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Stephen Boyd: The Washington Brief – June 11, 2024

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

Summer on Capitol Hill is usually defined by a flurry of nuts-and-bolts lawmaking to clear the decks of legislation prior to the traditional August recess, but I don’t see that burst of productivity happening this year: Summer 2024 in Washington will be defined by politics, not policy. Here’s why. 

First — perhaps this is good news — there’s no major deadline on the horizon that would cause a fiscal cliff, tax hike, or shutdown. That takes pressure off of Congress, a responsive institution that too often moves on major issues only when it must—and usually at the last minute.

Second, for now, neither chamber is led by a majority with the leverage to pass sweeping legislation. House Speaker Mike Johnson’s challenges steering the Republican majority in the House are well documented. But even in the Senate, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer struggles to herd cats within his Democratic Caucus, now made up of 47 Democrats and four independents following Sen. Joe Manchin’s recent defection

Third, and most critical: in the wake of Trump’s conviction in New York, a growing undercurrent of political animosity is simmering below the surface just as Mar-a-Lago increasingly calls the shots within the Republican party. A few recent examples of Trump’s increasing influence:   

  • Speaker Johnson appointed two Trump allies to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI), reportedly without Republican Chairman Mike Turner’s approval. HPSCI would be central to any investigation of the intelligence community distrusted by Trump, and many believe that the appointments came at his behest.  


  • “Trump endorses a challenger to the Chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus” is not something many had on their 2024 political bingo cards, but that’s what happened in a Virginia congressional race. Trump threw his support behind challenger John McGuire in the June 18 primary. The incumbent, hardliner Bob Good, appears to be paying the price for endorsing Ron DeSantis in the presidential primary. In neighboring Maryland, Trump’s team attacked Larry Hogan, a moderate Republican trying to score a blue seat pickup that would help Republicans regain control of the Senate. Hogan had urged Americans to respect the legal process following Trump’s recent conviction. Those moves send signals to any elected Republican on the fence about Trump.


  • Following the jury’s verdict in New York, eight Republican senators wrote in a May 31 letter that they were “unwilling to aid and abet” the White House in “its project to tear this country apart.” The Senators pledged not to “allow any increase to non-security related funding for this administration, or any appropriations bill which funds partisan lawfare,” promised to oppose Biden’s political and judicial appointees, and vowed to fight passage of Democrat legislation … that [is] not directly relevant to the safety of the American people.” As a practical matter, the signatories of the letter weren’t likely to support any of those initiatives anyway, but they can certainly grind the Senate to a halt.    


These are the behind-the-scenes machinations of a political boss preparing the battlefield for his own victory. And with each passing day this summer, work on Capitol Hill will gradually yield to a campaign season that is sure to be unlike any other and an election that will, hopefully, decide the issue. Until then, many Members and staff are preparing to batten down the hatches and ride out the storm.


The Summer’s Legislative Roadmap 

Will anything be accomplished before August? A little, yes. The payoff may come later, but work in a few areas now is worth watching because the bills are important enough to eventually defy the odds. 


  • The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) authorizes spending for the Department of Defense and establishes certain Pentagon policies and programs. In the House, armed services committee Chairman Mike Rogers produced a strong bill that the full House will consider this week. 1,357 amendments have been filed. Most of those will be dispensed without a vote, but a few key issues at play include abortion and DEI provisions, restrictions on America’s support for Ukraine, and noteworthy shifts from legacy warfighting systems to drones and AI. In the Senate, the committee will mark up its version of the NDAA in a two-day, closed-door session. Ranking Member Roger Wicker (MS) is seeking to boost the top line of the bill by $55 billion that he says—correctly in my view—is needed to keep pace with China. Expect a final vote on the NDAA after the election. 


  • The FY2025 Annual Appropriations cycle is cranking up, and House funding tables may start appearing today. That said, it’s widely expected that the government will be operating under another Continuing Resolution (CR) by October, and the real question is how far that CR will extend. A CR keeping the government open past the election would be typical, but some are pushing for the stop-gap measure to push into next Spring to give a new administration an opportunity to impact FY2025 spending. On the other hand, those with experience in this scenario—nothing in Washington is really new except the people—know that burning the first 100 days of a new administration cleaning up last year’s mess is a missed opportunity. Also, a delayed CR means that stakeholders with funding caught up in this year’s bills might not actually see those funds until next summer. 


  • The Farm Bill, already extended from last year, expires on September 30. The Republican-led House agriculture committee approved a bill, the first sign of real progress. Democrat Debbie Stabenow, chair of the Senate committee, responded that “key parts of the House bill split the Farm Bill coalition in a way that makes it impossible to achieve the votes to become law.” She’s not the only one who thinks passage of a Farm Bill this year is a long shot. While any movement on this massive legislation is a positive step, expect another extension.   


  • Judicial Nominations. It’s not legislation, and that’s the point: as time winds down in the 118th Congress, Democrats will seize opportunities to confirm federal judges with lifetime appointments to the bench. It’s the best way to leave a lasting legacy in the event the Senate flips in 2025. Biden has already appointed 201 Article III judges, exceeding the pace set by his predecessor. (Ultimately, Trump appointed 234 confirmed judges in four years; Obama and Bush appointed 329 and 327, respectively, over eight.)


What will Matter Most in June?


The Supreme Court may take the most consequential action this summer when it opines on a legal doctrine known as Chevron Deference, a 40-year-old administrative law requirement that courts defer to a federal agency’s reasonable interpretation of an ambiguous statute. That sounds deceptively legalese, but it’s hugely important. Overturning Chevron would shift the balance of power from federal agencies to the courts and could have profound implications for those seeking to challenge the regulatory state on a wide range of issues. Oral arguments were held in January. Expect a major decision this month. 


Caught My Eye…

The House Committee on Oversight last week called Dr. Anthony Fauci to testify, a hearing that predictably spiraled into name calling and posturing. More compelling: a detailed op-ed in Sunday’s New York Times by Dr. Alina Chan, a molecular biologist and author, who writes in “Why the Pandemic Probably Started in a Wuhan Labthat the “pandemic could have been caused by any of hundreds of virus species, at any of tens of thousands of wildlife markets, in any of thousands of cities, and in any year. But it was a SARS-like coronavirus with a unique [protein feature] that emerged in Wuhan, less than two years after scientists, sometimes working under inadequate biosafety conditions, proposed collecting and creating viruses of that same design.” Congress should set aside the political theatrics that surround COVID-19 to better understand how the pandemic started—and what we can do to stop the next one. 


The Congressional Schedule 

After Congressional leaders truncated last week’s legislative activity to allow Members to attend the 80th Anniversary of D-Day in France, both the House and the Senate return to work today.  


  • In the House: consideration of the FY25 NDAA.


  • In the Senate: a vote on a nominee to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission—a routine confirmation that might have been unanimously approved in the past but now requires the Senate’s full attention.  


Looking ahead… Next week, the House is in recess, but Senators are scheduled to be in Washington for a work week divided by the Juneteenth federal holiday. The following week of June 24 is flipped: the Senate is in recess, but the House will be voting. Both chambers are then dark for the July 4th break.


And… don’t forget to add few dates to your summer political calendar:  


  • The first Presidential debate between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump will take place on the very early date of June 27. CNN is hosting. 
  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will address a joint session of Congress on July 24. The speech will be Netanyahu’s fourth before Congress and his most politically fraught.
  • The Republican National Convention will take place July 15 through July 18 in Milwaukee, WI. 
  • The August recess in Congress is scheduled from August 5 through September 6
  • The Democratic National Convention will take place August 19 through August 22 in Chicago, IL. 
  • The second Presidential debate, hosted by ABC, will take place on September 10—75 days after the first.  


Stephen E. Boyd is a Partner at Horizons Global Solutions. Previously, he served as a Senate-confirmed Assistant Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice, Chief of Staff for Alabama members in both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, and as a Communications Director of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. He resides in the Washington, D.C. area. Opinions expressed herein are his own. Contact Stephen at [email protected] or via X at @SEBOYD79 or via LinkedIn


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