with an assist from Sarah Ferris and Andrew Desiderio
CRUNCH TIME FOR CONGRESS — Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are desperately trying to solve a pair of pressing problems on their hands: an emerging public health crisis and an expiring set of surveillance tools. While there is broad bipartisan agreement that they need to pass an emergency funding package to combat the deadly coronavirus, members haven’t settled on an exact figure yet. And at the same time, both parties are struggling to reauthorize sections of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, with some members pushing to reform the law before the March 15 deadline and others supporting a clean extension.
One potential way out of the mess? Combine the two must-pass items together. The idea, which is being floated by some senior lawmakers, is a classic congressional tactic that could help move the bills along quickly while also forcing lawmakers to hold their nose and vote for some sort of FISA compromise. “On an issue like the coronavirus, you ought to for sure find common ground. And maybe you package stuff together given how challenging FISA and all this is,” Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said in an interview.
But Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters that’s “not our plan,” while House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said he prefers to see the emergency funding package as a standalone. And further throwing a wrench into things, President Donald Trump told Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) that he doesn’t support a clean FISA extension — which Attorney General William Barr had encouraged Senate Republicans to back earlier this week. Heather and Burgess with the dispatch: https://politi.co/3a4cuPE.
vape BILL UP IN SMOKE? — House Democratic leaders are still working to scrape together the votes for a sweeping anti-tobacco bill that’s run into resistance from across the caucus, including Majority Whip Jim Clyburn. The bill is expected to eventually pass on the floor today, with the help of personal appeals from Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.
But several members have complained that the bill — which bans flavored tobacco in smoking products, including menthol — would unfairly target black and rural communities. Others have expressed concern about government overreach. The outcry has led to tense discussions within the caucus, with Democrats like Reps. G.K. Butterfield and Abigail Spanberger voicing their opposition in closed-door meetings. “There is a critical number who are opposed to it,” Butterfield said in an interview.
Eleven Democrats opposed yesterday’s rule setting up floor debate for the bill — not enough to sink the measure, but certainly enough to ensure that the tally will be tight. And some senior Democrats worry that the lack of explicit support from Clyburn will encourage even more defectors. More from Sarah, Heather, yours truly and Sarah Owermohle: https://politi.co/2Vtymjb.
Related: “Top Trump advisers discuss GOP need to act on health care at retreat with senators,” by The Hill’s Peter Sullivan: http://bit.ly/32w8nt9.
NOT DRAWING A LINE IN THE SANDERS — Speaker Nancy Pelosi declined to say whether she’d support the Democratic presidential nominee if they only secure a plurality — but not a majority — of delegates before the party convention this summer. “The person who will be nominated will be the person who has a majority plus one. That may happen before they even get to the convention but we’ll see,” Pelosi told reporters at her weekly press conference Thursday. “The people will speak and that’s what we’re listening to.”
Pelosi’s comments came hours before Democrats received a briefing from the DNC on the role of superdelegates if the presidential primary enters a contested convention. Superdelegates, of course, would have enormous power in selecting the Democratic nominee if the contest goes to a second ballot. And some Democrats have openly mused about ways to stop Sanders at a brokered convention. Heather with the latest: https://politi.co/2Pw9fsp.
Related: “‘The majority is in play’: House Republicans clamor for more Bernie Sanders,” per the Washington Examiner’s David Drucker: https://washex.am/3cgliUi; and “Pelosi, Trying to Save House Majority, Fends Off Angst Over Sanders,” from NYT’s Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Nicholas Fandos: https://nyti.ms/2vr6QZd.
T.G.I.F.! Welcome to Huddle, the play-by-play guide to all things Capitol Hill, on this Friday, February 28. Elizabeth Warren is standing by her preference for Michelob Ultra, but if she really wanted to break out of the pack, she’d throw her weight behind White Claw.
THURSDAY’S MOST CLICKED: Roll Call’s report on Dem leaders seeking to calm members over Bernie Sanders’ rise was the big winner.
BURR’S WORRY — Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) has rarely commented publicly on issues surrounding Trump’s impeachment. Instead, he has relayed his concerns privately to his GOP colleagues — including on Dec. 5, when he told Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) that their investigation into Joe Biden could help Russian efforts to sow chaos and distrust in the U.S. political system.
Burr’s warning further exposes divisions among Republicans over whether to continue pursuing such an investigation. Burr’s Democratic counterpart on the Intel Committee, Mark Warner of Virginia, appears to agree with Burr: “I think it’s amazing that people are still potentially viewing manipulated Ukrainian information. That is not in our national security interest. There is plenty in the public domain that Russia was behind a lot of these fables and stories.” Andrew has the scoop: https://politi.co/3a9Noii.
CRASH AND BERN — House Republicans failed to win a procedural vote yesterday that would have put a resolution condemning Bernie Sanders on the floor, which the GOP was hoping would expose divisions in the Democratic party. The language would have chastised Sanders for praising Fidel Castro’s literacy programs in a recent interview, which had infuriated front-line and Florida Democrats. Not a single Democrat supported the GOP’s procedural maneuver, although Republicans were quick to point out that Reps. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-Fla.) and Donna Shalala (D-Fla.) skipped the vote.
Mucarsel-Powell, however, slammed the GOP’s gambit as an “underhanded maneuver” that could have derailed their anti-vape bill. “It is shameful that they attempted to create a false choice between standing with the Cuban community and a generation of children whose health is at risk,” she said in a statement. “Instead, I co-sponsored a resolution to stand with the Cuban community and voted to advance a measure to protect our kids.”
FED NOT DEAD — It looks like Trump’s controversial nominee for the Federal Reserve is back on track. After Judy Shelton was grilled by Republicans and Democrats during a Senate Banking Committee hearing earlier this month, there were whispers that her nomination could get pulled, which would have made her Trump’s third Fed nominee to be derailed by bipartisan opposition.
But Shelton has been winning over key Senate Republicans. This week, she earned support from Sen. Patrick Toomey (R-Pa.), and is on the cusp of winning the backing of Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), another potential skeptic. “If the committee wants the majority of the committee to support her, I would do it too. She wouldn’t be my No. 1 choice,” Shelby said on Thursday afternoon. Burgess with the deets: https://politi.co/3973skB.
LOVE FOR DOVE — Laura Dove, the secretary for the majority of the Senate, will retire at the end of the month — but not before getting the Paul Kane treatment in WaPo. The profile on the beloved GOP aide: “She’s part of the cadre of Senate aides who work behind the scenes with almost no fanfare, clocking incredibly long hours while other colleagues leave for private-sector jobs and significantly more money. Without ever holding office themselves, people like Dove keep the Senate from completely falling apart.
“She knows every parliamentary move that Democrats can make to gridlock the chamber, as well as which moves Republicans can make to unlock the debate. She knows when it’s time to get the pages to clean out senators’ desks — as she did after the recent impeachment trial ended with all sorts of candy wrappers and partly eaten food left in drawers. And, when McConnell is in a cranky mood, she knows to hum the theme song to ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ so he smiles when he walks past photographers.” The story: https://wapo.st/2VvTt4I.
In other departures … “Top House Intelligence investigator departing Capitol Hill,” by CNN’s Vivian Salama and Manu Raju: https://cnn.it/2wboXT2.
WEEKLY WINNERS AND LOSERS — Congress certainly had a lot on its plate this week and even saw a cancelled FISA markup, but at least there wasn’t another caucus disaster in Nevada. Here are our picks for biggest victories and failures this week:
W: Joe Biden, who finished second in Nevada, had a strong debate performance and won a coveted endorsement from Majority Whip Jim Clyburn ahead of the South Carolina primary.
L: The stock market, which saw its worst decline since 2008 amid growing fears that the coronavirus will soon reach U.S. soil.
The House gavels in at 9 a.m., with first and last votes expected between 10:30 and 11:30 a.m. Today’s agenda: http://bit.ly/385GwB2.
The Senate is out.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Congressional Democrats hold a press event ahead of the House vote on the “Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act” at 9 a.m. in H-137.
Reps. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Al Green (D-Texas) hold a news conference with health experts on a coronavirus letter urging Congress to “help stop the spread of xenophobia and misinformation” at 10 a.m. on the House Triangle.
Reps. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) and Ann McLane Kuster (D-N.H.) hold a news conference on the New Democrat Coalition’s 2020 agenda at 10 a.m. in HVC Studio A.
THURSDAY’S WINNER: Bruce Mehlman was the first person to guess that former Sen. Norm Coleman and Ruth Bader Ginsburg both attended the same high school as Bernie Sanders and Chuck Schumer.
TODAY’S QUESTION: From Bruce: Who were the oldest and youngest Vice Presidents (and what were their ages upon inauguration)? The first person to correctly guess gets a mention in the next edition of Huddle. Send your best guess my way at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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- Melanie Zanona @MZanona
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