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Happy Friday morning.
Breaking last night: The Senate passed its version of the FY2024 defense authorization bill in a blowout 86-11 vote, two weeks after House Republicans pushed through a party-line bill packed with controversial culture-war provisions. This puts the two chambers on a collision course over the must-pass legislation. It’s the House GOP vs. the Senate and the White House.
In many ways, this will mirror the government funding fight, with the Senate expected to pass at least some spending bills with bipartisan majorities and the House struggling to adopt theirs with GOP-only votes.
Leader Look: Congress is now out until early September. That sound you hear is lawmakers scattering on codels around the world and party leaders hitting the road to rake in campaign dollars.
We’re going to spend a few minutes this morning discussing the House and Senate leadership and the challenges they face going into September, which will be the most difficult period of the year.
Remember: When Congress returns, lawmakers will have just a few weeks to avert a government shutdown. So let’s dig in.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy: McCarthy is now a full seven months into his speakership and we can say one thing definitively about him — he’s survived. No one has filed a motion to strip McCarthy of the speaker’s gavel despite the weekly rollercoaster that is the House Republican Conference.
But the next few months will fully challenge McCarthy and his leadership team. The reality is this — barring a major shift in direction by House Republicans, the federal government is on a path to shut down this fall. What McCarthy has to figure out is what he wants to try to extract from Democrats in order to fund federal agencies. Try is the operative word. He may not be able to get anything.
The obstacles facing McCarthy are steep. The House GOP’s appropriations bills — in the unlikely event they pass all 12 of them — will be tens of billions of dollars less than the Senate’s version. McCarthy will have little leverage with Senate Democrats or the White House. That’s with a House Republican Conference that keeps saying that they aren’t afraid of a shutdown. This isn’t a good formula.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer: The Senate just finished up the defense authorization bill, a win for Schumer as he was facing pressure from both parties to get this done before the August recess. Plus, Schumer packed the NDAA with bipartisan amendments to counter China, a key priority for the majority leader. And it passed with 86 votes!
But the time crunch will get a lot more difficult for Schumer come September.
The Appropriations Committee has now passed all 12 funding bills, putting the ball in Schumer’s court as the Sept. 30 deadline approaches. Yet the big trick will be reconciling the Senate’s bills with the House’s, which slash government spending well below the caps laid out in the bipartisan Fiscal Responsibility Act. And remember — the Senate has already added to the topline.
Schumer also has wide-eyed aspirations for bipartisan legislating on several long-stalled initiatives, such as cannabis banking, a rail safety bill and bank executive clawbacks. FAA reauthorization and a farm bill extension are looming in September, too. The struggle for floor time this fall will get intense.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell: Questions about McConnell’s health were swirling in the Capitol once again after he froze up mid-sentence during his weekly press conference Wednesday.
Publicly, GOP senators remain firmly behind McConnell and insist he’s fit to stay on as their leader. Privately, there’s been a lot of concern about the 81-year-old McConnell’s condition ever since the March fall that landed him in the hospital and then a rehabilitation center for six weeks.
Yet McConnell remains a formidable force within the Senate Republican Conference, and his influence hasn’t waned. McConnell’s focus on national security as a top priority landed him a number of wins in the just-passed defense authorization bill.
Plus, Republican hawks will look to McConnell to lead their efforts for more defense spending in the fall — especially on Ukraine — in the face of McCarthy’s insistence of cutting spending far below the caps laid out in the debt-limit agreement. President Joe Biden will also look to McConnell to be a bulwark against some of the far-right voices threatening a government shutdown or a cut in Ukraine aid.
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries: The New York Democrat continues to settle into his role as Democratic leader. Of the four leaders, Jeffries has arguably the easiest job — just make sure House Democrats vote against whatever the GOP is doing. And use the phrase “Extreme MAGA Republicans” as much as possible.
Still, Jeffries continues to calm those worried about a post-Pelosi world by putting up strong fundraising numbers. Jeffries is taking over the annual marquee House Democratic fundraiser, moving it to Torrey Pines, Calif.
And Jeffries is exerting more control than ever in New York, trying to head off another disastrous showing for Empire State’s Democrats in 2024.
Overall, Republicans are making his quest for the speakership easier as GOP hardliners continue to force their most vulnerable members to take uncomfortable votes on the culture war du jour, perfect for Democratic attack ads.
Even with former Speaker Nancy Pelosi still in Congress, it’s clearly Jeffries’ caucus now.
One more thing: Schumer and McConnell both excoriated the behavior of Rep. Derrick Van Orden (R-Wis.). Van Orden angrily cursed at a group of high-school-aged Senate pages who were hanging out in the Rotunda late Wednesday night. We broke this news Thursday afternoon.
Here’s what Schumer said at a press conference Thursday night:
“What that congressman did last night at midnight was just utterly despicable. Compounding the injury, he doesn’t even apologize. What the heck is the matter with him?”
— Jake Sherman, Andrew Desiderio and Heather Caygle
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Senate’s Tuberville headache will only get worse
The Senate adjourned for the August recess on Thursday without a deal to end Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s (R-Ala.) unprecedented months-long blockade of senior military promotions, ensuring that the nearly 300 pending moves remain stalled for at least another month.
Senators from both parties were dejected over the issue as they left the Capitol late Thursday night, with one describing it as the most vexing challenge the Senate has faced when it comes to an individual senator throwing up political roadblocks.
Even more alarming is the fact that, still, nobody really knows how this could end. Tuberville has been demanding that the Pentagon rescind its policy of compensating servicemembers for travel costs incurred to receive an abortion. The Defense Department has maintained that the policy is legal and won’t be changed.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told us bluntly that this saga is becoming a problem for Republicans.
“Five weeks of delay is going to be hard on families. I’m hoping they can find some way forward,” Graham said. “I don’t think that this has been done before, and I agree with him on the policy, but force structure will be affected over time. I hope we can find a breakthrough in the fall.”
The sprint to August recess is typically a time when party leaders and the administration engage with senators who have holds on nominations or legislation in an effort to unlock them before the long break. That’s exactly what the State Department did on Thursday, as we scooped, when legislative affairs chief Naz Durakoğlu successfully negotiated with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to clear the way for more than a dozen U.S. ambassador nominees to be confirmed.
But with Tuberville, there are no active negotiations. And there’s no clear off-ramp.
Last week, Tuberville spoke twice by phone with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, but there’s been no communication between the two since. Tuberville is still refusing to back off his position that the Pentagon policy be reversed as a condition for him to lift his holds, so there isn’t a clear middle ground as there normally is with these types of showdowns.
“They’re concerned about everything else but this,” Tuberville claimed.
Another sign that the blockade will be extremely difficult to end: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer indicated to us Thursday night that he’s effectively ruled out the possibility of using floor time to confirm some of the promotions. Schumer has long said that it’s up to GOP leaders to pressure Tuberville to back off. So far, there’s been very little of that.
“I think in August, pressure is going to mount on Tuberville, and I think the Republicans are feeling that… He’s boxing himself into a corner,” Schumer said. “It’s the Republicans’ responsibility — theirs and theirs alone.”
Schumer is skeptical of going through procedural motions to approve the promotions, especially because the Senate typically approves military promotions by unanimous consent. He also doesn’t want to set a new precedent so other senators resort to the same tactic.
Under the Senate’s rules, it would take more than three months to confirm each of the outstanding military promotions with senators voting eight hours a day and not considering any other business, according to a Pentagon memo we obtained.
Some Republicans, even those who are uneasy with Tuberville’s blockade, are accusing Schumer of simply trying to keep the issue in play for Democrats.
“He can put some up [for a vote], and I think that’s what he should do. But I think he thinks it plays politically for them, I guess,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), a member of GOP leadership, told us. “I don’t know why else he wouldn’t put someone up.”
Still, Capito said she has an “overall concern” about the holds, particularly the high-level positions that remain vacant such as the commandant of the Marine Corps and members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, including the nominee to serve as chair.
— Andrew Desiderio
Dems center nutrition messaging in farm bill debate
House Democrats are scrambling to make sure their colleagues understand that programs protecting nutrition equity may be on the chopping block in the upcoming farm bill debate.
While more high-profile policy fights around the debt limit and FY2024 spending have captured the headlines this summer, a House Democratic task force led by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) is aiming to center around the threat to SNAP and other food programs.
House Agriculture Committee Chair Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) has said he isn’t interested in changing SNAP work requirements in the farm bill. But in a House GOP that’s pushed bill after bill further to the right in recent months, Democrats aren’t taking anything for granted.
The mission of the House Democratic Agriculture and Nutrition Task Force is to maintain a messaging drumbeat that these food programs are at risk. And Democrats hope this focus will stop them getting rolled by Republicans during the farm bill negotiations.
“If we don’t stand up and fight back, there are going to be a lot of people who could go hungry in this country,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), a longtime anti-hunger advocate who sits on the task force.
“Nutrition is one of the larger aspects of the bill,” Bennie Thompson told us. “Equity and inclusion is really important.”
The Democratic task force, however, is off to a relatively slow start since its launch more than two months ago. While there have been a number of listening sessions in members’ districts, the group’s original plan to present a formal proposal to the House Democratic Caucus before the August recess didn’t happen. The latest setback: The task force was supposed to meet on Thursday, but the meeting was canceled.
Democrats argue that much of this is simply the knock-on effect from the GOP’s delayed timeline. It’s true that the farm bill debate has been dramatically pushed back and there’s increasing talk on Capitol Hill that the bill won’t pass Congress before the end of 2023, meaning a short-term extension is likely. G.T. Thompson said he hopes to have a full committee markup in September.
Another wrinkle in the situation is how the Bennie Thompson-led task force exists alongside the work of the House Agriculture Committee and ranking member David Scott (D-Ga.). Democrats we spoke to said the task force’s mandate was to articulate Democratic priorities — such as protecting food stamps, ensuring the survival of small farms and fighting hunger — in order to strengthen the hand Ag Committee Democrats have.
“I’m looking for a farm bill that is forward-thinking, doesn’t take us back and protects existing feeding programs,” Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.), a task force member, told us.
Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif.), another task force member, said his priorities are fighting societal hunger that he said was exacerbated after the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I understand now that food is medicine,” Correa said. “So I walk into these meetings to make sure that my urban population has the ability to have access to SNAP.”
These issues were on full display this week when the House was set to consider the Ag appropriations bill. Although it was eventually delayed due to a lack of GOP support over an abortion access provision, McGovern said the food security provisions in the funding bill were a preview of farm bill fights.
“The task force will help put in perspective what the Republican priorities are and help fight against some of the crap that they bring into the floor like this Ag appropriations bill,” McGovern said, citing cuts to WIC and fruit and vegetable vouchers.
— Max Cohen
Chaotic, marathon markup clears stablecoin bill
It took just about all day, but the House Financial Services Committee advanced legislation that would introduce a first-of-its-kind regulatory framework for stablecoins.
The committee voted 34-16 to advance the bill, with five Democrats voting in support despite serious opposition from their leaders. Those members were Reps. Gregory Meeks (N.Y.), Jim Himes (Conn.), Josh Gottheimer (N.J.), Ritchie Torres (N.Y.) and Wiley Nickel (N.C.).
The day kicked off with a bang. Shortly after Chair Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) announced he didn’t have a stablecoin deal with Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), Democrats staged a walkout and spent the rest of the morning throwing up procedural hurdles.
Democrats hammered McHenry for not giving them more time to review the bill and develop more substantial amendments. Republicans pointed out that the draft text had been published in June, but Democrats replied they had been told to wait until McHenry and Waters had a deal — which didn’t happen.
The White House appeared to play a partial role in the breakdown. Members of both parties said the White House had a serious issue with the stablecoin bill’s lack of federal oversight for state-chartered non-bank companies.
“We can’t have a central bank without the ability to exercise its authority,” Waters told us. She added: “That’s one of the big objections” of the White House.
It’s significant that the committee is sending this bill to the House floor. But without Waters’ support, we struggle to see the Democrat-controlled Senate picking this policy up anytime soon. Senate Banking Committee Chair Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) has shown near-zero interest in crypto legislation.
Waters, former chair of the House panel, made that point to us Thursday.
“They should not pass the bill today if they’re interested in continuing negotiations,” Waters said. “Because if you pass it — guess what? It goes to the Senate? I don’t think so. Nothing else happens. Why do you have to have it now? Let’s work on it.”
— Brendan Pedersen
PUNCHBOWL NEWS EVENTS
Missed our conversation with Rep. Beth Van Duyne (R-Texas) on Thursday? You can view the full recording here:
9 a.m.: President Joe Biden will get his daily intelligence briefing.
10:10 a.m.: Biden will leave the White House for Joint Base Andrews, where he will fly to Brunswick, Maine. Karine Jean-Pierre will brief on Air Force One.
12:20 p.m.: Biden will arrive in Auburn, Maine, where he will discuss “Bidenomics” and manufacturing.
2:15 p.m.: Biden will leave Auburn for Brunswick.
4 p.m.: Biden will participate in a fundraiser in Freeport, Maine.
5:25 p.m.: Biden will leave Brunswick for Dover, Del. He will arrive in Rehoboth Beach, Del., at 7:30 p.m.
“DeSantis 2.0: Budget Venues, but a Familiar Stump Speech,” by Nicholas Nehamas in Chariton, Iowa
“Trump charged with seeking to delete security footage in documents case,” by Devlin Barrett, Perry Stein, Spencer S. Hsu and Josh Dawsey
“Bid to Accelerate US Chips Permitting Passes Senate as Part of Defense Bill,” by Mackenzie Hawkins
“Brazil Denies U.S. Extradition Request for Alleged Russian Spy,” by Luciana Magalhaes and Louise Radnofsky in Sao Paulo
Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.
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