Outlook: Kavanaugh Fight Roils the Hill

The House is out until after the midterms.

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
Sept. 30, 2018, 8 p.m.

The nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to replace conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court has been put on hold until the FBI conducts a background check on claims of sexual misconduct more than 30 years ago while he was a student in high school and college.

Sen. Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, backed up by swing-vote senators Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, led the charge to get the Trump administration to instruct the FBI to question key witnesses such as Mark Judge, a high school friend of Kavanaugh's who Christine Blasey Ford alleges was in the room at the time the nominee sexually assaulted her. The background check is expected to last no longer than a week.

Kavanaugh has denied the allegations, saying that no witness has corroborated the stories of the women who have alleged his sexual misconduct.

Flake said Friday that he would support Kavanaugh, and voted along with 10 other Republican senators to advance Kavanaugh's nomination out of the Judiciary Committee. All 10 Democrats voted in opposition. But before he went to the committee room, he was confronted in an elevator on camera by two women claiming they were sexual-assault victims, who said the senator was telling women that they don't matter.

On 60 Minutes, Flake explained why he wanted the FBI to conduct the check, as Democrats had been pushing without success for it to do. “What I was seeing, experiencing, in an elevator and watching it in committee and just thinking, this is tearing the country apart," he said.

Meanwhile, the Senate will vote Monday evening on the FAA reauthorization bill.

Here’s what else is on tap this week:

DEFENSE AND FOREIGN POLICY

Trump signed the Defense-HHS-Labor appropriations minibus Friday, marking the first time in a decade that the defense-spending bill was on time.

This week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee gathers Tuesday for a hearing on Russia’s role in Syria and the broader Middle East. The Trump administration's Special Representative for Syria Engagement Ambassador James Jeffrey and Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Robert Karem will testify before the full committee in an open session. They’ll also be joined by USAID acting deputy assistant administrator for the Middle East Jeanne Pryor for a closed session immediately following the morning hearing.

On Thursday, the committee will consider the nomination of Eric George Nelson to be ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

And in New York, the United Nations General Assembly continues through Oct. 5.

ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is moving ahead with a high-profile markup Tuesday, just two days after the expiration of the bipartisan-supported Land and Water Conservation Fund. The committee said it will announce the legislation that will be included Monday, but LWCF reauthorization is almost guaranteed to be part of it. Another likely candidate is a bill to divert excess energy revenue to chip away at the National Park Service's maintenance backlog, which now hovers around $12 billion.

Key lawmakers in both chambers of Congress are aiming to cobble together a lands package that would feature the reauthorization of the LWCF program, which helps federal authorities acquire land for parks and provides state grants for conservation projects. But with the House gone until the midterms, no action is expected on that front for weeks.

Meanwhile, the LWCF program is acting as a sticking point on another bill with broad bipartisan support. Sen. Richard Burr has vowed to prevent expedited measures for the America's Water Infrastructure Act, legislation to designate water projects like dams throughout the country. Negotiations could take place on that bill this week. The House passed the legislation in September.

HEALTH

The confirmation vote of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to serve on the Supreme Court is likely to not only bring up issues around his alleged sexual assault, but also concerns about the future of Roe v. Wade and the Affordable Care Act.

Leslie Dach, chairwoman of left-leaning Protect Our Care, said last week that Kavanaugh “is unfit to serve on the Supreme Court, his nomination should be withdrawn and every senator must speak out and oppose his confirmation. Kavanaugh’s record, previous testimony on preexisting conditions and Roe v. Wade, and his repeated lack of truthfulness disqualify him from a seat on the Supreme Court.”

On Wednesday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee's Children and Families Subcommittee will have a hearing on expediting treatments for patients with rare diseases. The Senate Special Committee on Aging will also have a hearing on reducing health care costs.

TAXES AND TRADE

With all three “Tax Reform 2.0” bills passed, House tax writers are heading off to campaign for the midterms—buoyed, they hope, by their vote to make last year’s individual tax cuts permanent.

Some bills, however, don’t have much of a chance in the Senate, at least before the election, and there’s only a slim chance that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will bring them up in the lame-duck session. But that’s why the committee split the provisions into three bills, one focusing on retirement savings, another on promoting startup formation, and the third making the individual tax provisions in last year’s tax overhaul permanent.

“The Senate can pick them up separately as bipartisan support emerges,” Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady told reporters in a meeting following the House vote Friday.

Brady also said the committee will continue to push to overhaul the Internal Revenue Service. An administrative rework of the agency passed the House, but the Senate version has so far stalled. Brady also said his committee will take up work on another package of temporary tax breaks, collectively known as extenders, with a push to “drive out” provisions that “aren’t as good as the new code.”

“And for those where there’s a consensus they need to be made permanent, or a glide path to the free market, we’re having good, constructive discussions there,” Brady said.

Congressional tax-writing committees don’t have any tax-related hearings this week.

Sunday was the deadline for the Trump administration to submit language reworking the North American Free Trade Agreement in order to complete the process before December. The U.S. and Canada reached an agreement, alongside Mexico, right at the deadline late Sunday night. The pact's name will be the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

TECHNOLOGY

The Senate Judiciary Committee will meet Wednesday with the heads of the Justice Department's Antitrust Division and the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission for an oversight hearing on the enforcement of antitrust laws. Lawmakers are likely to ask Delrahim about his unsuccessful bid to challenge the merger between AT&T and Time Warner, which some have suspected was motivated by Trump’s animus against Time Warner subsidiary CNN. They’re also likely to press Delrahim on last week's meeting between Attorney General Jeff Sessions and several state attorneys general regarding alleged anti-conservative bias on major U.S. tech platforms, and whether Justice is seeking to wield antitrust law against those firms.

Meanwhile, Joseph Simons, the chairman of the FTC, will likely be asked his thoughts on the changing antitrust landscape—particularly when it comes to the growth of Amazon, Google, Facebook, and other large tech platforms. The hearing comes as Washington continues to wrestle with the impact of increasing corporate consolidation in both the tech and media spheres.

An infrastructure bill never materialized this Congress, but the Senate is still looking at ways to boost the spread of broadband infrastructure in underserved areas. The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation will meet Thursday to assess the progress of high-speed internet deployment in rural parts of the country. Industry representatives from three local internet companies, as well as a top executive form the U.S. Cellular Association, are all slated to attend.

WHITE HOUSE

For President Trump, official duties this week take a back seat to politics. For the first time as president, he will hold four of his large political rallies in a single week.

He’ll take his message to four states where Republicans are trying to hang on to either Senate seats or governorships—Tennessee on Monday, Mississippi on Tuesday, Minnesota on Thursday, and Kansas on Saturday.

Before leaving town on Monday, he will present the Medal of Honor to a former Green Beret medic for his heroism in Afghanistan in 2008. Ronald J. Shurer II will be honored for braving sniper fire, grenade attack, and machine-gun fire to scale a mountain and rescue other soldiers. On Tuesday, Trump will address the Electrical Contractors Association convention in Philadelphia before going to Mississippi.

On Thursday, he will also attend a Republican fundraiser in Minnesota.

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