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Road Ahead: McConnell and Kavanaugh Set the Tone for the Week

Funding, authorization deadlines must work around Supreme Court chaos

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., exits the senators-only elevator as he arrives in the Capitol on Monday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., exits the senators-only elevator as he arrives in the Capitol on Monday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The dissonance in Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s speech opening the Senate floor Monday set the tone for the week on Capitol Hill.

On the one hand, Republicans and Democrats will be at each other’s throats over how they’re handling the growing number of sexual assault allegations directed at Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. On the other hand, they need to reach out for each other’s hands to ensure they get deals to fund the government past the end of the Sept. 30 fiscal year and meet other important deadlines. 

“Senate Democrats and their allies are trying to destroy a man’s personal and professional life on the basis of decades-old allegations that are unsubstantiated and uncorroborated. That is where we are. This is what the so-called ‘resistance’ has become,” McConnell said Monday. “A smear campaign, pure and simple. Aided and abetted by members of the United States Senate.”

Christine Blasey Ford, the college professor in California who made the first allegation against the nominee, is now committed to testifying on Thursday, in a hearing that will be must-see TV. Kavanaugh is also due to return to testify the same day, to respond to the allegations.

Watch: McConnell Says Senate Will Vote on Kavanaugh ‘in the Near Future’

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Ford’s representatives released a letter on Monday from Ford to Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley that referred to threats she and members of her family have faced since her identity became public.

“While I am frightened, please know, my fear will not hold me back from testifying and you will be provided with answers to all of your questions,” she wrote on Saturday. “I ask for fair and respectful treatment.”

McConnell on Monday dismissed a second allegation of sexual misconduct reported Sunday night by the New Yorker, calling it “another orchestrated, last-minute hit on the nominee.”

“And now they’re acting like it’s a legitimate reason to delay things even further,” he said of Senate Democrats.

Democratic Sen. Mazie K. Hirono, a member of the Judiciary panel, has been among the loudest critics of the Republican majority’s going forward with Kavanaugh’s confirmation process even as more sexual misconduct allegations surface.

“It’s not every nominee that’s been accused of attempted rape. I think we need to spend the time to make sure we have as much information as we can, and the fact that the Republicans are stonewalling just the most basic kind of investigations raises huge questions as to why. I think it’s because they’re afraid of what an investigation would reveal,” the Democrat from Hawaii said. “This is not a court of law, by the way. This is a job interview for a lifetime appointment. What person would hire somebody with this kind of cloud over their heads?”

Judiciary Committee members, in particular, will also be keeping at least one eye on the White House on Thursday, with President Donald Trump set to meet with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Monday morning saw wildly conflicting reports about whether the No. 2 man at the Justice Department would resign or be fired (or even if it had already happened).

Speaking in New York City, Trump didn’t rule out firing him.

“I’ll be back on Thursday,” he said while in town for a U.N. conference. “I spoke with Rod today, and we’ll see what happens.”

Watch: Double Drama — Kavanaugh, Rosenstein Await Trump’s Return from UN Conference

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On an entirely different front, there’s need for bipartisan cooperation since there are Sunday deadlines for keeping the government open and the Federal Aviation Administration in full operation. And McConnell wanted to talk about that too.

He highlighted the fact that the Senate voted last week to adopt a conference report on a package combining Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education funding with a Pentagon spending bill that also contains a stopgap continuing resolution to keep the lights on at departments and agencies past Sept. 30.

The House still needs to act to adopt the conference report to send it to Trump for what appropriators and leaders on both sides of the Rotunda hope will be his signature.

Last week, the president seemed to waffle, knocking the legislative package on Twitter soon after GOP members said he was on board.

Meanwhile, the House is expected to vote midweek to pass a bipartisan, bicameral agreement on the must-pass bill reauthorizing the FAA, which is also carrying an emergency supplemental for disaster relief after Hurricane Florence brought devastating flooding to the Carolinas.

The bill includes a number of provisions designed to improve the customer experience on commercial flights, which were highlighted by Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, the top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

“It directs the FAA to issue regulations creating minimum dimensions for passenger seats, it prohibits airlines from involuntarily removing passengers from flights after they’ve cleared the boarding gate, and it requires airlines to communicate better with customers during mass flight cancellations and groundings,” the Democrat from Oregon said in a statement.

Chairman John Thune of the Senate Commerce Committee said in a statement that the bill should be ready for takeoff.

“This five-year authorization improves our aviation system for travelers, manufacturers, and innovators,” the South Dakota Republican said. “It also strengthens the overall safety and security of our transportation system. I expect the House and Senate will now move quickly to send the president a bill he can sign.”

McConnell also highlighted upcoming floor action on a reauthorization of the Water Resources Development Act, another bipartisan deal that the Kentucky Republican said “will bolster the efforts of the Army Corps of Engineers and make commitments to improving water quality and advancing hydropower.”

As for committee business, Senate Finance has scheduled a Wednesday hearing looking at the effects of tariff policy on the U.S. automobile industry, and a Commerce subcommittee will meet the same day to look at the international space race.

Patrick Kelley and John T. Bennett contributed to this report.

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