Gavel Down - Closing out the week in Congress

GAVEL DOWN: Closing out the Week in Congress (Mar. 27-31, 2017)

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Congressional Review Act stayed in the spotlight…

Congress passed bill to allow states to deny federal funds to clinics that provide abortions. State Dept. notified Congress it will proceed on Bahrain arms sale without human rights conditions, kicking off approval period. House joined Senate in passing bill to reverse broadband privacy rules for internet service providers. Senate Intelligence held open hearing on Russia investigation. House Intelligence postponed second public Russia hearing and cancelled meetings for the week. Senate Judiciary teed up Supreme Court nominee vote for next week. President Trump signed four bills into law, reversing Obama era rules concerning education, public lands, and federal contractors. Senate committees advanced final Cabinet nominees to full Senate for consideration.


Congress passed bill to allow states to deny federal funds to clinics that provide abortions


Senate joined the House in passing Black resolution, disapproving of a Health and Human Services (HHS) rule regarding Title X federal grants for family planning and preventative healthcare services. Phew! That was a mouthful. So what's that all mean? This bill specifically targets a regulation that prohibits states from denying federal funds to health care providers that perform abortions.

There is already a ban on using federal funds for abortions (except in rare instances), but federal family planning money can support clinics for other healthcare services. This bill would permit states to block this money from clinics that provide abortions.

Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski voted against the measure, decreasing the Republican majority to 50 members. Short on votes, Sen. Johnny Isakson [R, GA] was wheeled in to vote (he's been recovering from back surgery). Ultimately, Vice President Mike Pence was called on to cast another tie-breaking vote. President Trump is expected to sign the measure into law.

  • Senate passed 51-50. See how your senators voted.
  • House passed 230-188. See how your representative voted.

File away for your trivia bank — Joe Biden didn't break a single tie in his eight years as vice president. In fact, Biden became the longest-serving vice president never to cast a tie-breaking vote. Vice President Pence has now broken his third tie. So how often do vice presidents break Senate ties? FiveThirtyEight crunched the numbers.


State Dept. notified Congress; will proceed on Bahrain arms sales sans human rights conditions


This week Secretary of State Rex Tillerson notified Congress of decision to lift human rights conditions on major arms sale to Bahrain. Previously, the Obama administration said it wouldn't complete the sale until Bahrain demonstrated progress on human rights issues. 

This notice triggered a three-week informal notification period, followed by a formal 30-day period in which Congress examines the sale and chooses to allow or block the sale. Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs are responsible for considering the sale. Members can either clear the sale or place a hold on it.

So what's Congress got to do with arms sales anyways? Per the Arms Export Control Act (AECA), Congress must be formally notified 30 calendar days before the executive can conclude a government-to-government foreign sale of certain defense equipment. (There are exceptions, such as 15 days for sales to NATO member states and a handful of other countries.) Really interested? Learn more from the Congressional Research Service.


Congress passed bill reversing FCC privacy rules for internet service providers


House joined the Senate in approving Flake resolution that would reverse the FCC's broadband privacy rules prohibiting internet service providers (ISPs) from selling customers' data, including browsing history and location data, without explicit consent. This is another example of the Congressional Review Act, which gives Congress sixty "session days" to overturn rules issued by the executive branch. The bill now heads to President Trump, who is expected to sign the measure into law.

  • House passed 215-205. See how your representative voted.
  • Senate passed 50-48. See how your senators voted.

Senate Intelligence held open hearing on Russia investigation


In a rare open hearing, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence heard testimony on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Led by Chairman Richard Burr and Ranking Member Mark Warner, the committee has received praised for its bipartisan approach to the investigation, which Senator Warner has called “the most important thing” he has taken on in public life. Senator Burr said“We are all targets of a sophisticated and capable adversary – and we must engage in a whole-of-government approach to combat Russian active measures.” 

Witnesses at the hearing described online tactics employed during the 2016 election as a continuation of Russian “active measures” dating back to the Cold War. With a weakened economy and world position, the digital “active measures” of the past few years have allowed Russia to “punch above its weight,” repurposing “their playbook and many of their players” from the Soviet era. “Today, Russia hopes to win the second Cold War through the force of politics, as opposed to the politics of force,” one witness told the panel.

Notable moments you may have missed:

  • Witness telling Sen. Marco Rubio [R, FL] that Rubio was the target of Russian social media attacks during the 2016 campaign. Rubio confirmed and noted that his staff was targeted again by Russian bots in the 24 hours before this hearing.
  • The same witness said similar attacks were leveraged against House Speaker Paul Ryan just last week.
  • When asked how to find evidence of Russian involvement, witness Chris Watts of the Foreign Policy Research Institute told Sen. Jim Lankford [R, OK] to follow the money and “the trail of dead Russians.” (Eight high profile Russians connected to the investigation have been killed in the past five months.)

House Intelligence cancelled its meetings this week, including hearing on Russia probe


You’ve probably been hearing a lot more about the other intelligence committee in Congress in the news. The investigation by House Intelligence has become mired in controversy after its chairman, Congressman Devin Nunes, made a late-night visit to the White House to view Trump campaign files. Reports this week that three National Security Council (NSC) staffers shared files showing that Trump campaign communications were swept up in surveillance of foreign nationals. Chairman Nunes (pronounced NOO-nez because we're sure you're wondering) shared the information with President Trump and discussed it publicly in a news conference before informing committee members. Catch up here.

This week House Intelligence was set to hold another public hearing regarding Russia investigation but ended up canceling its meetings for the week, amid calls for Nunes to recuse himself. Rep. Walter Jones [R, NC-3] became the first Republican lawmaker to call for recusal. 

Chairman Nunes said the committee needed to hold a closed session before proceeding. Chairman Nunes and Ranking Member Adam Schiff met to discuss the committee's stalemate over how to proceed with Russia investigation.

On Thursday, the White House counsel issued an invitation for leaders of both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees to review information “related to incidental collection and the unmasking of names.” It is not clear whether the information will be the same as that shared with Nunes by the NSC officials.


Senate Judiciary teed up Supreme Court nominee vote for next week


This week kicked off with Senate Judiciary holding a meeting on Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. Committee Democrats forced a one-week delay on the vote, teeing up committee vote for April 3. This means the earliest Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could file cloture is April 4, meaning the Senate could vote as early as next week on Gorsuch nomination.

Senators spent the week coming out in support or opposition of the nominee. Senator Leahy became the first to say he may oppose Gorsuch nomination but will vote for cloture. Sens. Manchin and Heitkamp said they will support Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, becoming the first Democratic senators to back confirmation. Meanwhile, Sens. Duckworth and Cortez Masto said Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch refused to meet with them. Roll Call is logging positions here. Miss parts of last week's confirmation hearings? Check out our quick recap!


President Trump signed four bills reversing Obama era rules

This week President Trump signed four bills into law, reversing Obama era rules concerning education, public lands, and federal contractors.

EDUCATION: Two bills to eliminate federal education regulations that required K-12 teacher training and directed states on how to enforce the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). 

PUBLIC LANDS: Bill to reverse Bureau of Land Management "Planning 2.0" rule, which gave the federal government a larger role in land use decisions.

FEDERAL CONTRACTORS: Bill to void an executive order President Obama signed that required employers to disclose labor violations, including wage theft, hiring discrimination, and unsafe working conditions.


 
Great question! You've probably heard about this recently with what's going on at Ways and Means.

 

 

House Ways and Means Chair Kevin Brady scheduled a markup on Trump tax returns. Committee Democrats forced the markup with a resolution of inquiry. So what is a resolution of inquiry? It's a tool that members of the House can use to obtain information from the executive branch. Add it to your list of procedural tools.

It's different than most orders of business in the House and is an especially powerful tool for the minority party. So in this case, if Ways and Means didn't take up the resolution, the minority could bring it up on the House floor for consideration. Now, once the committee reports the resolution, only the chairman or his designee can bring it up on the floor. Still confused? Roll Call walks you through how this works here.
 

 

 

Shoutout to Linda H. for today's question. Ask us anything and see your questions answered in future editions!

Final Cabinet nominees advanced to full Senate

Senate committees advanced final two Cabinet nominees to the full Senate for consideration.

Catch up and message your senators in support or opposition:

  • Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) advanced Labor Secretary nominee Alex Acosta by a vote of 12-11, along party lines. (Watch hearing | Weigh in)
  • Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry advanced Agriculture Secretary nominee Sonny Perdue by voice vote. (Watch hearing | Weigh in)

#ICYMI


Please keep in mind that highlighting specific legislation does not imply POPVOX endorsement in any way. As always, our goal is to offer one more way to help you stay informed about the complex U.S. legislative system.