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Window On Washington - February 8, 2021, Vol. 5, Issue 6

Feb 08, 2021

Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

Impeachment. The second Senate impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump is scheduled to begin tomorrow. While some of the trial’s logistics remain unclear, both Senate Democrats and Republicans expect the trial to be shorter than last year’s, which lasted three weeks. The Senate will accommodate a request from one of Trump's impeachment attorneys, David Schoen, to pause the trial during the Jewish Sabbath, which would mean the trial would be suspended at sundown Friday and potentially not reconvene until Sunday. Democrats will need at least 17 Republican senators to vote to convict Trump and bar him from running for future office, and with only five Republicans joining Democrats back in January in voting against a motion that argued the impeachment trial is unconstitutional, the trial will likely fall short of the two-thirds votes needed for conviction.

Congress. The House and Senate are both in session this week. The Senate today will vote on the confirmation of Denis McDonough to be Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and on Thursday there will be Senate committee votes on the nominations of Miguel Cardona for Education Secretary and Mayor Marty Walsh for Labor Secretary. There will also be two Senate hearings on the nomination of Neera Tanden to serve as the next director of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The House Transportation and Infrastructure’s Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation will hold a hearing tomorrow on the impacts of the pandemic on the U.S. maritime industry, the House Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change will hold a hearing on restoring federal climate leadership, and the House Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship will hold a hearing Thursday on immigration system reform.

Separately, the Senate formally adopted a power-sharing agreement that was agreed to by unanimous consent. The deal allows for committees to organize, Democrats to take the gavels, equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats on Senate committees, equal budgets for both parties, and a limited use of a procedural tool that would preclude the offering of amendments, also referred to as filling the tree.

Next COVID Package Negotiations. The House and Senate’s authorizing committees will start to work this week on the legislative provisions for the next relief package now that both chambers have passed the budget resolution that carves out room for up to $1.9 trillion in deficit spending to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The resolution gives Democrats the ability to use the budget reconciliation process, under which legislation can pass the Senate with a simple majority rather than the usual 60-vote threshold to end debate. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) indicated there’s a chance the House will come back early from recess to vote on the next relief package the week of February 22.

Biden Administration. President Joe Biden is continuing to set his Administration’s agenda and is actively engaged in talks surrounding the next COVID-19 relief bill, which he has indicated is his top priority for the time being.

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital

CONGRESS

Budget & Appropriations

Democrats Clear Path for Filibuster-Proof Coronavirus Relief Bill: The House gave final approval last Friday to a budget blueprint that will allow committees to start writing a massive coronavirus relief package this week. The tally was 219-209, following early morning Senate adoption on a 51-50 vote after Vice President Kamala Harris broke a tie. (Roll Call)

Five Takeaways from the Senate’s Budget Marathon: The Senate after a marathon, overnight session known as the vote-a-rama adopted a slew of amendments to a budget resolution that will pave the way for President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package. The five takeaways from the session are 1) $1,400 direct payments are here to stay, but there could be restrictions, 2) raising the minimum wage is in trouble, 3) the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem isn’t going anywhere, 4) there's support for preventing stimulus money from going to undocumented immigrants, and 5) the final bill is likely to look a lot like Biden’s $1.9 trillion proposal. (The Hill)

Health

Bipartisan Lawmakers Call for Immediate Vote on COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Package: Members of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus are calling for an immediate vote on a $160 billion COVID-19 vaccine distribution package in an effort to direct funding to the matter as soon as possible as Congress continues the reconciliation process on a broader package. (The Hill)

Education

Miguel Cardona Sails Through Senate Hearing Amid Reopening Schools Debate: Cardona pledged to do “everything in our power to safely reopen schools,” vowing to take a collaborative approach to address the unprecedented upheaval of the nation’s educational system and combat the educational inequities exacerbated by the pandemic. (Politico)

Banking & Housing

Banking Committee Sends Fudge, Rouse to Full Senate for Votes: The Senate Banking Committee advanced the nomination of Marcia L. Fudge to run the Housing and Urban Development Department with a 17-7 vote last Thursday. The panel also voted 24-0 to report out the nomination of Cecilia Rouse to head the Council of Economic Advisors. (Roll Call)

Defense

Deputy Defense Secretary Nominee Testifies: The Senate Armed Service Committee last Thursday approved the nomination of Kathleen Hicks to be the next deputy secretary of defense. During her hearing, Hicks suggested that the Trump administration’s obstruction of the presidential transition would likely delay the Pentagon’s fiscal 2022 budget request, and she fielded several questions about modernization of nuclear programs and the possibility of proposed cuts to the DOD budget. (The Hill)

Familiar Faces Take Gavels of Defense Panels: The House and Senate’s new leadership and members are now set for the Armed Services Committees, but there remains some question of what the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee will look like and who it will be led by in the face of a major potential reshuffling of chairmanships on the Committee. (Defense News)

Progressives Gear Up for Assault on Defense Budget: Can they succeed in slashing 10 percent of the Pentagon budget, their longtime goal? Not likely given opposition among their fellow Democrats and Republicans. But they are certainly going to press harder than ever to redirect military dollars toward domestic priorities — and they have some new clout to exert. (Politico)

Homeland Security & Immigration

Mayorkas Confirmed as Secretary of Homeland Security: The Senate backed Alejandro Mayorkas in a 56-43 vote, the tightest confirmation vote for a Biden nominee so far. (Politico)

Judiciary/Justice

Schumer and McConnell Agree to Organizing Resolution for 50-50 Senate: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) reached a deal last Wednesday on a power-sharing agreement for governing the upper chamber. The final agreement on the organizing resolution for the evenly split Senate allows Democrats to take control of committees and comes after weeks of negotiation between the two leaders. The Senate approved the resolution later that same day. (Politico)

Cyber

House Armed Services Creates Cyber, Special Operations Panels: The House Armed Services Committee last Wednesday announced the formation of two new subcommittees: on Intelligence and Special Operations and Cyber, Innovative Technologies, and Information Systems. The two panels were created by splitting up the Intelligence, Emerging Threats and Capabilities subcommittee, which Langevin chaired in the last Congress. The panel had an expansive portfolio that included intelligence, cyber, special operations and research and development programs. (Politico)

Agriculture

Vilsack Nomination to Lead USDA Approved by Senate Ag Committee: The Senate Agriculture Committee last Tuesday advanced the nomination of Tom Vilsack for Agriculture secretary, setting the former Iowa governor up for a quick Senate confirmation. Vilsack is expected to be easily confirmed by the full Senate. (Politico)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Budget & Appropriations

Biden Signals He'll Move Forward on COVID-19 Relief Without GOP: President Biden last Friday sent his strongest signal yet that he would move forward with his coronavirus relief proposal without Republican support, making the case for the need for his $1.9 trillion package by citing the January jobs report showing a weak economic recovery. (The Hill)

Health/HHS/NIH

Biden to Use Defense Production Act to Increase Supply of Covid-19 Vaccines and Tests: The White House will use the Defense Production Act to make at least 61 million at-home or point-of-care coronavirus tests available by summer. And the Defense Department will deploy more than 1,000 active military personnel to support state vaccination sites, beginning in California on Feb. 15. (Politico)

Biden Administration to Begin Shipping Vaccine Doses Directly to Pharmacies: The Biden administration said Tuesday it will begin distributing a limited number of Covid-19 vaccine doses directly to retail pharmacies across the nation. Many pharmacies are already administering vaccine doses that have been allocated to states. Under the new program, the federal government would ship doses directly to pharmacies. The new pharmacy initiative — which is aimed at broadening access to vaccines generally — is separate from an ongoing federal program to have Walgreens and CVS vaccinate residents of long-term care facilities. (Politico)

Labor & Workforce

Long-Term Unemployment is Close to a Great Recession Record: Almost 40% of jobless workers in January were long-term unemployed, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday. The share has grown steadily since the spring and is approaching the record set in April 2010, in the aftermath of the Great Recession. At that time, nearly 46% of the unemployed were out of work at least six months. Workers are deemed to be “long-term unemployed” when their jobless spell is longer than six months. (CNBC)

Banking & Housing/HUD

Yellen Says Biden Stimulus Plan Fastest Way to Bring Economy Back to Pre-Pandemic Levels: Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said yesterday that she supports President Biden's plan for a large stimulus package, currently proposed at $1.9 trillion, calling it the best way to get the U.S. economy back to pre-pandemic levels. (The Hill)

Biden Withdraws Judy Shelton's Fed Nomination: President Biden last Thursday formally withdrew Judy Shelton’s nomination to the Federal Reserve Board, closing the book on her quest to join the central bank. (The Hill)

Transportation/DOT

Biden Considering Mandatory Testing Before Domestic Flights: As reported in Reuters, Dr. Marty Cetron, director for the Division of Global Migration and Quarantine at CDC, spoke to reporters about COVID testing and when asked if there was a chance the international flight testing requirement could be extended to domestic travel, he said that was also presently being reviewed. (Simple Flying)

Trade

Biden, in First Trade Move, Reimposes a Trump Tariff: In one of his first trade actions, President Joe Biden last Monday night reinstated a 10 percent duty on aluminum imports from the United Arab Emirates that President Donald Trump removed just one day before leaving office. (Politico)

Space/NASA & NOAA

Biden Admin Announces Support for Artemis: The Biden Administration “certainly” supports the Artemis program to return American astronauts to the lunar surface according to White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. A day after punting on the question, she voiced strong support not only for the return to the Moon but also for going onto Mars. Left unanswered, however, is what timeline they have in mind. (Space Policy Online)

All-Civilian Space Flights a Boost to LEO Commercialization: SpaceX announced last week that it will fly a space tourism flight as early as the fourth quarter of this year, billing it as the first "all-civilian" mission to space. The announcement comes less than a week after Axiom Space announced the four crew members of its "first private crew" to visit the International Space Station, likely in the first quarter of 2022. (Ars Technica)

NASA Creates Climate Adviser Position: NASA has established a new position of senior climate adviser within the agency, the first sign of a long-expected new emphasis on climate science within the agency under the Biden administration, a position that will be held on an interim basis by Gavin Schmidt, a climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York. (Space News)

DHS & Immigration

Supreme Court Cancels Border Wall, Asylum Policy Hearings After Biden Shifts: The Supreme Court last Wednesday agreed to cancel upcoming hearings challenging President Trump’s border wall and asylum policies after the Biden administration signaled its plans to reverse course on each. (The Hill)

Judiciary/DOJ

Justice Department Rescinds Two Trump-Era Voting Directives: The Justice Department last Tuesday rescinded two voting-related memos issued by the Trump administration, including one that prompted a public corruption prosecutor to step down from his post because it upended decades of department policy on voter fraud investigations to not interfere in states' vote certification. (CNN)

Cyber

What to Watch for Cybersecurity in Biden's First 100 Days: As new fallout and revelations emerge from the massive SolarWinds hacking campaign that hit multiple U.S. agencies, a barrage of other online threats is likely to challenge President Biden's pledge to boost cybersecurity across federal systems. (E&E News)

Department of Energy

How States May Drive — or Foil — Biden's Clean Energy Plan: Congressional gridlock is putting renewed focus on states, which may end up being the main legislative arenas to steer clean energy during the Biden administration. In addition to weighing plans to move toward 100% zero-carbon electricity and create a cleaner, more efficient power grid, other state policies under consideration call for overhauling utility business models, creating new rate structures, and modifying the way electric and gas companies interact. (E&E News)

Biofuel Debate Awaits Biden on Way to Court: Biofuel backers celebrated a landmark legal victory around this time last year only to be unnerved by the Supreme Court’s announcement in January that it will review the decision in a case that pits farmers against the oil industry. (Roll Call)