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Happy Tuesday morning.
On Monday afternoon, we scooped that top House and Senate Democrats had a new plan for Ukraine aid.
Here’s what to expect – Congress is going to move forward quickly on a nearly $40 billion aid package for Ukraine. The proposal is $6.8 billion above the White House’s $33 billion request. It provides $3.4 billion more than the Biden administration sought for military aid, plus another $3.4 billion in additional humanitarian aid. House and Senate appropriators spent the last week privately negotiating the proposal.
This package should pass relatively easily, although there will be questions raised about the overall U.S. strategy in Ukraine. If the package is approved as outlined, the U.S. commitment to help Ukraine fight off the Russian invasion – and dealing with the humanitarian crisis caused by the horrific conflict – will soar past $50 billion. It won’t end with this legislation either. Ukraine will need large amounts of continued U.S. military, economic and humanitarian backing for an undetermined period of time.
“I think that everybody understands the importance” of this vote, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said on Monday night. “The president has basically used his drawdown authority that we gave him. So we need more money to keep the Ukrainians being able to achieve victory.”
Debate on this package is expected to start in the House as early as today. Text of the bill wasn’t available on Monday.
Also: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has invited Ukrainian Ambassador Oksana Markarova to speak at Senate Democrats weekly caucus lunch today, according to a senior Democratic aide.
Left out of the Ukraine package: Covid preparedness funding, which a number of senior Hill Democrats repeatedly had said they wanted to attach to the Ukraine money. The Covid funding would provide the Biden administration with the resources it needs to purchase new tests, therapeutics and vaccines to continue to deal with the pandemic.
Democrats decided not to do this, however. They didn’t want to get drawn into a fight over the use of Title 42 public health authority and the migrant crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, the issue that derailed the previous attempt at a Covid funding deal just before the Easter recess.
This raises a host of questions about the future for Covid funding in Congress. We’re going to try to address those here.
→ What will the House pass on Covid funding? The agreement between the House and Senate is that the Covid and Ukraine aid will both start in the House. The Ukraine package, as we mentioned, is pretty cut and dry. The two parties have an agreement on that issue, and it should move quickly through both chambers – as long as nothing else is attached.
Congress is going to have a tougher time on Covid funding, however. Remember, the House and Senate have been in very different positions throughout 2022 on this topic. House Democratic leaders – including Speaker Nancy Pelosi – have pushed for nearly $20 billion for additional Covid funding, in line with what the White House said it needs. The Senate had been considering a pared-back package worth roughly $10 billion.
Sources in the House and Senate said they expect a “Big Four” discussion between Pelosi, Schumer, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy about a new Covid package.
→ What do Republicans want? This is the critical question. With the nation nearing 1 million Covid deaths and the pandemic still unfolding, Democrats have been eager to pass a robust funding bill to give the White House the leeway it says it needs to buy therapeutics, vaccines and tests for another Covid wave.
But Republicans have been slow-walking this for months. They initially pushed the Biden administration to redirect unspent funds from last year’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan for the effort. Senate Minority Whip John Thune said he thinks Republicans may have the stomach for a $10-billion package. Here’s what he told us during a brief conversation last night:
“The only essentials I think most of our members really care about in all this are the therapeutics, the tests and, obviously, the vaccines. And so when you get beyond that, if they add much to it, I don’t know that there’s gonna be much support for it on our side.
“Most of our folks feel like the COVID stuff, for the most part, has been dealt with one exception, and that is making sure that if we have some outbreak again, that we’ve got the necessary ways to deal with it. … It would definitely have to be a fairly modest package.”
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who was the lead negotiator for Republicans during the previous effort to pass Covid funding, was clear that Democrats aren’t likely to get anything without an immigration or border security vote.
“If Sen. Schumer brings the bill we negotiated together to the floor and allows there to be amendments, it’ll pass. And I can’t see holding up the purchase of therapeutics as being in our nation’s best interest.
“We’ve got to put politics aside, look at Americans’ health. We need the therapeutics. Let’s get the bill passed and start buying them. We keep delaying week after week after week, because apparently the Democrats are afraid of an amendment vote.”
→How about Title 42? The amendment vote Romney is referring to would reinstate Title 42, the provision used to deny asylum requests and allow the quick expulsion of migrants during a national health emergency. Republicans are opposed to the Biden administration’s move to rescind the policy. The CDC has announced that it will end the use of Title 42 authority on May 23.
Let’s be completely clear: Senate Republicans won’t allow a Covid funding bill to pass without a Title 42 vote.
Romney was asked yesterday whether he expected that vote to be held at a 50- or 60-vote threshold. Romney responded that it would pass either way, meaning vulnerable and moderate Democrats are going to break with their leadership on the issue and vote with Republicans. Romney is probably right. Even Pelosi said House Democratic leaders would have trouble blocking Congress from trying to reverse the administration’s decision on Title 42. This is an issue that will need to be resolved very soon.
There was some confusion on Monday night whether Schumer had agreed to allow a Title 42 amendment vote. Thune told us he had, but a Schumer aide disputed this, saying the House has to approve a Covid bill first before any decision is made on how to proceed on that topic.
The big challenge for Congress is that lawmakers have to try to get Covid funding without a hard deadline to force action. We all know how Congress works without deadlines. It doesn’t.
It’s primary day in Nebraska & W.Va.
It’s primary day in West Virginia and Nebraska. And it will be a test for former President Donald Trump.
In West Virginia, voters will decide between GOP Reps. Alex Mooney – who has Trump’s support – and Dave McKinley, who backed the huge $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure law. The two incumbents were forced into the same district after West Virginia lost a House seat through reapportionment. While McKinley represented more voters in the new district, Trump’s endorsement could make a big difference.
In Nebraska, Trump has backed Charles Herbster, a wealthy farmer. Herbster has been accused of groping a number of women, including a state senator. Trump has stood by Herbster, and the former president held a rally in Nebraska last week where he appeared with the candidate.
Voters will also begin choosing a replacement for former GOP Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, who resigned from Congress after being caught lying to the FBI over an illegal campaign donation.
Biden takes aim at Rick Scott – again
We wrote last week about President Joe Biden’s sharp new tone with Republicans. Biden has found a foil in Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), whose “11-point plan” calls for “All Americans” to “pay some income tax to have skin in the game, even if a small amount. Currently over half of Americans pay no income tax.”
In other words, the plan calls for tax increases on poorer Americans. It also calls for all federal laws to sunset after five years – that would include large-scale social programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Biden is set to talk about inflation today, and the White House has a new two-page memo about how the administration proposes tackling rising costs.
The basic gist of it is that Congress should pass a whole host of proposals that it has proven unable to pass so far.
But what caught our eye was this:
President Biden has a plan to tackle inflation – by lowering costs that families face and lowering the federal deficit by asking the large corporations and the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share.
Congressional Republicans, led by Senator Rick Scott, have called for a new minimum tax on the middle class – firefighters and teachers – that would mean an average of almost $1,500 less in families’ pockets each year. And, while part of President Biden’s plan to lower costs is to strengthen Medicare by giving it the power to negotiate prescription drug prices, the Congressional Republican plan would put Medicare – in addition to Social Security, Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act and other critical programs for American families – on the chopping block every five years.
Of course, Senate Republicans aren’t led by Scott – even nominally. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has rejected Scott’s plan and said it doesn’t represent the leadership’s point of view. Scott is chair of the NRSC.
These White House comments are precisely why McConnell was opposed to the Scott proposal. Democrats are having a field day with Scott’s plan to raise taxes “on the middle class – firefighters and teachers.” It plays right into Biden and congressional Democrats’ hands.
Fed nom Lisa Cook gets another Senate vote
Rebuffed in their first attempt to confirm Michigan State University professor Lisa Cook for a seat on the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors, Senate Democrats will try again today.
And with all 50 Senate Democrats expected to be in attendance for the first time in several weeks, and Vice President Kamala Harris on standby in case of a tie, Cook is on track to make history today as the first Black woman confirmed to serve in this post.
It’s the latest chapter in what’s become a four-month battle by President Joe Biden and Senate Democrats to approve a slate of nominees for the Fed. Republicans derailed Sarah Bloom Raskin’s nomination over her criticism of the fossil fuel industry, and they’ve bogged down Cook’s confirmation over accusations that her economic views are “too radical.”
The dispute has delayed Senate approval of a second term for Fed Chair Jay Powell, even as the central bank deals with the worst inflation in four decades. The nomination of Philip Jefferson, a Davidson College professor with bipartisan support, has also been held up. Jefferson would only be the fourth Black man to serve on the Board of Governors.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer failed to get cloture on Cook’s nomination two weeks ago because two Democrats – Sens. Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Ron Wyden of Oregon – were absent after testing positive for Covid. Last week, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) also had to be isolated after coming up positive, meaning Democrats still didn’t have the votes to push through Cook’s nomination.
But with all 50 Senate Democrats expected to be in the Capitol today, Schumer will try again this afternoon. If cloture is invoked, then there are up to two hours of debate, followed by a vote on final passage.
Advancing Cook’s nomination will clear the way for a deal on the Powell and Jefferson nominations. There are up to 30 hours of debate allowed on Powell’s nomination, similar to that for a Cabinet official. But there’s wide support for Powell, so a time agreement to limit debate is very likely.
In another closely watched nomination, Schumer filed cloture Monday on Alvaro Bedoya’s nomination for the FTC. Like Cook, Schumer needs all 50 Democrats present to move this nomination in the face of GOP opposition. If Bedoya is confirmed, Democrats will have a majority at the commission for the first time in Biden’s presidency. Bedoya, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, spent more than seven years as a Democratic counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
THE CAMPAIGN CARD
→ Some progressive heavy hitters are throwing a fundraiser for Maxwell Alejandro Frost tonight, including Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Gabe Bankman-Fried, brother of the crypto billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried, who has been pouring millions of dollars into a handful of Democratic primaries.
Frost, a Gen Z activist, is facing off against state Sen. Randolph Bracy in an Aug. 23 primary to replace Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.). Frost picked up the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ endorsement Monday as well as the backing of BOLD PAC, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ campaign arm.
→ Florida GOP Rep. Vern Buchanan wants to be the next top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee. Buchanan is considered the frontrunner by most members of GOP leadership; he has a slight edge in seniority over Reps. Adrian Smith (R-Neb.) and Jason Smith (R-Mo.), the other two candidates. Buchanan is raising piles of money to help lay the groundwork for his bid. Tonight, Buchanan is throwing himself a birthday fundraiser at 5:15 p.m.
Members expected to be in attendance include: Reps. Jodey Arrington (Texas), Gus Bilirakis (Fla.), Kat Cammack (Fla.), Mario Diaz-Balart (Fla.), Byron Donalds (Fla.), Neal Dunn (Fla.), Scott Franklin (Fla.), Carlos Gimenez (Fla.), Kevin Hern (Oka.), Darin LaHood (Ill.), Brian Mast (Fla.), John Rutherford (Fla.), Maria Salazar (Fla.), David Schweikert (Ariz.), Lloyd Smucker (Pa.), Jackie Walorski (Ind.), and Mike Waltz (Fla.).
→ That was quick. Pennsylvania Senate GOP candidate Mehmet Oz has already cut an ad from the Donald Trump rally over the weekend. Oz used Trump’s criticisms of David McCormick in the spot. The ad is running in Johnstown-Altoona, Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre-Scranton. The Senate primary in Pennsylvania is May 17.
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9:30 a.m.: President Joe Biden will get his daily intelligence briefing.
11 a.m.: Jordanian King Abdullah II will meet with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
11:30 a.m.: Biden will speak about his plan to control inflation.
Noon: Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) will hold a news conference calling on the Biden administration to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terror.
2 p.m.: Biden will meet with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi. … Senate lunches break up and the leadership will speak.
2:30 p.m.: Jen Psaki will brief.
→ “States Turn to Tax Cuts as Inflation Stays Hot,” by Alan Rappeport
→ “Biden Speeds Up Military Aid to Ukraine, Drawing U.S. Deeper Into War,” by Peter Baker and Emily Cochrane
→ “In Ukraine, gas shortages further complicate daily life,” by Fredrick Kunkle in Lviv, Ukraine
→ “Stock Futures Gain After Selloff Sends Indexes to 2022 Lows,” by Dave Sebastian
→ “Three Friends Chatting: How the Steele Dossier Was Created,” By Alan Cullison and Aruna Viswanatha
→ “Russia pounds Odesa as civilian bodies uncovered elsewhere,” by Elena Becatoros in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, and Jon Gambrell in Lviv, Ukraine
→ “Crucial NATO decisions expected in Finland, Sweden this week,” by Karl Ritter in Stockholm
Crucial Capitol Hill news AM, Midday, and PM—5 times a week
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