Good morning! It’s Thursday, February 4, 2021. Election Day 2022 is 642 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,370 days away.
House Republicans choose “all of the above”
In Wednesday’s newsletter, I wrote about the choice facing House Republicans: standing with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), the first-term congresswoman who has amplified conspiracy theories, or Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), the GOP conference chair who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump.
In the end, the House GOP chose “all of the above”: opting to stand with both lawmakers at the opposite poles of their divided party. The entire Republican conference met for a marathon five-hour “family meeting” on Wednesday, debating what to do about both Greene and Cheney.
The party voted 145-61 to keep Cheney in place as conference chair in a secret ballot, dealing a significant blow to the Trump allies who had been hoping to oust her. At the same time, they also decided not to strip Greene — one of the most ardent Trump backers in the conference — of her committee assignments, despite her past support for QAnon and other baseless conspiracy theories.
According to The Hill, Greene apologized to her colleagues for some of her more controversial remarks, telling them “that she made a mistake” by embracing QAnon so fully. “She received a standing ovation from some members of the caucus at the conclusion of her remarks,” the newspaper reported.
Now that Republicans have chosen to keep both Cheney and Greene within the party fold, they will have to keep their “big tent” from breaking over the next two years. The first test of that party unity will come today, when Democrats are forcing a floor vote on a resolution that would remove Greene from her assigned committees.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) issued a statement on Wednesday condemning Greene’s previous comments “unequivocally,” but blasting the House vote on her committee assignments as a “partisan power grab.” Indeed, the vote could set a risky precedent for Democrats, with some Republicans already discussing removing controversial progressive members from their committees if the GOP wins back the House majority next year.
The Latest: Stimulus negotiations
The House voted Wednesday to approve a budget resolution that clears the way for Democrats to ram through President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill by party-lines majority vote. The resolution was approved in a 218-212 vote, with Democratic Reps. Ed Case (HI) and Jared Golden (ME) joining all present Republicans in voting “nay.”
The Senate will soon vote on its version of the resolution, but only after holding a “vote-a-rama”: an unrestricted series of amendment votes that will likely stretch late into the night. Republicans have already prepared more than 400 amendments — including many designed to put Democrats on the record on tough issues, from the Keystone XL pipeline to abortion.
Once the resolutions are passed, Biden’s stimulus package will be immune from the 60-vote filibuster threshold in the Senate and will only need Democratic votes to pass. However, with slim majorities in both chambers of Congress, he still needs to persuade some Democrats to ensure the party is completely united behind the package.
Biden told House Democrats in a Wednesday phone call that he was open to changing the overall price tag of his stimulus package to assuage some moderate lawmakers. The president also said that he was open to sending the proposed $1,400 direct payments in the bill to a more targeted group of Americans, although he said the amount of the checks would never change. “I am not going to start by breaking a promise to the American people,” Biden affirmed.
Q&A: Organizing the Senate
Q: Could you discuss the intricacies of the power-sharing agreement for the Senate? I had assumed that with Democrats winning control of the Senate (51 votes when Harris votes as a tie-breaker), that gavels for the Senate Majority Leader as well as committee chairs would automatically pass to the Democrats. — Kathleen Sitzer of St. Louis, Missouri
Q: Can you explain what’s going on with Merrick Garland’s nomination as Attorney General and when we might expect his approval? — Sara Bostock of Sausalito, California
A: Normally when a new party claims the Senate majority, the exchange of committee gavels is fairly automatic. However, two elements complicated that process this year: first, the Democrats didn’t technically become the majority party until 17 days into the congressional session, since they had to wait for Vice President Kamala Harris to be sworn in as their tie-breaking vote. And, second, because the Senate is tied 50-50, a number of issues had to be sorted out between the two Senate leaders to decide how to share power in the divided chamber.
The organizing resolution which sorted out those issues didn’t pass until Wednesday, a full two weeks after Democrats became the majority party. That led to an awkward situation for the past 14 days, where Chuck Schumer (D-NY) was the Senate Majority Leader and Democrats controlled the floor — but Republicans maintained control of the committees, because the new committee assignments had yet to be adopted by the full Senate. The Senate is a continuous body, so committees continue to operate from one Congress to the next until new assignments are approved — it just normally doesn’t take this long for that to happen.
Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) ended up modeling the power-sharing agreement after the one used in 2001, the last time there was a 50-50 Senate. Committees will be split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, although Democrats will be able to send bills and nominees to the floor in the case of a tie in committee. (No commitment was made in the resolution about preserving the legislative filibuster, as McConnell had pushed for.)
Now that Democrats are in control of both the committees and the floor, President Biden’s nominees will likely sail through the Senate much faster. To answer the second question, outgoing Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) rejected a request from incoming chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL) this week to schedule the confirmation hearing for Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland for February 8. (Graham was still chairman until the organizing resolution was approved.)
Now that the gavel has been passed from Graham to Durbin (in fact, Graham isn’t even the top Republican on the committee any more), the new chairman will be able to schedule the hearing himself and move forward with the nomination.
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President Joe Biden will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9:30 a.m. in the Oval Office before visiting the State Department in the afternoon. He will meet with department staffers at 1:30 p.m., meet with Secretary of State Antony Blinken at 2 p.m., and deliver remarks on foreign policy at 2:45 p.m.
According to CNN, during his address, Biden will announce an increase in the number of refugees who can come to the United States. The Trump administration had set the annual refugee cap at 15,000, its lowest level since 1980. Biden pledged on the campaign trail to set an annual cap of 125,000, although it is unclear if that is the number he will announce today.
Biden will also deliver remarks today at the virtual National Prayer Breakfast, continuing a presidential tradition that stretches back to Dwight Eisenhower in 1953.
Vice President Kamala Harris will join Biden for the President’s Daily Brief and the State Department visit.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will hold a press briefing in the White House briefing room at 11:30 a.m.
The Senate will convene at 10 a.m. Following Leader remarks, the chamber will resume consideration of S.Con.Res. 5, the budget resolution that will allow Democrats to pass a coronavirus relief package through the reconciliation process. To close the debate, the time from 2 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. will be equally divided between Senate Budget Committee chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and ranking member Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
There is no limit on the number of amendments that can be offered on a budget resolution, so the Senate will then launch onto a “vote-a-rama” around 2:30 p.m., in which hundreds of amendments will be voted on over the course of several hours before the resolution can be approved.
- The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a confirmation vote on UN Ambassador nominee Linda Thomas-Greenfield at 9:45 a.m.
- The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will hold a confirmation hearing on Labor Secretary nominee Marty Walsh at 10 a.m.
- Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Reps. Alma Adams (D-NC), Mondaire Jones (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) will hold a press conference at about 11 a.m. on their resolution calling on the president to cancel up to $50,000 in debt for federal student loan borrowers.
- The Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee will hold confirmation votes on Marcia Fudge, nominee to be Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and Cecilia Rouse, nominee to be Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, at 2 p.m.
The House will convene at 10 a.m. After a series of one-minute speeches from members, the chamber will begin consideration of H.Res. 72, a resolution to remove Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) from the House Budget Committee and the House Education and Labor Committee. The House will debate the measure for one hour before holding a final vote.
- The House Oversight and Reform Committee will hold a hearing on the Trump administration’s child separation policy, featuring testimony from Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz, at 10 a.m.
- The House Financial Services Committee will hold a hearing on “the need for additional COVID-19 stimulus” at 10 a.m.
- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will hold her weekly press conference at 10:45 a.m. in the Capitol Visitor Center.
The Supreme Court is not in session.