Weekly Legislative Update
Week of January 8, 2018
The House and Senate are both in session this week. The House will consider
under suspension of the rules, including the Securing American Non-Profit Organizations Against Terrorism Act of 2017 (H.R. 1486), which authorizes $50 million/year for FYs 2018-2022 for the Department of Homeland Security's new Non-Profit Security Grant Program for protecting places of worship and other nonprofits, and expands the program beyond urban areas. For the remainder of the week, the House will vote on a bill (S. 140) to exempt American Indian businesses on tribal lands from the National Labor Relations Act and would also allow the White Mountain Apache Tribe in Arizona to use money from a settlement fund for a rural water system; and the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017 (H.R. 4478), which would extend the National Security Agency's controversial electronic surveillance authority under section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act through December 31, 2023, and require the FBI to demonstrate probable cause before accessing Americans' communications collected under the NSA's surveillance program.
The Senate this week will consider the nominations of William Campbell to be a U.S. District Judge for the Middle District of Tennessee; Thomas Parker to be a U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Tennessee; Michael Brown to be a U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of Georgia; and Walter Counts to be a U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Texas.
Congressional leaders this week are working against a January 19 deadline for extending government spending authority. Democrats are demanding that any spending deal permanently protect the so-called Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. at a young age. President Trump says the program will end on March 5 unless Congress acts. As part of any immigration deal, Trump is pressing for $18 billion to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, a proposal Democrats oppose and has generated varying degrees of enthusiasm among Republicans.
Leaders are also negotiating how to lift spending caps set by the Budget Control Act of 2011 that would force automatic expenditure cuts unless Congress acts to raise them. Republicans want to devote most of the extra money from raising the caps to additional defense spending while Democrats want "parity" between any increases for military operations and domestic programs. Even if they get to an agreement on topline spending numbers, appropriators say Congress probably will have to pass another temporary funding patch through most of February to give lawmakers time to work out the details of an omnibus spending package. Three areas are in dispute regarding raising the caps: how much to raise each cap, how to pay for the increases, and which programs should benefit. Other issues like funding for natural disasters and a long-term reauthorization of the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) will also play into finalizing a budget deal.
On Monday, President Trump will deliver remarks at the American Farm Bureau Federation's Annual Convention in Nashville, Tennessee. On Tuesday, Trump will meet with a bipartisan group of Senators to discuss their differences on immigration and the border, including the President's demand to terminate family-member immigration in favor of granting visas to people with specific skills or training and ending a lottery that annually grants 50,000 immigration visas and permanent residency to people from countries with low immigration rates to the U.S. On Wednesday, Trump will hold a Cabinet meeting and meet with Prime Minister Erna Solberg of Norway to "discuss the bilateral ties between the United States and Norway, and how to jointly advance regional and global security, and economic prosperity."
Democrats Doug Jones and Tina Smith Sworn-in to Senate, Lowering GOP Majority to 51 Seats
On January 3, Vice President Mike Pence swore in
(D-MN) to the U.S. Senate, lowering the Senate Republican majority from 52-48 to 51-49 for the remaining year of the 115th Congress. Jones previously served as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama from 1997-2001, where he prosecuted two Ku Klux Klan perpetrators of the 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four African-American girls. Jones
controversial former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore on Dec. 12 by a margin of 1.7 percentage points, 50%-48.3%, to complete the remaining three years of U.S. Attorney General, and former Senator, Jeff Sessions' six-year Senate term which ends on January 3, 2021. Jones replaces former Republican Senator Luther Strange, who was appointed to the Senate by former Alabama Governor Robert Bentley on February 9, and who served on the Senate Agriculture, Armed Services, Budget, and Energy and Natural Resources Committees.
Tina Smith previously served as Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota from January 5, 2015-January 2, 2018 and was chosen by Democratic Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton in December to temporarily succeed former Senator Al Franken (D-MN) in the Senate, who resigned on January 2 over sexual misconduct allegations first made against him in November. Smith also announced that she will run in the special election on November 6, 2018 for the remaining two years of Sen. Franken's six-year term, which ends on January 3, 2021. Sen. Franken served on the Senate Judiciary, Energy and Natural Resources, Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, and Indian Affairs Committees. Read more...
Sen. Orrin Hatch, Rep. Bill Shuster, Rep. Gregg Harper Announce Retirements
During the week of January 1, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT), the longest serving Republican Senator in U.S. history,
that he would be retiring from the Senate at the end of 2018. Hatch's exit paves the way for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney - a harsh critic of Trump and now a resident of Utah - to run for the seat, occupied by Hatch since January 1977, though the 2012 GOP presidential nominee has not announced his candidacy but did speak about Hatch with President Trump.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) announced that he would be retiring from Congress at the end of 2018. First elected in a special election in May 2001 to succeed his father in Congress, Rep. Bud Shuster, Shuster said he wants to spend his final year in Congress working to pass an infrastructure bill. The two top contenders to succeed Shuster in the 116th Congress as the top Republican on the House T&I Committee are Reps. Sam Graves (R-MO) and Jeff Denham (R-CA).
House Administration Committee Chairman Gregg Harper (R-MS) also announced that he would be retiring from Congress at the end of 2018. First elected in 2008, Harper is the seventh GOP committee chairman this cycle to announce plans to retire or leave Congress early, and his departure leaves advocates wondering whether they will be able to find another champion in the House who will continue his support for the burgeoning autonomous vehicle industry as a means of transforming the lives of disabled individuals.
HUD Postpones 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule to October 2020
On January 5, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced that it is
the Obama Administration's implementation of the
2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule
. The AFFH rule aims to realize aspects of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) of 1968 that never came to be. The FHA barred racial discrimination in housing, but not until a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling did the ban include "disparate impact": policies that are discriminatory without necessarily stating racial discrimination as an intent. Under the AFFH rule, communities are required to review their housing policies as they relate to segregation, and submit a plan, called an Assessment of Fair Housing (AFH), combat it. Failure to submit an AFH could result in a community losing block grants and housing aid from the federal government. HUD's decision gives participating jurisdictions-about 1,200 in total-until
October 31, 2020
, or after to submit their assessments (right now, municipal authorities are implementing AFFH in a rolling fashion, largely based on where they fall in their local planning cycles). Program participants who are covered by the AFFH rule include public housing agencies (PHAs) and jurisdictions that are required to submit a Consolidated Plan in connection with the receipt of CDBG, HOME, HOPWA, or ESG funding.
So far, HUD has received 49 submissions out of the 1,200 participating jurisdictions. In 2017, it found that 35 percent of the submissions were not accepted and sent back to the community for retooling.
AG Jeff Sessions Rescinds Obama-era Directive on Marijuana Enforcement
n January 4, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent a
making it easier for U.S. Attorneys to enforce federal marijuana laws in states that had legalized the substance - drawing swift criticism from jurisdictions that have approved pot use and stirring confusion among entrepreneurs in the burgeoning billion-dollar industry. Whether Sessions's Justice Department actually busts dispensaries or others involved in state-approved pot production remains to be seen, but his decision to undo previous guidance and possibly put a federal crackdown on the table riled business people, legislators and civil liberties advocates across the country. Though marijuana already was illegal under federal law, the Justice Department during the Obama Administration had issued
on Aug. 29, 2013 - which Sessions revoked - discouraging enforcement of the law in states where it was legal. Eight states and the District of Columbia have laws allowing for recreational marijuana consumption and 29 states permit the use of medical marijuana. Sessions said prosecutors should disregard the old Obama-era guidance and instead use their discretion - taking into consideration the department's limited resources, the seriousness of the crime and the deterrent effect that they could impose - in weighing whether charges were appropriate.
Trump Signs Executive Order Disbanding His Election Integrity Commission
On January 3, President Trump signed
Executive Order (E.O.) 13820
entitled "Termination of Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity." The E.O. revokes
, signed by President Trump on May 11, 2017, and terminates the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. The Commission held two meetings in 2017 after it was established and had to contend with at least 15 lawsuits filed in state and federal courts that challenged the actions of the panel. The commission's work will now be in the hands of the Department of Homeland Security. The White House
that "Despite substantial evidence of voter fraud, many states have refused to provide the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity with basic information relevant to its inquiry. Rather than engage in endless legal battles at taxpayer expense, today President Donald J. Trump signed an executive order to dissolve the Commission, and he has asked the Department of Homeland Security to review its initial findings and determine next courses of action."
Trump Signs Three Bills Into Law
On January 3, President Trump
the following three bills into law:
- Public Law 115-98, the "United States Fire Administration, AFG, and SAFER Program Reauthorization Act of 2017," which authorizes appropriations for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA's) U.S. Fire Administration through FY 2023; and reauthorizes three FEMA firefighter assistance grant programs through FY 2023: the Assistance to Firefighters (AFG) Grant Program, the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) Grant Program, and the Fire Prevention and Safety Grants Program;
- Public Law 115-99, the "Combating Human Trafficking in Commercial Vehicle Act," which requires the Department of Transportation to: designate an official to coordinate human trafficking prevention efforts across the Department and with other Federal agencies; establish an advisory committee on human trafficking; and expand the scope of activities authorized under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's Outreach and Education Program to include human trafficking prevention; and
- Public Law 115-100, which extends from December 18, 2017, to January 19, 2018, the moratorium on the requirement for Clean Water Act permitting of incidental discharges from certain vessels.
Senate Confirms John Rood as Under Secretary of Defense for Policy
On January 3, the Senate confirmed, by a vote of
John C. Rood
to be Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, the principal staff assistant and adviser to both the Secretary of Defense and the Deputy Secretary of Defense for all matters concerning the formation of policy development, planning, resource management, fiscal, and program evaluation responsibilities. Rood most recently served as the Senior Vice President for Lockheed Martin International. Rood also served for more than 20 years in Federal Government positions, including Acting Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, and Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation. He also served at the National Security Council as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director of Counterproliferation and Director of Proliferation Strategy for Counterproliferation in Homeland Defense. Rood served at the Defense Department as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Forces Policy, and at the Central Intelligence Agency as an analyst following missile programs in foreign countries. In addition, Rood has also served as senior policy advisor to Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ).
Senate Passes VETS Act of 2017
On January 3, the Senate passed, by Unanimous Consent, the Veterans E-Health and Telemedicine Support (VETS) Act of 2017 (
), which seeks to improve veterans' access to health care services by expanding telehealth services - including mental health treatment - provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), across state lines if VA health officials are qualified and practice within the scope of their authorized federal duties.
Trump Renominates 21 Judicial Nominees and Announces Intent to Nominate 14 Others Nominees
On January 5, President Trump
21 judicial nominees, six appeals court and 15 district court-level, who were previously nominated to be Federal judges in 2017, but whose nominations were returned to the White House by the Senate at the end of the first session of the 115th Congress:
- Elizabeth "Lisa" Branch to serve as a Circuit Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit (Alabama, Florida, and Georgia);
- Michael Brennan to serve as a Circuit Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin);
- Ryan Bounds to serve as a Circuit Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington);
- Stuart Duncan to serve as a Circuit Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit (Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas);
- Kurt Engelhardt to serve as a Circuit Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit;
- David Stras to serve as a Circuit Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit (Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota);
- Barry Ashe to serve as a District Judge on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana;
- Annemarie Axon to serve as a District Judge on the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama;
- Liles Burke to serve as a District Judge on the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama;
- Jeffrey Beaverstock to serve as a District Judge on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama;
- Daniel Domenico to serve as a District Judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado;
- Thomas Farr to serve as a District Judge on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina;
- Charles Goodwin to serve as a District Judge on the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma;
- Michael Juneau to serve as a District Judge on the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana;
- Matthew Kacsmaryk to serve as a District Judge on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas;
- Emily Marks to serve as a District Judge on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama;
- Terry Moorer to serve as a District Judge on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama;
- Mark Norris to serve as a District Judge on the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee;
- William Ray to serve as a District Judge on the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia;
- Eli Richardson to serve as a District Judge on the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee; and
- Holly Teeter to serve as a District Judge on the United States District Court for the District of Kansas.
Trump also announced his intent to nominate the following 14 individuals to positions in his Administration:
- Holly Greaves to be the Chief Financial Officer of the Environmental Protection Agency;
- Josephine Olsen to be Director of the Peace Corps;
- Anne White to be Assistant Secretary of Energy for Environmental Management;
- Marco Rajkovich to be a Member and Chairman of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission for the remainder of a six year term expiring August 30, 2022;
- Marie Royce to be Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs;
- William Roper to be Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition;
- Kevin Fahey to be Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition;
- Sean Cairncross to be Chief Executive Officer of the Millennium Challenge Corporation;
- Tim Thomas to be the Federal Co-Chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission;
- Kevin Moley to be Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizational Affairs;
- Andrew Gellert to be U.S. Ambassador to Chile;
- Leandro Rizzuto to be U.S. Ambassador to Barbados, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Saint Lucia;
- James Woodworth to be Commissioner of Education Statistics, Department of Education, for the remainder of a six year term expiring June 21, 2021; and
- Michelle Giuda to be Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs.