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Road Ahead: Remembering McCain, and Confirming Trump Nominations

Senate hearing agenda relatively light for last week of August

Sen. James Lankford has authored a proposal that would change debate time for nominations. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Sen. James Lankford has authored a proposal that would change debate time for nominations. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

When senators left Washington last Thursday, they didn’t expect to be in mourning when they returned.

But the death of Sen. John McCain Saturday and the period of remembrance and celebration that will consume this week could have short-term repercussions for the rest of the agenda. Some senators may well make the trip to Arizona for a memorial service Thursday.

In any case, senators will likely be staying in Washington through the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, when Washington National Cathedral hosts a funeral service ahead of private events and the burial Sunday in Annapolis, Maryland.

The floor agenda features a long list of President Donald Trump’s nominations as they return to Washington for the last week of their ballyhooed August work period.

And the question will be whether lawmakers can reach a unanimous consent agreement that proved elusive last week on truncating the debate time or confirming some of the nominees without needing roll call votes.

That is, unless Republicans try to take another approach.

The Rules and Administration Committee has already reported out a resolution on a party-line basis that would change the rules by rolling back time for debate to two hours for district judges and eight hours for the vast majority of executive branch picks.

That resolution, offered by Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, has been seen since April as a potential fallback position if GOP frustrations with Democratic objections continue to grow. The question is if the situation boils over ahead of the Labor Day weekend.

The real jockeying appears likely to come over the dozen judicial nominations at the bottom of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s list of 17 nominees he wants confirmed and moved to cut off debate on last week. That batch is all district judges from states with at least one Republican senator.

Under the current rules and precedents, processing all 12 of those nominations could take weeks, with allowances for 30 hours of floor debate after invoking cloture on each one.

First up is Trump’s nomination of Lynn A. Johnson to be assistant secretary for Family Support at the Health and Human Services Department.

The highlight of the list might be the selection of Richard Clarida to be the vice chairman of the Federal Reserve. Clarida actually needs to be confirmed twice — to be a member of the board and to be vice chairman.

That means Clarida is second and third in line for floor debate.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, the Ohio Democrat who serves as the ranking member on the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, has criticized Clarida and fellow Fed nominee Michelle Bowman for having sent the committee nearly identical answers to questions.

“I asked each of the nominees their views on the causes of the financial crisis — a pretty fundamental question,” Brown said at a June markup, before quoting from their responses.

But of course, only simple majorities are required to break filibusters and confirm nominations, so Clarida should be confirmed by the end of the week in any scenario.

At the committee level, observers of the Senate race in Florida might want to keep an eye on a Tuesday afternoon subcommittee hearing of the Commerce Committee.

The Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard has scheduled a hearing on the effects of algal blooms on waterways. The algal bloom issues in South Florida have become a campaign issue between Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and his 2018 challenger, the Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

GOP Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida introduced legislation with Nelson on Thursday that would require the Interagency Task Force on Harmful Algal Blooms to take action surrounding blue-green algae and red tide issues in Florida, including in Lake Okeechobee.

“These toxic algae blooms are choking Florida’s waterways, crippling our economy and making people sick,” Nelson said in a statement. “We need all hands on deck to help, and this bill will provide scientists and researchers the resources they need to understand what’s causing these harmful algae blooms — and what needs to be done to stop them.”

Watch: McConnell, Schumer Disagree on Confirmations Rule Change

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