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Police overhaul, parks bill take center stage: Road Ahead

The House is not in session this week, but committees will remain at work

Corrected, 8:35 p.m. | The Senate is expected to take high-profile votes and Republicans plan to release a police overhaul proposal this week as panels in both chambers hold hearings on a variety of topics from social justice to the coronavirus.

The House is not in session, but committees will remain at work. As a push to pass a lands bill recedes into the rearview mirror, the Senate focus will shift to the GOP policing bill leaders say is expected to be released Wednesday.

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., made the rounds on Sunday’s news programs revealing the major pillars of the GOP’s not-yet-released police overhaul — which don’t include relaxing immunity from lawsuits. Scott called qualified immunity, a priority for Democrats, a “poison pill” that would sink the effort.

The bill, according to Scott, would require jurisdictions to report to Department of Justice databases regarding incidents of “serious bodily injury and death,” and look at “training and tactics” and “officer misconduct.”

Scott left the door open for talks on other ways to handle problematic officers. He also welcomed conversations on issues like so-called no-knock warrants and bans on chokeholds.

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that he supports a nationwide ban on chokeholds, and said the legislation is being finished for a Wednesday release.

Responding to Scott’s comments on qualified immunity, Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, took to Twitter to express concerns that the GOP effort would not be as comprehensive as the Democrat-led plan unveiled last week.

“I like Tim a lot but we have to be mentally prepared for this to be whittled down to a blue ribbon commission,” Schatz tweeted. “I hope I’m wrong, but we cannot allow Republicans to get the benefit of feinting towards real action and then doing nothing. See: 1) gun safety and 2) immigration.”

President Donald Trump is expected to sign an executive order as soon as Tuesday that may lead to the establishment of a national database on police misconduct and direct the Department of Health and Human Services to work with police on a range of mental health and social service issues. The White House executive order is not expected to be a substitute for congressional action, however.

Scott said Trump is “weighing in at the right time in a constructive manner.”

Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer criticized the GOP approach to a police overhaul, which puts less responsibility on the federal government and more on states and municipalities.

“If history has taught us anything, particularly when it comes to civil rights, it’s that progress on civil rights has been stunted, slowed down and sometimes stymied by letting states take the lead,” the New York Democrat said.

He urged Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to take up the Democrat-led bill on the Senate floor before July 4.

Combating racism

On the same day the GOP police overhaul bill is slated for release, the House Judiciary Committee will consider the Democrats’ policing overhaul, dubbed the Justice in Policing Act and scheduled to go to the floor on June 25.

The bill would ban racial profiling, institute federal bans of chokeholds and no-knock warrants and encourage states to adopt similar policies and relax the qualified immunity doctrine that shields police from lawsuits related to actions performed on the job.

The national focus on combating racism is making an impact on committee agendas, with at least three hearings scheduled this week on race-related topics.

The House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel will hold a hearing Tuesday on how to address racial disparities in the military justice system. The House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee will examine racial and ethnic disparities in the health care system, including COVID-19 testing and treatment, on Wednesday.

The House Foreign Affairs Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee will discuss diversity at the State Department on Wednesday.

Senate action

A sweeping public lands bill, which got past a 1 a.m. Friday morning procedural vote, could be passed in the Senate as early as Tuesday. The measure would fully and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million a year.

The bill would also handle maintenance issues in national parks that has crept up over the last few decades as use of the parks continues to increase, which Maine independent Sen. Angus King told CQ Roll Call could total more than $11 billion.

“We’re loving our national parks to death,” King said.

The House is expected to vote on the massive package before July 4.

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Once work on the parks bill is completed on the Senate floor, the chamber is expected to turn its attention to a vote on whether to confirm Justin Walker, a protege of McConnell, to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Democrats have called Walker too inexperienced and ideological to be qualified for the seat, but can do nothing but watch the confirmation process unfold because of a 2013 rules change that reduced the confirmation threshold to a simple majority.

Lawmakers are also expected to continue discussions on how to proceed with further coronavirus-related aid funding.

Trump is expected to advocate for at least $2 trillion in additional aid, according to a Fox Business interview with White House trade adviser Peter Navarro. It’s not clear what, if anything, will be put forth in the near future on aid in the Senate.

“Well as I’ve already said we’ll be looking at July to make a decision about whether to go forward with a rescue package,” McConnell told reporters Monday off the Senate floor.

High-profile hearings

Wednesday will be a busy day for committees. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will mark up its five-year, $494 billion surface transportation reauthorization. The House is scheduled to start debating the bill on the floor June 30.

One of the more prominent hearings of the week will likely be the Financial Services Committee’s Wednesday session with Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell on monetary policy and the state of the economy. The committee conducts such sessions every year but this year’s hearing will be more notable given the economic recession occurring due to COVID-19.

Powell is also slated to testify on monetary policy during his appearance at Tuesday’s remote Banking panel hearing.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is expected to testify on the administration’s trade policy agenda at the House Ways and Means Committee Wednesday. He is expected to speak to the Senate Finance Committee the same day, focusing on how the U.S. and United Kingdom are progressing on a second round of trade talks and may touch on the first phase of a deal with China.

The name of the Sunday morning news show where Sen. Lankford voiced support for a chokehold ban was corrected.

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