternoon, there are hearings on China’s repression and internment of Uyghurs and U.S. policy responses and on countering Iranian proxies in Iraq, both with outside experts.

The next day, the committee will markup several pieces of legislation, followed by afternoon hearings on China’s “war on Christianity and other religious faiths,” U.S. policy toward Syria, and ensuring that resources match objectives in Europe and Eurasia.

And in New York, the United Nations General Assembly is underway. The U.S. holds the chair of the Security Council, which rotates monthly, and Trump will not only deliver speeches at the event, but chair a Council meeting. The meeting of world leaders lasts through Oct. 5.

ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT

A Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee markup is likely Thursday on legislation to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund ahead of its Sept. 30 deadline, sources told National Journal. No announcement has come from the committee, but other bills, including an administration-backed measure to direct energy revenue toward the National Park Service maintenance backlog, are also expected.

Most observers anticipate that the LWCF, which provides federal and state funds for outdoor-recreation projects, will expire, sparking a scramble to reauthorize the program before the lapse takes a severe toll on projects currently in the pipeline.

In the House, an Energy and Commerce subcommittee will hold a hearing Thursday on potential authorization tweaks for the Energy Department’s newly minted Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response. Energy Secretary Rick Perry launched the office this year. Trump has now signed the minibus including the fiscal 2019 Energy appropriations bill, which secures additional funding for the office. Expect the hearing to shed light on cyberattacks that threaten the U.S. power grid.

The hearing is part of a series on broad updates to legislative directives for the department.

Key energy lawmakers and administration heavyweights will also give remarks Wednesday at the National Clean Energy Week symposium, an event sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute, American Wind Energy Association, and others in the field. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Acting Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, chairwoman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, are all slated to speak.

HEALTH

The Senate last week overwhelmingly cleared its package to tackle the opioid crisis in the U.S., and now must smooth some differences with the House bill. In the meantime, multiple reports have revealed that pharmaceutical lobbyists were pushing for a provision to be included in the final legislation that has nothing to do with the opioid epidemic.

The industry is targeting a provision included in a February spending bill that would make drug manufacturers take on more drug costs for seniors in the Medicare coverage gap, or “donut hole.” The industry is pushing for this to be rolled back, according to reports.

Meanwhile, members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will be looking at the costs of health care this week. On Tuesday, the Primary Health and Retirement Security Subcommittee looks at the experiences and costs of rural health care. Then on Thursday, the full committee will hold a hearing on reducing health care costs through private sector innovation.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s Intergovernmental Affairs and Healthcare, Benefits and Administrative Subcommittees will hold a hearing Wednesday on fraud in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

On Friday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Health Subcommittee reviews draft legislation that would create a grant to help improve reporting of maternal-health outcomes.

TAXES AND TRADE

Tax world is waiting for Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady’s Tax Reform 2.0 package to hit the House floor. There are no votes scheduled yet, but House GOP leaders likely want to get the measures passed before leaving for the midterm campaigns at the end of the month.

After that, no one is totally sure what will happen to the trio of bills, whose centerpiece is to make last year’s individual tax cuts permanent, along with new breaks for retirement plans and startups. It’s unclear when, or if, the Senate will take up the measure this session, and most analysts are leaning toward a prediction that they won’t. Brady himself said on CNBC last week that he doesn’t see the Senate taking up the bills until after the midterms.

But Brady will partly accomplish his mission even if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell doesn’t bring up the bills soon: House passage will be a strong talking point for members heading into the November midterms.

On trade, talks between the U.S. and Canada on rewriting the North American Free Trade Agreement are showing little sign of progress, with Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland returning to Canada on Thursday with no deal in hand. Talk in Washington trade-policy circles has shifted to whether Congress would accept a deal between only the U.S. and Mexico. So far, few predict that key lawmakers would go along with such an arrangement.

A deadline to report text of a renegotiated NAFTA—with Canada included—is due to Congress at the end of this month. The same blockages remain: protection on certain types of Canadian dairy products and the fate of a NAFTA dispute-settlement system. Canada is also seeking assurances that the U.S. would not impose the 25 percent auto tariffs that the Trump administration has threatened.

The Senate Finance Committee is set to meet Wednesday on the impact of tariffs on the U.S. auto industry.

It’s unclear when the two top negotiators, Freeland and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, will meet again, though they could reconnect sometime this week.

The trade conflict with China is also escalating. A 10 percent tariff on $200 billion in Chinese-made goods is set to go into effect Monday, and it will increase to 25 percent early next year. It will be difficult for the U.S. consumer to avoid this round of tariffs, which account for just under half of all Chinese imports to the United States. Walmart, the biggest U.S. retailer, warned earlier this month that it may raise its prices on a variety of household items like bicycles, backpacks, cribs, and some foods if the latest tariffs go into effect. The Trump administration needs progress on the China trade spat before the midterm elections or Democrats will likely wield any price increases as a powerful campaign talking point.

TECHNOLOGY

The long-awaited congressional push for federal data-privacy legislation kicks into high gear Wednesday. The Senate Commerce Committee is set to hold a hearing featuring testimony from a half-dozen tech-industry representatives, including officials from AT&T, Amazon, Twitter, Google, and Apple. Committee chairman John Thune hopes to use the meeting as a jumping-off point to craft data-privacy legislation, but some privacy groups are upset that the hearing won’t include testimony from consumer advocates. The committee is expected to hold more hearings on data privacy over the coming weeks and months.

The Federal Communications Commission meets Thursday for its monthly open meeting. In a bid to jump-start the deployment of 5G wireless infrastructure across the country, commissioners will vote on an order to streamline local permitting requirements and prevent municipalities from charging “exorbitant” fees for the deployment of 5G cell sites. The plan for federal preemption is bitterly opposed by many local governments, with some already threatening to sue the commission.

A conference bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration is expected to come up for a vote in both chambers next week, as lawmakers rush to pass funding for the agency ahead of the Sept. 30 deadline. The final legislation is likely to contain two surveillance provisions opposed by privacy and civil-liberties advocates. The Preventing Emerging Threats Act would dramatically expand federal law enforcement’s ability to target and surveil civilian drone systems, while the TSA Modernization Act would allow for the increased collection, storage and use of travelers’ biometric data at airports.

Both sides of Capitol Hill will set their sights on outer space this week. On Wednesday, the Senate Commerce Committee will hear from NASA Administrator James Bridenstine on the global space race and ideas to ensure the United States’ continued dominance. The House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Space will also meet with NASA officials on Wednesday, where they’ll discuss the agency’s plans for future space exploration.

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology plans to meet Thursday for a hearing on the state of the media marketplace. Several new and proposed mega-mergers between large telecommunications companies and content creators, such as the recent acquisition of Time Warner by AT&T, have spurred fears of overconcentration in the U.S. media market.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will mark up a slew of cybersecurity bills on Wednesday, including legislation to increase supply-chain security, safeguard federal systems, and bolster the government’s cybersecurity workforce.

WHITE HOUSE

For President Trump, this is United Nations week as he addresses the opening of the UN General Assembly and meets with other world leaders in New York. On Monday, he will speak on a “global call to action on the world drug problem” and attend a reception for other heads of state. On Tuesday, he will address the General Assembly and meet with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. On Wednesday, he will chair a Security Council session on counter-proliferation. Throughout his time in New York, he will hold one-on-one meetings with the heads of South Korea, Egypt, France, Israel, Japan and Great Britain.

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