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Stephen Boyd: THE MONDAY BRIEF | April 17, 2023

Stephen Boyd’s weekly Capitol Hill briefing for Alabama’s business, financial, defense and government affairs executives.

The Schedule…

The House of Representatives and the Senate each return to legislative action this week after a two-week recess. Today marks the start of a busy 10-week period in which at least one chamber is at work in Washington nearly every day. 

A lot will happen between now and July 4th, but this stretch will be most defined by early work on congressional spending bills. A key question: How will the bills be brought to the House floor for consideration? Republican House leaders previously expressed an intent to provide opportunities for more members to offer and vote on more amendments. That’s great for the health of the institution, but the unwieldy practice was scuttled years ago because it produces unpredictable results on “must pass” legislation. While Republicans, newly in the majority, bear the burden of actually funding the government, a realistic shot at an up-or-down vote on a pet project is hard for many rank-and-file members to pass up. Seemingly arcane procedural decisions could have significant consequences for policy and politics.  

SCHEDULING NOTE: Tomorrow, April 18, is Tax Day. Running late? File an extension here. 

Catching Up & Looking Ahead…

As Members return, staff will brief their bosses on key developments from the past two weeks and forecast what the next few days on Capitol Hill hold in store. Some of the issues they’ll raise: 

  • ON THE HOUSE FLOOR… The House Rules Committee will meet this afternoon to prep two bills for House floor consideration, one of which is H.R. 734, the “Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act of 2023.” Of note, this is the House companion to a bill introduced by Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville. The legislation would ensure Title IX provisions treat gender as “based solely on a person’s reproductive biology and genetics at birth,” and would ban “recipients of federal funding from operating, sponsoring, or facilitating athletic programs that permit a male to participate in a women’s sporting event.” 
  • ON THE SENATE FLOOR… The Senate will return to consider the nomination of Radha Iyengar Plumb to be a Deputy Under Secretary of Defense. The Senate then may move to legislation to reauthorize the U.S. Fire Administration, the Assistance to Firefighters Grants Program, and the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grant Program.
  • DEBT LIMIT REMAINS TOP HEADACHE. The U.S. government has exceeded its statutory authority to borrow money to pay its debts, and the temporary “extraordinary measures” currently utilized by the Treasury Department will expire sometime between June and September. Reports suggest that House Republicans are compiling a legislative package to raise the debt ceiling but cap discretionary spending and effectuate a number of other conservative cost-saving cuts. None of this is anywhere close to final. The big question continues to be whether the defense budget, which represents about half of discretionary spending, will ultimately be on the chopping block. In congressional negotiations, early legislative proposals are often intended as markers to stake out a position, put members on record, and, in this case, jumpstart talks with the White House. We’re 107 days into 2023; Washington has taken no significant step toward a resolution on the debt issue. 
  • FEINSTEIN, JUDGES, & the JUDICIARY COMMITTEE. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)—at age 89, the oldest member of the Senate—has been sidelined for weeks due to medical reasons, an occurrence not uncommon in the institution. More notable is Feinstein’s recent request to be temporarily replaced on the prestigious Senate Committee on the Judiciary. One reason: Feinstein’s absence on the narrowly divided panel jeopardizes President Biden’s efforts to surpass the number of federal judges confirmed under President Trump. “Remaking the judiciary” is often cited among the Trump Administration’s top achievements, and Biden and Majority Leader Schumer are working to counter the surge of conservative jurists confirmed between 2017 and 2020. Passing the necessary resolution to change the committee’s membership will require 60 votes in the full Senate. In the clubby Senate of decades ago, that would be a formality. Today, it’s less certain. 
  • SCOTT (PROBABLY) IN & POMPEO (DEFINITELY) OUT. South Carolina Senator Tim Scott announced a committee to test the waters for a run for the Republican nomination for President. Translation: He’s running. Other declared candidates include former president Donald Trump, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Florida governor Ron DeSantis and former Vice President Mike Pence are widely expected to enter the race. On the other hand, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took himself out of contention. “While we care deeply about America, and the issues that I’ve been talking about this last year and half, and frankly for decades, matter an awful lot, this isn’t our moment,” Pompeo said. 
  • LEAKS—Members will seek additional details regarding a damaging leak of classified military information about the war in Ukraine. At least one closed-door briefing is planned this week. Last Thursday, the FBI arrested Jack Douglas Teixeira, a 21-year-old member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard. While the Department of Justice will handle the criminal investigation and prosecution, expect Congress to focus on systemic issues of how intelligence is handled and how security clearances are managed. About 4.2 million Americans hold a security clearance, although the majority are at relatively low levels. 
  • GANG GETS THE DOCS. After a lengthy tussle with the Biden Administration, the “Gang of 8” is now getting a look at the classified documents found at Mar-a-Lago and at President’s Biden’s residence and personal offices. The bipartisan Gang, which includes the most senior members of House and Senate leadership and the heads of the respective intelligence committees, often gets access to sensitive materials that the 527 other Members of Congress don’t. Why deal only with the Gang? The small group takes its special responsibilities seriously, which limits leaks and media soundbites. Notably, the Gang’s request for information seems focused on the actual intelligence materials, not on the criminal investigations surrounding their handling—a distinction that may have helped the “accommodations” process move forward as the Department of Justice traditionally does not share information with Congress about active investigations.  
  • THOMAS GIFT STORY DRAWS ATTENTION. Conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s alleged acceptance of pricey gifts from a friend who happens to be a billionaire and major GOP donor is itself a gift to Democrats on the Hill. That said, the acceptance of the gifts and the lack of public disclosure do not appear to violate the high court’s ethics rules, which are far looser than those that govern Congress or the Executive Branch. While there is no chance that Justice Thomas is impeached over the matter, there is a small possibility that the incident causes Congress to revisit the issue of judicial ethics—and a near certainty that Democrats will raise the issue at every opportunity. Thomas’s acceptance of the gifts came to light following an extensive report by ProPublica. 

6 Committee Hearings to Note…

Tuesday, April 18

The House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry will hold a hearing on “A Review of USDA Animal Disease Prevention and Response Efforts.” (April 18, 10 a.m., 1300 Longworth Bldg.)

The House Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee in Strategic Forces will hold a hearing on DOD’s missile defense programs. (April 18, 3 p.m., 2118 Rayburn Bldg.)

The Senate Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on Airland will look at Army modernization efforts ahead of consideration of the FY2024 National Defense Authorization Act. (April 18, 2:30 p.m., 232-A Russell Bldg.)

Wednesday, April 19

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, & Science will hold a hearing on NASA’s budget. (April 19, 1:30 p.m., 2359 Rayburn Bldg.)

HASC’s Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces Committee will hold a hearing on the Rotary wing Aviation Budget,” of importance to Redstone Arsenal and the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence at Ft. Novosel—the military installation formerly known as Ft. Rucker. (April 19, 3 p.m., 2118 Rayburn Bldg.)

Thursday, April 20

The Senate Committee on Agriculture’s subcommittee on Conservation, Climate, Forestry, and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing about the upcoming Farm Bill reauthorization. (April 20, 10 a.m., 328-A Russell Bldg.)

Worth Your Time…

Kids Can’t Read’: The Revolt That Is Taking on the Education Establishment,” by Sarah Mervosh at the New York Times, offers a disturbing and thought provoking look at how we are teaching our kids to read—or not, as the case may be: 

Research shows that most children need systematic, sound-it-out instruction — known as phonics — as well as other direct support, like building vocabulary and expanding students’ knowledge of the world. … A popular method of teaching, known as “balanced literacy,” has focused less on phonics and more on developing a love of books and ensuring students understand the meaning of stories. At times, it has included dubious strategies, like guiding children to guess words from pictures.” 

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