GAVEL DOWN: Closing out the Week in Congress (Apr. 3-7, 2017)
Senate made major rule change….
The Supreme Court will soon return to capacity with nine members. Senate Republicans invoked “nuclear option” and confirmed Neil Gorsuch with simple majority vote. Lawmakers responded to U.S. missile attack on Syria with mix of concern and praise, with several members calling on Trump administration to seek authorization from Congress for use of military force. House Republicans are working on reviving Obamacare replacement legislation. House Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes stepped aside in committee’s Russia probe. North Korea launched another missile, with President Trump saying the U.S. is ready to act alone on North Korea if China doesn’t intercede.
It's been 419 days since Justice Antonin Scalia's death, and he finally has a successor to the Supreme Court.
This week’s confirmation of Judge Gorsuch required Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to make a formal change to Senate precedent – the requirement for sixty votes to end debate and proceed to a vote. The so-called “nuclear option” allowed McConnell to rule that a simple majority vote was enough to consider the nomination. This ruling by the chair was then upheld by a majority of senators, ending the 60-vote filibuster for Supreme Court nominees. That left the final confirmation vote, which came earlier than expected on Friday.
It's been over a year since President Obama first nominated Judge Merrick Garland for the vacancy. Senate Republicans refused to hold hearings or votes on the nomination, with McConnell citing much-contested Senate precedent of not approving a president's nominee in the final year of his term.
No word on when Gorsuch will be sworn in as an official associate justice, so for now, learn about the newest justice to the Supreme Court:
- He earned degrees from Columbia, Harvard, and Oxford. (In fact, he and former President Obama were in the same graduating class at Harvard Law School).
- He clerked for Justice Anthony Kennedy. With Gorsuch confirmed, this marks the first time a justice has served with a former clerk.
- Gorsuch's mother Anne Gorsuch Buford was the first female administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), serving under President Ronald Reagan.
- Some of Gorsuch's most notable opinions include Hobby Lobby ruling regarding contraceptives, religious freedom for prison inmates, and a few cases regarding jurisprudence and judicial deference to agencies.
- Gorsuch is 49 years old — the youngest nominee in decades. Currently, the youngest member on the bench is Justice Elena Kagan (56 years old).
- Gorsuch met his wife Louise while attending Oxford. They have two daughters: Emma and Belinda.
On Tuesday there were reports of a chemical attack in Syria that killed over 70 people. On Thursday night, the Pentagon released details on U.S. missile strike on Syria. The Trump administration notified Russian officials in advance of the strike. Members of Congress reacted with a mix of praise and concern, with many calls for the administration to seek authorization from Congress for the use of military force.
Sen. Rand Paul [R, KY] said President Trump violated the Constitution by ordering strike without congressional approval. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi wants House to return early to debate military action in Syria. Bipartisan lawmakers called for Trump's next steps in Syria.
You've probably been hearing about AUMFs. If you're scratching your head, here's the deal: AUMF stands for Authorization for Use of Military Force. As the name suggests, it refers to Congress authorizing military force.
According to the War Powers Act, the President may command U.S. armed forces for a military operation overseas but must notify Congress within 48 hours. These forces cannot operate in a deployed status for more than 60 days without a congressional declaration of war or an authorized use of military force (AUMF).
The last AUMF authorized was in 2001, in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, authorizing the use of U.S. Armed Forces against those responsible for the attacks on September 11, 2001 and any “associated forces.”
Two AUMF resolutions have been introduced this Congress. They're identical resolutions that would authorize the use of military force against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. See the resolutions from Senator Young and Congressman Banks.
This week, the White House and Republican lawmakers discussed ways to resurrect the Obamacare replacement legislation after House Leadership pulled a vote on the American Health Care Act (AHCA) last week. Vice President Mike Pence met with both the conservative House Freedom Caucus and moderate Republican members to discuss changes to the legislation, with reported discrepancies.
On Thursday, the House Rules committee marked up an amendment to the bill, setting up vote for after recess (or possibly before per memo from House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy). The new language would create $15 billion federal high-risk pool to provide insurance coverage to Americans with pre-existing and serious health conditions. Pool would be replaced by individual state-run high-risk pools in 2020.
This week House Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes stepped aside in Russia investigation, amid calls from bipartisan lawmakers to do so. Questions arose regarding Nunes' relationship with the Trump administration after he went to the White House to review Trump campaign communications. Nunes then shared the information with President Trump and the public before sharing it with committee members. Nunes is now under House ethics investigation per House rule that requires investigation whenever classified information is in play.
New reports this week that former CIA Director John Brennan briefed eight top members of Congress last August on increasing evidence of Russian interference in the election. Reportedly, the CIA obtained evidence early in summer and was confident by late August, whereas the FBI did not publicly draw this conclusion until early December. Brennan told lawmakers the FBI would have to take the lead because the CIA deals exclusively with foreign intelligence. Brennan was scheduled to testify before House Intelligence, but Chair Nunes cancelled the hearing.
State Department confirmed that North Korea launched "yet another intermediate range ballistic missile." This week the National Security Council (NSC) completed a broad review of possible actions the U.S. can take to halt North Korea's nuclear weapons.
- 39 Republicans have crossed the aisle on at least one Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution to reverse Obama era regulations.
- A month after all 100 senators sent a letter to the Trump administration regarding recent spike in anti-Semitic threats, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly replied in detail.
- White House released financial disclosures for many of its senior officials. See complete list.
- Johns Hopkins withdrew from a study to test marijuana as a treatment for veterans with PTSD, citing dispute over the quality of marijuana provided by the federal government's NIDA.
- Former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page confirmed he met with Russian intelligence operatives. Page recently offered to testify before House and Senate Intelligence committees.
- Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered a sweeping review of Obama-era police reform agreements. Read the memo.
- Boeing signed $3 billion deal to sell planes to Iranian airline. U.S. government must authorize the agreement.
- Second federal appeals court will hear arguments next month regarding Trump's revised travel executive order.
- President Trump donated first quarter salary to National Park Service, equating to $78k. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said the donation will go towards maintaining historic battlefields.
- National Archives told the White House it must save all of Trump's tweets, even deleted or corrected ones, per the Presidential Records Act (PRA).
- As part of the Affordable Care Act, restaurants with 20+ locations must post calorie counts on menus starting next month.
- USCIS temporarily suspended premium processing for all H-1B petitions, said suspension may last up to 6 months. Hospitals rushed to get accelerated visas for 3,000+ non-U.S. citizens who had already been offered medical residencies in the U.S.
- House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer rolled out Whip Watch 2.0.
- EPA staff comments on controversial House-passed bill never made it to the Congressional Budget Office.
- Bipartisan lawmakers introduced bill to block oil and gas drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
- President Trump removed chief White House strategist Steve Bannon from National Security Council. Roles of Joint Chiefs chairman and intelligence director have been restored. Here's a quick look at the biggest changes.
- Sens. Ernst and Peters launched the first Senate Motorcycle Caucus. Similar House caucus has been in existence since 2008, founded by Rep. Burgess and former Congresswoman Giffords.
- Federal judge ruled for the first time that federal fair housing law also protects LGBT people.
- FOX News reporter Chad Pergram took Congressman Tiberi's phone to talk to Tiberi's mom.
- 98k new jobs last month, well below expectations. Unemployment rate dropped to 4.5%, lowest rate since May 2007.
- White House adviser Jared Kushner failed to disclose dozens of meetings with foreign officials in request for top-secret security clearance, including meetings with Russian officials.
- Rep. Nydia Velazquez [D, NY-7] introduced bill to block ICE officers from wearing clothing labeled as "police."
- More than a dozen freshman House members took a bipartisan visit to the Holocaust Museum.
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.