Weekly Legislative Update
 Week of January 7, 2019  
  
Congressional Outlook

This week the House and Senate are in session this week. The House will consider 21 bills under suspension of the rules, including the Grant Reporting Efficiency and Agreements Transparency (GREAT) Act of 2019 (H.R. 150), which would require that data on federal grants be standardized and published on a single online portal and require the development of standards for the information that grant and other award recipients must report to the government. For the remainder of the week, the House will complete consideration on the last of three titles included in the rules package (H. Res. 6) released last week, which organizes the House for the new Congress. The third title would allow intervention in court cases - such as the current case in Texas - defending the Affordable Care Act. The House will also vote on the following four standalone FY 2019 Appropriations bills that the Senate passed as part of its third minibus package on August 1, 2018 by a vote of 92-6: Financial Services-General Government; Transportation-HUD; Agriculture-FDA; and Interior-Environment. The bills are likely dead on arrival in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said members will not vote on a measure unless they expect President Trump to sign it into law.
 
The Senate will resume consideration of the motion to proceed to the Strengthening America's Security in the Middle East Act of 2019 (S. 1), which would authorize the appropriation of $33 billion in foreign military grant assistance and $5 billion in financial support for missile defense projects to Israel over FYs 2019-2028, reauthorize the U.S.-Jordan Defense Cooperation Act of 2015, and contains a controversial provision allowing state and local governments explicit legal authority to boycott any U.S. companies which themselves are participating in a boycott against Israel. On Tuesday afternoon, Florida Governor Rick Scott will be sworn-in as a U.S. Senator; he decided to wait an extra five days to be sworn-in in order to leave the Governorship when his successor, Ron DeSantis, is sworn-in as Governor. Upon Scott's swearing-in, the Senate will be comprised of 53 Republicans and 47 members of the Senate Democratic Caucus for the remainder of the 116th Congress.
 
As the nation now enters the 17th day of the partial federal government shutdown, President Trump over the weekend said his administration is now planning a steel barrier on the U.S. border with Mexico rather than a concrete wall, even as he renewed a threat to invoke a national emergency as a way to circumvent Congress on border funding. Acting White House OMB Director Russell Vought also sent a letter on Sunday to House and Senate Appropriations Committee leadership officially asking for $5.7 billion to construct a steel barrier on the border, in addition to $563 million for 75 additional Immigration Judges and support staff; $211 million to hire 750 additional Border Patrol Agents; $571 million for 2,000 additional law enforcement personnel and support staff; $4.2 billion to support 52,000 detention beds; $800 million to address urgent humanitarian needs; and $675 million for counter-narcotics/weapons technology.
 
Trump told reporters that his next move may depend on what happens in the coming days on attempts to end the shutdown. A delegation of top White House aides led by Vice President Mike Pence met with congressional staff on Sunday after a lengthy discussion Saturday was unable to forge a deal. However, no progress was made, and while there are places both sides can work together, Trump will not budge on Democrats' request to re-open the government first, according to a person familiar with the discussions. President Trump is also scheduled to deliver a primetime televised address at 9pm ET on Tuesday from the Oval Office regarding the shutdown ahead of his planned trip to the U.S.-Mexico border on Thursday "to meet with those on the frontlines of the national security and humanitarian crisis."
Week in Review

House Passes Legislation Reopening Federal Government
 
On January 3, the House passed, by a vote of 239-192, a continuing resolution (H.J. Res. 1) to fund the Department of Homeland Security at enacted FY 2018 levels through February 8, 2019 in order to allow time for President Trump to reach agreement with Congress on border security. The House also passed, by a vote of 241-190, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2019, which would fully fund the Environmental Protection Agency and the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice, State, Transportation, and Treasury through September 30, 2019. However, t he legislative package includes no new funding for Trump's proposed border wall and the legislation will not be considered in the GOP-controlled Senate according to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Additionally, the Trump Administration issued a veto threat for both pieces of legislation, stating that "The Administration looks forward to working with the Congress to enact appropriations that will adequately secure the Nation's borders and get the Federal Government back to work for the American people as soon as possible." Read more.
Nancy Pelosi Elected Speaker of the House
 
On January 3, as the new 116th Congress met for its first day of business, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was elected by a majority of her House colleagues as the Speaker of the House for the second time in the past 12 years. The final Speaker vote tally  was 220 votes for Pelosi; 192 votes for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA); 18 votes for other individuals; and 3 "present" votes. Of the 235 House Democrats, only 15 did not vote for Pelosi for Speaker. Pelosi became the first lawmaker since former Rep. Sam Rayburn (D-TX) in 1955 to return to the Speakership, ushering in a new era of divided government. The 235 Democrats and 199 Republicans of the new House were also sworn-in for a two-year term ending on January 3, 2021. Read more.
House Rules Package Approved
 
The House also voted on Jan. 3 and 4, by votes of 234-197 and 418-12, to approve of Titles I and II, respectively of the House rules package for the 116th Congress. Title I includes all of the new House rules changes for the 116th Congress, including: reviving the so-called "Gephardt Rule" that automatically raises the debt ceiling once the House passes a budget; changing the rules regarding motions "to vacate the chair," a procedural tool that could be used to force out a sitting House speaker; creating a new Select Committee on the Climate Crisis; removing the dynamic scoring requirement for major legislation; setting new ethics rules for current and former members of Congress; and reviving a rule that requires 72 hours before major legislation can get a vote in the House. Title II of the rules package establishes a Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress to investigate, study, make findings, hold public hearings, and develop recommendations on modernizing Congress. Read more here and here.
Eight Freshmen Senators and 21 Senate Incumbents Sworn Into Office
 
On January 3, seven new Senators were sworn-into office for a six-year term ending on January 3, 2025: Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Mike Braun (R-IN), Josh Hawley (R-MO), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), and Mitt Romney (R-UT). Additionally, Martha McSally (R-AZ) was sworn-in as a Senator for the next two years of the late Senator John McCain's (R-AZ) six-year term; she will need to win a special election on Nov. 3, 2020 in order to finish the last two years of McCain's term ending on January 3, 2023. Florida Governor Rick Scott (R-FL) will also be sworn into the Senate on January 8 following the end of his gubernatorial tenure that same day. Additionally, 25 Senate incumbents (4 Republicans and 21 members of the Democratic Caucus) were sworn-in for a new six-year term. Read more.
Senate Republicans Announce Committee Assignments for 116th Congress
 
On January 3, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced the 116th Congressional committee assignments for the 53-member Senate Republican Conference. The assignments are subject to ratification by the Republican Conference as well as the full Senate, which is expected during the week of Jan. 7. Committee chairs will be selected by a vote of the members of each committee and then ratified by the Republican Conference after the new Congress convenes. Read more.
Senators Confirm 77 Trump Nominees in Final Hours of 115th Congress
 
On January 2, the last day of the 115th Congress, the outgoing Senate confirmed, by voice vote, a large batch of President Trump's nominees before finishing work less than 24 hours before they would be due to expire. Among the 77 nominees confirmed include:
  • Tamara Bonzanto to be Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs for the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection;
  • James Gfrerer to be Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs for Information and Technology;
  • Donald Palmer and Benjamin Hovland to be members of the Election Assistance Commission;
  • James Carroll to be Director of National Drug Control Policy;
  • Brendan Carr and Geoffrey Starks to be members of the Federal Communications Commission for a term of five years;
  • Kelvin Droegemeier to be Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy;
  • Thomas Gilman to be Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Administration and Chief Financial Officer;
  • Joel Szabat to be Assistant Secretary of Transportation for Aviation and International Affairs;
  • Mary Neumayr to be Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality;
  • Alexandra Dunn to be EPA Assistant Administrator for Toxic Substances;
  • Rae Oliver to be the Inspector General of the Department of Housing and Urban Development;
  • Patrick Fuchs to be a Member of the Surface Transportation Board for a five-year term;
  • Daniel Simmons to be Assistant Secretary of Energy for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy;
  • Teri Donaldson to be Inspector General for the Department of Energy;
  • Steven Dillingham to be Director of the Census for a term expiring December 31, 2021;
  • Gail Ennis to be Inspector General of the Social Security Administration;
  • Alex Beehler to be Assistant Secretary of the Army for Energy, Installations, and Environment;
  • Casey Wardynski to be Assistant Secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs;
  • Alan Shaffer to be Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment.
The dozens of judicial or executive nominations submitted by President Trump to the Senate in 2018 and not confirmed by January 3, 2019 will need to be formally re-nominated by him in 2019 in order to be considered for the position during the 116th Congress. Read more.
Trump Signs 12 Bills Into Law
 
On January 3, President Trump signed the following 12 bills into law, including:
  • Global Health Innovation Act of 2017 (Public Law 115-411), which requires the United States Agency for International Development to report to the Congress on the development and use of global health innovations in its programs;
  • 9/11 Memorial Act (Public Law 115-413) which authorizes competitive grants for the operation, security, and maintenance of certain memorials to victims of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001;
  • Good Accounting Obligation in Government (GAO-IG) Act (Public Law 115-414) which requires each federal agency, in its annual budget justification submitted to the Congress, to report on the status of certain Government Accountability Office and Office of Inspector General recommendations;
  • Veterans Small Business Enhancement Act of 2018 (Public Law 115-416) which amends the Small Business Act to provide veteran-owned small businesses access to surplus property owned by the Federal government;
  • RBIC Advisers Relief Act of 2018 (Public Law 115-417) which exempts investment advisers who solely advises Rural Business Investment Companies (RBICs) or companies applying for an RBIC license from the requirement to register with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission;
  • Justice Against Corruption on K Street (JACK) Act of 2018 (Public Law 115-418) which requires lobbyists to disclose convictions of certain crimes when registering as lobbyists with the Congress;
  • Federal Personal Property Management Act of 2018 (Public Law 115-419) which requires Federal agencies, in accordance with guidance from the General Services Administration, to conduct an inventory and assessment of personal property;
  • Department of Transportation Reports Harmonization Act (Public Law 115-420) which requires the Department of Transportation to make certain reports and information publicly available; and establishes sunset dates for certain Federal advisory councils and committees;and
  • Forever GI Bill Housing Payment Fulfillment Act of 2018 (Public Law 115-422) which requires the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to establish a tiger team to address issues with implementing the Forever GI Bill's housing benefits payment requirements.