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Congress looks to avert shutdown amid Supreme Court fight

Business continues this week as Supreme Court fight looms

After a week of mourning Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Senate turns its attention to her replacement.

President Donald Trump announced Amy Coney Barrett as his pick Saturday, and senators will begin meeting with her Tuesday, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, kicking off one of the fastest, and perhaps most contentious, confirmations in modern times.

Amid that backdrop, lawmakers will vote on a stopgap measure to avert a government shutdown before the 2021 fiscal year begins Thursday, continue negotiations on further financial relief due to the coronavirus pandemic, and hold high-profile hearings.

Stopgap spending

Before heading out of Washington for a four-day weekend, the Senate teed up the House-passed continuing resolution bill that extends current government funding levels, with some exceptions, through Dec. 11. 

A procedural vote is scheduled Tuesday, which starts the clock on a 30-hour debate period and means a vote would come just a few hours from the midnight Wednesday deadline for a partial government shutdown.

Pandemic aid

The House, meanwhile, is focused on securing additional COVID-19 aid this week before its scheduled adjournment through the election. Democrats unveiled a new $2.2 trillion bill Monday to jumpstart negotiations with the White House and potentially vote on that package if talks don’t bear fruit.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin spoke by phone Monday evening after Democrats released their bill and agreed to speak again Tuesday morning, according to Pelosi’s spokesman. It was not immediately clear how Mnuchin received the proposal. He and Republicans have rejected previous offers to set the top number at $2.2 trillion. The White House has signaled it would go as high as $1.5 trillion, leaving a $700 billion gap to bridge.   

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The House floor schedule reserves time for voting on a relief package this week. Some Democrats, particularly caucus moderates, want to have the House vote regardless of whether Republicans get on board.

Pelosi told CNN on Sunday that a vote on the House bill was “definitely a possibility,” but she would “rather have a deal which puts money in people’s pockets than … have a rhetorical argument.”

Other than a potential vote on a relief package, the House is spending most of its floor time this week on noncontroversial suspension measures that require two-thirds support for passage. 

Among the suspension bills on the schedule is a resolution to reaffirm the chamber’s “commitment to the orderly and peaceful transfer of power called for in the Constitution.” The measure also notes that “there should be no disruptions by the president or any person in power to overturn the will of the people of the United States.” The Senate passed a similar resolution by unanimous consent last week. Both resolutions represent pushback to Trump’s refusals to say whether he would accept the election results and agree to a peaceful transfer of power.

The House will also vote on a bill rolled over from last week’s schedule — the chamber did not vote on Friday while Ginsburg lay in state in the Capitol — that would require U.S.-traded companies that do business in the Xinjiang region of China to disclose information about their supply chains that could reveal ties to the forced labor of Uighur Muslims.

Committee hearings

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to host former FBI Director James B. Comey on Wednesday morning as part of its inquiry into the agency’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation. The probe in 2016 and 2017 looked into links between Trump associates and Russian officials.

On Thursday, the panel considers nominees tapped to serve on the Court of Federal Claims and district courts in Mississippi, Florida and Kentucky. 

The Senate Commerce Committee is scheduled Thursday to mark up subpoenas for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai to provide testimony on their platforms liability protections.

The blockbuster hearing in the House this week is likely to be Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar’s testimony Friday before the Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.

The hearing is likely to include questioning about reports of White House and HHS political appointees interfering with scientific communication and decision-making at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration.

Other pandemic-related hearings in the House include a Small Business Committee session Tuesday on how COVID-19 is affecting food-related businesses, an Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing Wednesday on ensuring the safety and efficacy of a vaccine, and a Small Business subcommittee hearing Wednesday on preventing fraud and abuse of coronavirus-related lending programs like the Paycheck Protection Program. 

Also expected to get a lot of attention is the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s two days of hearings Wednesday and Thursday with drug company executives. The hearings are the culmination of an investigation launched in January 2019 by Maryland Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the former chairman and longtime advocate for lower drug prices who died in October 2019.

Despite the dwindling time left in the 116th Congress, a few House committees are still marking up bills that won’t be able to come to the floor until the lame-duck session, if at all.

The Judiciary panel will mark up a handful of bills Tuesday, including three bankruptcy-related measures, while the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has a markup Wednesday on an aircraft certification bill and a handful of other measures. The Natural Resources and Foreign Affairs panels also have markups scheduled this week. 

The Rules Committee, meanwhile, is preparing for the next Congress with a Member Day hearing Thursday to hear requests for changes it should make to the House rules package for the 117th Congress. 

A supreme fight

While Congress continues holding hearings this week, the most highly anticipated hearing in Washington won’t be until next month.

Ginsburg’s death, and Trump’s nomination of Barrett to replace her, has sparked a weighty debate.

Democrats have limited options to delay or stop proceedings if Republicans have the votes to confirm her. Graham said he expects her nomination hearing to begin Oct. 12, and questioning to begin the following day. 

That would likely give the GOP-controlled chamber time to receive the nomination and confirm her before Election Day, if they choose. 

Her hearings, which would come after early voting has started and less than a month from Election Day, present pitfalls for both Republicans and Democrats. 

Following tradition, Barrett likely won’t discuss how she would rule on future cases. But her record on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit is expected to come up. Her writings as a law professor at Notre Dame and the influence of her Catholic faith on her jurisprudence are also expected to be discussed.

Democrats have coalesced around a message that her vote on the court jeopardizes the 2010 health care law, with its protection of preexisting conditions, as well as access to abortion.

Todd Ruger and Andrew Siddons contributed to this report. 

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