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BY JOHN BRESNAHAN, ANNA PALMER, JAKE SHERMAN AND HEATHER CAYGLE
WITH MAX COHEN AND CHRISTIAN HALL
Happy Thursday morning. A quick reminder: Jake and Anna will interview Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell this morning at 9 a.m. We’re fully committed in person, but you can tune in here to watch virtually.
Get ready for next week. Congress is set to leave for the Easter recess at the end of next week, meaning Washington is about to face a legislative logjam with three critical issues lined up for possible action.
→ The must do: SCOTUS. The Senate Democratic leadership will move forward with the confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court to replace the retiring Justice Stephen Breyer. If confirmed – which is all but assured at this point barring some dramatic reversal – the 51-year-old Jackson will become the first Black woman to serve on the high court. She’ll also be the first Democratic-nominated justice to take a seat in a dozen years. While Jackson won’t alter the court’s ideological balance, she’s likely to be on the bench for decades to come.
So there’s a lot riding on this for President Joe Biden and Senate Democrats. Yet pushing the nomination across the finish line is going to take most of the week.
On Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will vote on Jackson’s nomination. Unless something changes, it will be a tie vote inside the panel. This means that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will need to file a motion to discharge the nomination from the committee – unless Republicans agree to forward Jackson’s nomination without that anyway, which isn’t likely to happen.
On Tuesday, Schumer will file cloture on the nomination. Wednesday will be the intervening day.
On Thursday, the Senate will vote on cloture to end debate on the Jackson nomination. Under Senate rules, following that vote, there are up to 30 hours of debate time. With the outcome of Jackson’s nomination a foregone conclusion, party leaders will try to reach a time agreement to speed up the process. The lure of recess will be beckoning at that point.
But there’s more…
→ Covid relief. As we noted Wednesday morning, a new Covid prep package is back on the front burner. Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer met yesterday afternoon to exchange offers on that package. Republicans and Democrats were haggling over pay-fors, and sources told us the two sides had major differences.
One example: Senate Minority Whip John Thune told The Hill’s Jordain Carney Wednesday night that the cost of the package had shrunk from $15 billion to $10 billion. Plus, Romney – who is leading the talks for Republicans – has said that he wants the budgetary offsets to be validated by the Congressional Budget Office. Logistically and substantively, that will be a challenge.
In other words, it’s not entirely clear that they’ll get a deal. But on both sides of the Capitol and at the White House, there’s real urgency to get this done before Congress leaves town for a few weeks.
→ The Russia oil ban and trade relations. The Senate is still wrestling with a bill to ban oil imports from Russia while also ending preferred trade relations with both Russia and Belarus. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has ended his legislative blockade of the bill. However, sources tell us that a few other Republican senators also have holds preventing the bill from moving forward.
These holds aren’t insurmountable, but they will require some negotiations between Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. That takes time, as will the process of debating and amending any subsequent bill.
The other issue here is that the House has already approved this measure by a big bipartisan margin. Meaning if the Senate amends it, the legislation will have to go back to the House for final approval before it can be sent to Biden.
In other words, you should expect that next week is just one of those weeks, especially in the Senate.
For your awareness: The White House and Schumer suffered an embarrassing defeat on Wednesday night when a trio of moderate Senate Democrats joined with all the Republicans to tank Labor Department nominee David Weil.
Weil, nominated to serve as the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division administrator, is the first Biden-era nominee to go down to defeat on the Senate floor. Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), Mark Kelly (Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.) joined with Republicans to block his nomination from moving ahead. Weil, who was nominated to the post for a second time, faced heavy criticism from Republicans over how he led the agency during the Obama administration.
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THE JAN. 6 COMMITTEE
Kushner to testify to 1/6 panel today
Jared Kushner, former President Donald Trump’s son in law and top White House aide, will testify remotely before the Jan. 6 committee today. Kushner is the highest-ranking Trump aide to testify to the panel so far. Kushner is appearing voluntarily and hasn’t been subpoenaed.
Kushner was returning from Saudi Arabia on the day of the Jan. 6 insurrection, and ABC News reported that he did not go back to the White House upon landing in the United States. Since the committee is focused on the attack on the Capitol, we’re not sure what Kushner will be able to provide.
Biden searches for gas price fix
With the country reeling from soaring gas prices, President Joe Biden is considering a plan to release as much as one million barrels of oil per day from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve during the next six months.
Biden will speak this afternoon on his administration’s efforts “to reduce the impact of Putin’s price hike on energy prices and lower gas prices at the pump for American families,” according to the White House schedule. That’s a reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine, which has been the latest reason gas prices have spiked.
The move – first reported by Bloomberg News – sent prices lower by more than 5% overnight, but it’s going to take more than that to make a real impact on this issue, which has quickly become a serious political liability for Democrats heading into the midterm elections.
A few political realities
→ Republicans are going to immediately say this is a gimmick. They have pushed for Biden to increase domestic energy production – hardly a silver bullet either – and say that releasing oil from the SPR is just a band-aid and not a real plan to lower prices at the pump. They want more oil and gas production, and they blame Biden for the downturn in U.S. oil output since taking office.
→ House Democrats are scrambling to come up with their own legislation to push down gas prices – and quickly. Led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrats have been eyeing policies ranging from direct payments to offset gas prices to forcing companies with leases to drill or lose their lease.
→ House Democrats are also hauling in oil company executives next week to harangue them about high prices, a tried-and-true tactic whenever this happens.
All of this action comes as a new Quinnipiac Poll shows that a plurality of Americans blame Biden for high gas prices. Forty-one percent of those who responded say the Biden administration’s economic policies are to blame for the rise in price at the pump; 39 percent of independents blame Biden. Just 24 percent of those polled say the high prices are due to the war in Ukraine and sanctions against Russia, which has been the message coming from the White House and Hill Democrats.
In that same poll, Biden has a 36% job approval rating. On the economy, Biden gets a 34% rating, with 58% disapproving. These are dismal numbers, and unless something is done to turn this around over the next seven months, Democrats are going to pay the price with voters.
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→ House Democrats held two huge fundraisers Wednesday that raised a total of $3 million yesterday to support the DCCC. The influx in cash comes after a concerted push from leadership earlier this week to get members to pay their campaign committee dues.
House Democratic Caucus Vice Chair Pete Aguilar and Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.) hosted a lunch that raised $1 million for Frontliners — the most endangered House Democratic incumbents. The sum represents the largest amount raised in a single event for Frontliners in the party campaign arm’s history. DCCC Chair Sean Patrick Maloney was also present.
Aguilar, Bera and Maloney are all former Frontliners themselves. Bera is also currently chair of the DCCC’s Frontline program.
Check out the flier:
→ About last night: House Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard Neal hosted an event with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Maloney and other Ways and Means Democrats. The Neal-led dinner brought in a whopping $2 million for the DCCC, according to multiple sources.
→ Alex Isenstadt of Politico reported that House Republicans raised $215,000 for Harriet Hageman, Rep. Liz Cheney’s (R-Wyo.) primary challenger, at the D.C. home of lobbyist Jeff Miller, a close Kevin McCarthy ally. Color us a tiny bit unimpressed with that total.
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10:15 a.m.: President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will get the daily intelligence briefing.
10:45 a.m.: Speaker Nancy Pelosi will hold her weekly news conference.
1:30 p.m.: Biden will speak about gas prices.
3 p.m.: Kate Bedingfield will brief reporters.
→ “C.D.C. to Lift Order Restricting Immigration During the Pandemic,” by Eileen Sullivan
→ “House Republicans Tire of Madison Cawthorn’s Antics. Some in His District Have, Too,” by Trip Gabriel in Hendersonville, N.C.
→ “Facing new political reality, Murkowski considers a vote for Jackson,” by Mike DeBonis
→ “Europe Woos Qatar for an Alternative to Russian Gas,” by Benoit Faucon, Summer Said and Stephen Kalin
→ “The U.S. Sanctions a Russian Oligarch—but Exempts His Companies,” by Justin Scheck, Betsy McKay and Rob Barry
→ “Profits Soar as U.S. Corporations Have Best Year Since 1950,” by Matthew Boesler
→ “Ukrainian president says defense is at a ‘turning point,’” by Nebi Qena and Yuras Karmanau in Kyiv
→ “Ukrainians in US mobilize to help 100,000 expected refugees,” by Kathleen Ronayne in Sacramento
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Editorial photos provided by Getty Images
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