Senate – Senate Republicans continue to recoil at a potential COVID-19 response package, currently being negotiated in fits and starts between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Last Friday, the White House offered a $1.8 trillion proposal to the Speaker, but it was sharply criticized by Senate Republicans and House Democrats, albeit for different reasons. Secretary Mnuchin clearly wants an agreement, but Senate Republicans remain concerned about the overall spending level and increasing federal deficit. Politically, Republicans are starting to view this package as having the same long-term political risks as the 2008 bailout vote.
As expected, days before a national election both parties are trying to score political points which does not support a bipartisan legislative environment. Senate Republicans want the focus of the next few weeks to be on Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Consideration of a COVID-19 response package could not only be used to delay Judge Barrett’s confirmation, but could also prove politically difficult for some members to consider days before the election. The politics of a Supreme Court vacancy make a deal in the next month seem impossible.
Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearings started today, with opening statements from Judge Barrett and Senate Judiciary Committee members. Tuesday and Wednesday will be dedicated to questions and answers between senators and Judge Barrett. On Thursday, the committee is expected to hear testimony from outside witnesses on Judge Barrett’s fitness to serve on the Supreme Court. The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to try and vote on Judge Barrett’s confirmation next week in order to set up consideration of her nomination on the Senate floor the following week.
As they clearly did yesterday, Democrats, for the most part, will be focused on the Affordable Care Act (aka, Obamacare) and its legal fate, which now hangs in the balance at the Supreme Court. Some Democratic senators pressed Barrett to recuse herself from that case. Moreover, pundits, critics, and voters alike will be watching those committee members on the ballot on November 3rd: Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Vice-Presidential nominee, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA).
After a few senators tested positive for COVID last week, the full Senate went into recess; it is expected to reconvene the week of October 19 to consider judicial nominations.
House – Speaker Pelosi continues to lambast the Trump Administration’s COVID-19 response offers as insufficient. For his part, President Trump continues to tweet about his support for a COVID deal. Further talks are expected this week.
White House – President Trump will be returning to the campaign trail this week following his recovery from COVID-19. He will travel to the battleground states of Florida, Pennsylvania, Iowa, and North Carolina.