Road ahead: Senate schedule so far unaffected by protests, DC curfews
Both chambers will hold COVID-19 oversight hearings
Senators returned to the Capitol on Monday to heightened security as demonstrators gathered peacefully outside the building, but there was little effect on the Senate schedule, even as District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser has imposed citywide curfews.
The more visible police presence is expected to continue, but with House members away, the only real floor activity will be in the Senate, where the expected focus remains on confirming more of President Donald Trump’s nominees.
The Senate’s schedule for the week was set before the weekend of protests over the police killing of George Floyd.
This week’s list of nominees for floor consideration include several tapped for judgeships and Brian D. Miller, who was nominated for the job of special inspector general and tasked with oversight of some of the Treasury Department’s spending in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
When senators left for the Memorial Day recess, the coronavirus was still the most pressing national emergency, and the hearing schedule for the week reflects that reality. The Judiciary Committee is scheduled to meet Tuesday for an oversight hearing of incarceration practices, with the virus continuing to spread in prisons and jails.
Also Tuesday morning, Senate Banking has a hearing scheduled on the portion of the $2 trillion coronavirus recovery law that is within its jurisdiction, including the provisions backstopping loan guarantees and Federal Reserve actions.
A Finance Committee hearing that afternoon about the Food and Drug Administration and the approval process for new medications will surely feature plenty of discussion about treatment for the virus.
The Small Business Committee has a hearing scheduled for Wednesday to hear from experts on the pandemic’s effect on small businesses, which will likely include more discussion of the efforts to extend the Paycheck Protection Program, as well as additional tweaks to its implementation.
The one piece of coronavirus-related legislative business that’s likely to come up in the Senate this week is a bill passed by the House last week that would give small businesses that received federal loans to help keep workers on the payroll more leeway in how to spend the money and still have the loans forgiven.
“I hope and anticipate the Senate will soon take up and pass legislation that just passed the House by an overwhelming vote of 417-1 to further strengthen the Paycheck Protection Program so it continues working for small businesses that need our help,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said when opening the chamber Monday afternoon.
FiscalNote, parent company of CQ Roll Call, has received a loan under the Paycheck Protection Program.
Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., also plans to begin hearings this week regarding the FBI probe into links between Trump associates and Russian officials, or as the president calls it, “Obamagate.”
The moniker is being used as a catchall accusation that the federal government conspired to undermine his campaign, victory and presidency.
Graham’s committee will hear from former Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein in the first day of the wide-ranging hearings.
“Mr. Rosenstein will testify about the new revelations contained in the Horowitz report concerning the FISA warrant applications and other matters,” Graham said in a statement announcing Rosenstein’s appearance and referring to a report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz.
Critics have voiced concerns that the hearings are a distraction from Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
And that will not be the only contentious hearing, as the Budget Committee has scheduled a long-awaited confirmation hearing for Russell Vought, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, to be confirmed as the agency’s director.
The House is not in session this week.
Most of the month of June is dedicated to committee work under the updated 2020 legislative schedule House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer released Friday.
New House rules approved last month allow committees to meet virtually, and many panels have begun holding remote hearings and are working toward fulfilling the rules requirements for holding remote markups.
Until committees can start holding markups, there’s little legislation ready to move on the floor, which is why the schedule focuses on committee work with the next voting day not until June 30.
Several House panels are hosting remote hearings this week. First up on Tuesday, the Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee will hear from the governors of Colorado, Michigan and Arkansas about how their states are responding to the pandemic.
On Wednesday there are four scheduled pandemic-related remote hearings. The full Judiciary Committee will examine voting rights, the Budget Committee will discuss economic impacts with two former Congressional Budget Office directors, the Financial Services Consumer Protection and Financial Institutions Subcommittee will look at “inclusive lending” and the Veterans Affairs Health Subcommittee will consider whether the VA is prepared to handle natural disasters during a pandemic.
The House Administration Elections Subcommittee will host a virtual hearing Thursday on the impact of COVID-19 on voting rights and election administration. It’s unclear how this will differ from Judiciary’s hearing as neither panel has announced witnesses yet.
Thursday will also feature two in-person House hearings. The Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee will hear from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield on the agency’s COVID-19 response, while the Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee will discuss future force structure requirements for the Navy.
Chris Cioffi contributed to this report.