The Senate is expected this week to take up legislation, typically overshadowed of late by judicial and executive nominations, while congressional committees tackle topics ranging from marking up the defense authorization bill to holding continued oversight of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Senate began consideration Monday of an unrelated House bill expected to be amended to provide permanent funding to the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The chamber is expected to spend much of the week’s legislative time on the conservation bill, which could provide some vulnerable Republican senators something to tout on the campaign trail back home.
The House is out, but several committees will address matters from police brutality to the coronavirus response.
The action is all occurring amid the backdrop of widespread protests in response to the violent death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
Senate Democrats stood with their House counterparts in a joint news conference Monday morning to introduce legislation that would overhaul policing in the United States.
The 134-page package, dubbed the Justice in Policing Act, includes several bills that would update standards for prosecuting police misconduct, mandate dash and body camera use, create a national database of problem officers, emphasize de-escalation and improve training. It would also limit federal funds to cities that do not ban chokeholds.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer challenged his GOP colleagues to bring to the floor and debate the package by early July, saying several Republicans acknowledge “egregious wrongs, but too few have expressed a need for floor action. Too many remain silent.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the floor Monday that he is “all for” increased social and mental health services but called activists’ demands for defunding police departments — which is not part of the Democrats’ legislation — “outlandish.”
“Call me old-fashioned, I think you may actually want a police officer to stop a criminal and arrest him before we try to work through his feelings,” the Kentucky Republican said.
McConnell’s aim to take up the wildlife fund legislation this week is twofold: One, it has broad bipartisan support, and two, it gives a win to a pair of CQ Roll Call’s 10 most vulnerable senators, Republicans Cory Gardner of Colorado and Steve Daines of Montana, as they face competitive reelections.
Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates Colorado’s Senate showdown Tilt Democratic and Montana’s “battle of the Steves,” where Daines faces Gov. Steve Bullock, as Lean Republican.
The fund helps pay for park maintenance, refuges and helps fund federal land acquisitions, a function that rankles some who believe government shouldn’t acquire more lands when it can’t maintain what it already owns.
The bill giving permanent funding to the LWCF does face some opposition from Republican members, who have concerns regarding offshore revenue sharing and federal land acquisitions.
Nevertheless, the Senate on Monday voted, 80-17, to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to the expected legislative vehicle.
The House floor remains dark this week with the exception of pro forma sessions, but there is plenty of committee action underway.
The House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday to examine the relationships between police departments and their communities.
The House Oversight and Reform panel is also scheduled to hold a hearing Wednesday to look at the economic burdens shouldered by essential workers during the coronavirus pandemic.
The remote hearing will include testimony from several witnesses including John Costa, international president of the Amalgamated Transit Union; Bonnie Castillo, executive director of National Nurses United; and Eneida Becote the wife of Edward Becote, an essential hospital worker who died from COVID-19.
The House Administration Elections Subcommittee is slated to hold a remote hearing Thursday on the impact of COVID-19 and how the U.S. can ensure safe and fair elections.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is also expected to meet this week for several hearings. On Tuesday, it will host a panel on how law enforcement has responded to people exploiting the pandemic, and on Wednesday, it will hold a hearing for five people nominated to serve on U.S. district courts in California, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
The Senate Armed Services panel is expected to begin considering the fiscal 2021 defense authorization bill with subcommittee markups that started Monday and a full committee markup concluding later this week.
This year’s markup discussions will have a little help when it comes to reaching agreement because of a budget agreement that sets spending on defense at $740 billion. But there are plenty of thorny issues that may raise partisan ire.
Those include the looming 2020 elections, debates over how the military responded to ongoing protests, and how the Defense Department responded to the pandemic.
The House Armed Services panel is expected to follow suit next week, beginning subcommittee markups on June 22, with the aim of the full committee marking up the legislation on July 1, getting it ready for prime time before the August recess.
Unlike their House counterparts, all but the Senate Personnel Subcommittee markup and the full committee markup will be conducted in closed session.