Road ahead: Senate set to pass stopgap spending, with House focus on Homeland Security and immigration

Continuing resolution should clear without a fight

The House schedule features a Homeland Security accountability bill from Texas Rep. Veronica Escobar. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
The House schedule features a Homeland Security accountability bill from Texas Rep. Veronica Escobar. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted September 23, 2019 at 5:00am

The Senate needs to act this week to clear a stopgap spending bill before recessing through the end of the government’s fiscal year, but that is really the only must-pass business for either chamber.

The House passed the measure Thursday, 301-123, after resolving hangups that included a debate over assisting farmers who have seen demand for crops plummet thanks to the ongoing sparring over trade with China.

While demonstrators are expected to descend on Washington on Monday, aiming to get the attention of official Washington, much of the official business will be elsewhere.

The House is coming in a day later this week than initially planned so members can attend Monday funeral services for Emily Clyburn, wife of House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, in South Carolina.

And with the U.N. General Assembly meeting this week, much of the White House’s focus has shifted to New York.

There is no expectation the Senate will have trouble reaching an agreement to clear the measure to keep the government funded through Nov. 21, but it is certainly not the only piece of business that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants to advance.

First up for the week is the nomination of Brian McGuire to be the deputy undersecretary for legislative affairs at Treasury. McGuire is no stranger to the Senate, having previously worked as speechwriter for McConnell as well as chief of staff in the Kentucky Republican’s personal office.

It became clear Thursday that there would be no agreement to speed up McGuire’s confirmation thanks, ironically, to opposition from Rand Paul, Kentucky’s other Republican senator, over questions about tax treaties.

McGuire will now receive a debate-limiting cloture vote Monday evening with confirmation expected Tuesday. Several other nominations will follow before the Senate gets to the continuing resolution.

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Once the House is back Tuesday, Democrats will once again turn their attention to border politics as the chamber considers two measures designed to improve the Department of Homeland Security’s treatment of migrants.

A bill from freshman Texas Rep. Veronica Escobar, who represents the border area of El Paso, to create an ombudsman and institute accountability standards for the Homeland Security Department is back on the schedule. 

House Democratic leaders had hoped to bring the Homeland Security Improvement Act to the floor at the end of July but decided not to move forward at the time amid intraparty disagreements over some of the measure’s provisions.

Escobar told CQ Roll Call on Friday that the bill will be revised through a manager’s amendment in the Rules Committee to exclude some provisions targeting Trump administration policies that she hopes can be addressed later in separate legislation.

Those provisions include banning DHS from separating migrant families under almost all circumstances and eliminating Migrant Protection Protocols that require asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while their cases are being processed.

Moderate Democrats felt that some of those provisions, which were added to the bill from an original version Escobar introduced in March, were not fully fleshed out and that the caucus should take more time to come up with replacement policies rather than just block the Trump administration’s executive actions without adequate substitute enforcement measures.

“By making it so broad, it made it harder to pass in a short period of time,” Escobar said of the version that leadership sought to bring to the floor in July. “And it also made me think that we need to tackle these issues separately. So we essentially brought the bill back to its original intent from March, although it’s still changed a little bit. Committee staff helped us think about how to really strengthen some areas, and we took out some things that we can get done in other ways.”

The other border measure the House will consider this week— called the U.S. Border Patrol Medical Screening Standards Act — is from Rep. Lauren Underwood. It would require Customs and Border Protection to establish procedures for conducting medical screenings within 12 hours of its agents stopping individuals at ports of entry.

Senators, meanwhile, also need to follow through on an existing agreement for votes to pass a bipartisan bill that would authorize the USAID to provide assistance for efforts to combat the Ebola virus outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Under the time agreement reached before August recess, the Senate has until Thursday of this week to debate the measure on the floor, along with an amendment from Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, that seeks to require a State Department certification about efforts to eliminate human trafficking before USAID can release funds.

In committee action, media attention will be on the House Intelligence Committee’s Thursday hearing with acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire. The committee wants to grill Maguire about his refusal to provide the panel with a whistleblower complaint that reportedly involves the president making an inappropriate promise to Ukraine. House Democrats believe the law requires Maguire to turn over the complaint but, acting on counsel from the Justice Department, he has said it is out of his purview.

The House Judiciary Committee will continue its impeachment investigation against President Donald Trump with a subcommittee hearing Monday on the Emoluments Clause and allegations that he has been personally profiting off the presidency by driving government officials to stay at his business properties.

On Wednesday, the full Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on assault weapons as House Democrats consider whether to push to reinstate a ban on those high-power firearms in the wake of a spate of mass shootings this summer.

Following last week’s release of House Democratic leaders’ proposal for lowering prescription drug prices, two subcommittees will hold hearings. Two House subcommittees will be conducting oversight hearings on e-cigarettes this week.

Senate appropriators will continue their efforts to get bills in line for floor consideration, with markups scheduled this week for four bills: Interior-Environment, Commerce-Justice-Science, Homeland Security and Legislative Branch.

The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is scheduled to vote Tuesday to send to the floor the nomination of Eugene Scalia to be Labor secretary. Since the son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is a Cabinet nominee, he will likely jump to the front of McConnell’s lineup of nominees for confirmation during the Senate session in October.