What to Know in Washington: U.S. Totters Toward Weekend Shutdown

The U.S. government is less than two days from shutting down, as lawmakers yesterday continued to negotiate—without a deal—how to sustain funding for federal programs into January while appeasing Republicans who vowed to delay a vote. If a single Senate Republican votes against unanimous consent, the chamber would need to begin a process that would exceed Friday’s funding deadline by days.

Here’s what Bloomberg Government is tracking for Thursday.

Congress Agenda:

  • The House meets at 8 a.m. Potential consideration of a yet-to-be-released stopgap spending measure is listed on the schedule.
  • The Senate meets at 10 a.m. It plans to resume consideration of the annual defense policy bill, which stalled yesterday amid disagreements on 25 amendments to the bill.
  • Click here for a complete list of today’s hearings and markups.

Biden’s Schedule:

  • Biden will speak from the National Institutes of Health at 1:40 p.m. on his plans to tackle Covid-19 this winter and the omicron variant.
  • Biden and his family, along with Vice President Kamala Harris and her family, will attend the National Christmas Tree Lighting at 5:30 p.m. on the Ellipse. Biden and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland will deliver remarks.

Congress Totters Toward Shutdown on Funding Discord, GOP Threat

The federal government moved another day closer to a brief weekend shutdown with congressional Democrats and Republicans still struggling for agreement to pass a stopgap funding bill before Friday’s deadline.

Senate leaders in both parties also haven’t fully turned back a threat by a group of conservative Republicans to tie up the vote on a temporary government funding measure over their objections to federal Covid-19 vaccine and testing mandates.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and his Republican counterpart, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), gave repeated assurances throughout the day yesterday that negotiations were making progress and a deal was near. “I think we’re going to be OK,” McConnell told reporters. But as the House and Senate adjourned for the night there was no agreement.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Image
McConnell at the Capitol on Tuesday.

One of the main hangups between the two chambers and between Republicans and Democrats was how long the stopgap funding authority would last. Democrats were pushing for late January while Republicans backed a longer temporary measure to give more time for negotiations on the 12 annual appropriations bills for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. Also under negotiation was extra funding to process visas for refugees from the U.S. war in Afghanistan.

The stopgap measure puts agencies on autopilot, freezing in place program funding levels and forbidding new contracts, with few exceptions. Another hurdle is the demand by a group of Republicans in the Senate that the stopgap block funding for President Joe Biden’s initiative requiring large private employers to either mandate vaccinations against Covid-19 or provide weekly testing.

Some Republicans suggested the standoff could be resolved by allowing a simple-majority vote on an amendment to the stopgap bill that would remove funding to implement the vaccine mandate. “I think that would be a very good resolution,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who had said he would oppose the stopgap without addressing the vaccine mandate, said.

Democratic leaders had not yet weighed in, but a similar amendment failed on a party-line vote during debate on the last short-term spending bill, which expires tomorrow, and likely would again. Read more from Erik Wasson and Laura Litvan.

  • House Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal is skeptical work on tax-and-spend legislation will be done by Christmas, the deadline Schumer set to pass the reconciliation package. Neal (D-Mass.) said lawmakers have a number of issues that need to be addressed first, including the debt limit, which he described as an “immediate fuse that needs to be extinguished.” The reconciliation package is “desirable to get it done” before the end of the year, Neal said. “But there’s a series of issues that have to be completed in the next couple weeks, so we should be addressing those pretty forcefully.” Read more from Colin Wilhelm.
  • Several energy-related provisions included in the House reconciliation bill would harm the economy and jobs, and should be left out of the Senate version, according to a letter set yesterday by groups to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). Those measures include a ban on new offshore drilling in certain places, a new methane fee imposed on fossil fuel companies, and more fees on operators related to leases and royalties. “Punitively targeted provisions such as those included in the Committee on Natural Resources sections will hinder, not help this effort,” wrote the groups, led by the National Ocean Industries Association, Kellie Lunney reports.

Democrats Poised to Grab Abortion Case for 2022

Democrats stand to gain a powerful campaign tool to gin up support just ahead of the 2022 congressional midterm elections, based on the possibility that the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to roll back abortion rights.

While abortion rights are a perennial issue in congressional campaigns, Democratic strategists say that the kind of major shift to restrict access signaled by the court’s conservative majority in a case argued yesterday would spur their base voters to turn out while moving swing voters away from the Republican Party.

A court ruling is expected by the summer, giving Democrats a powerful pitch to raise money and recruit campaign volunteers as they head into the final stretch before the November elections.

If the issue tipped the balance in even a few races, it could determine control of Congress, where Democrats currently have an eight-seat margin in the House and control the Senate only because of Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote. Read more from Ryan Teague Beckwith.

Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg
A demonstrator at the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

  • Supreme Court justices asked whether a ruling in favor of Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban could call into question other seemingly settled constitutional rights, from the use of contraception, to the criminalization of sodomy, to the more recently recognized right to same-sex marriage. A majority of the justices signaled at argument yesterday that they will curtail or even overturn Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, even though they’ve been the law of the land for decades. The Supreme Court has recognized other implicit rights including several under the “right to privacy,” which itself isn’t explicitly in the text of the Constitution. Read more from Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson.

MORE IN POLITICS & INFLUENCE:

  • A group of House Democrats that includes several facing tough re-elections are asking Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to allow votes on legislation to ease supply chain bottlenecks that have led to shortages, shipping delays and rising inflation and have contributed to a decline in Biden’s approval ratings. “As our constituents gather for the holiday season, it is imperative Congress acts to address the needs of the nation through additional action to specifically address the supply chain and resulting higher prices experienced by families across the country,” the lawmakers said in the letter. Read more from Emily Wilkins.
  • The future of Democrats’ transportation and infrastructure agenda will be shaped by a new voice in the next Congress. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) was the first lawmaker to announce her candidacy to succeed longtime House Transportation and Infrastructure Chair Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), who announced yesterday that he won’t seek reelection. Aviation Subcommittee Chair Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) is also interested in running for the top slot, according to his office. Norton, who leads the Highways and Transit Subcommittee, is more senior than Larsen on the panel, but her status as a delegate prevents her from voting for or against bills on the House floor. Read more from Lillianna Byington.
  • Democrat Stacey Abrams launched her anticipated second run for Georgia governor in 2022, pledging to fight so that opportunity and success aren’t “determined by your zip code, background or access to power.” The announcement sets up a potential rematch against Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who narrowly defeated Abrams in her 2018 bid to become the nation’s first female Black governor. The former Georgia House minority leader is one of the country’s most well-known voting-rights advocates. The Democratic organizing drive in the state she led played a major role last year in helping Biden become the first Democrat to win the state since 1992 and in electing two Democrats to the U.S. Senate. Read more from Billy House.
  • The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol voted yesterday to recommend that a second ally of former President Donald Trump be found in criminal contempt of Congress for refusing to provide documents and testimony sought under subpoena. Jeffrey Clark, an ex-Justice Department official, is accused of pressuring colleagues at the agency to assist in Trump’s failed efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. The committee advanced the resolution on a 9-0 vote even as it granted him a last chance to appear, by Saturday. Read more from Billy House.
  • Trump told a judge he plans to sue New York advice columnist E. Jean Carroll, alleging her defamation lawsuit against him was filed in bad faith after he denied her claim that he raped her in a department store dressing room two decades ago. Trump, who recently replaced his legal team in the suit Carroll filed against him in 2019, yesterday asked the federal court in Manhattan for permission to add a counterclaim, which he included in his request to the judge. Read more from Erik Larson.

Around the Administration

Biden Grapples With Case Surge as Omicron Threat Rises: Five months after Biden declared the U.S. to be on the verge of defeating Covid-19, the virus threatens a winter resurgence across the country. Biden today will sketch out his latest plan to quell the pandemic that’s dogged his presidency, a day after the first U.S. case of the omicron variant was identified in California. His latest measures include stricter testing requirements for air travelers arriving from abroad, extending a mask mandate and requiring private insurers to reimburse the cost of at-home tests.

Cases are already building in cold-weather states where Americans have begun to retreat indoors, where schools have been linked to outbreaks and where public health officials say they face widespread exhaustion with measures intended to prevent infections. Biden’s response is further complicated by omicron, which features mutations scientists believe could make it more transmissible and virulent.

“There’s a lot of pandemic fatigue. People are tired of thinking about Covid, they’re tired of taking precautions,” said Natasha Bagdasarian, Michigan’s chief medical executive. “Having an even more transmissible variant potentially come on top of an existing surge is our worst-case scenario.” The first confirmed U.S. case of the variant was detected in California, after a person who returned from South Africa Nov. 22 tested positive, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced yesterday. Read more from Josh Wingrove.

  • Still, the arrival of the variant in the U.S. shouldn’t cancel end-of-year holiday plans for fully vaccinated Americans, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor said. “If you are vaccinated and your family is vaccinated, enjoy the holidays,” said Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Biden’s chief medical adviser. “I would not do anything different than what we had recommended,” he said during a CNN Global Town Hall on coronavirus. Read more from Jinshan Hong.
  • Momentum in U.S. employment growth may be tested by omicron, but it’s projected to exceed a half million for a second month in November. The median projections in a Bloomberg survey of economists are for a roughly 545,000 increase in payrolls—which would be the most since a 1 million-plus surge in July—and for the unemployment rate to fall slightly to 4.5%. While the job market is starting to make greater strides, labor supply remains well short of demand. Molly Smith has more.

The Biden administration is appealing a federal court’s decision to block its health-care worker vaccine mandate nationwide, except for in 10 states where the rule has already been halted. The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana granted the preliminary injunction on Tuesday, finding that the Medicare agency lacked the statutory authority to issue the rule. Read more from Allie Reed.

  • A court ruling that strikes down OSHA’s Covid-19 shot-or-test rule because its costs to individual employee choice outweigh its benefits would make other workplace requirements subject to similar challenges, worker advocacy groups told a federal appeals court in Cincinnati. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit would open the door to “personal liberty” challenges to employment regulations if it overturns the emergency measure based on that theory, the National Employment Lawyers Association and Jobs With Justice Education Fund said in a brief filed late Tuesday. Read more from Robert Iafolla.

The Biden administration wants to give precedence to electric vehicle charging projects that advance equity and use American-made chargers in new infrastructure spending, although its efficacy may be limited because many decisions are left up to the states. Industry executives say they’re happy that the administration is seeking input about how new spending for a national charging network should work. They want to ensure that the allocations go to a mix of different level chargers and that those charging stations are deployed where they’re most needed. Read more from Lillianna Byington.

What Else We’re Reading

  • Symone Sanders, a top aide to Vice President Kamala Harris, will depart the White House by year-end, according to people familiar with the matter. She has served as Harris’s spokeswoman since the beginning of the Biden administration, and has spent considerable effort in recent months beating back reports of dysfunction and disarray in the vice president’s office. Ashley Etienne, Harris’s communications director, announced last month that she was leaving her post. Jennifer Jacobs and Justin Sink have more.
  • A conservative group is taking its air campaign to defeat Biden’s tax and spending package to college football games, targeting vulnerable senators in Arizona, Nevada and New Hampshire with a nearly $3 million buy, Axios reports. By running TV ads during this weekend’s pivotal conference championships, America Next is seeking a big audience while trying to lash those senators to Biden’s proposals, Axios’s Hans Nichols reports.
  • Retirements are piling up for House Democrats, with DeFazio the latest, Politico reports. With landmark bills blocked in the Senate, redistricting changes looming, and Biden’s approval ratings dropping, Democrats are heading for the exits. Several senior Democrats told Politico it’s no surprise that so many are tapping out amid one of Congress’ most toxic sessions in recent memory, Sarah Ferris Heather Caygle and Ally Mutnick report.
  • A longtime Republican operative who wielded significant influence as president of Americans for Prosperity, the Koch-backed advocacy group that helped fuel the tea party movement, has been forced out of the organization, the Washington Post reports, citing two people familiar with the situation. Tim Phillips had served as president of AFP since 2006, according to a since-deleted bio on AFP’s website. Phillips told the Post he resigned “in order to focus on some challenging personal matters that require my full attention.” Isaac Stanley-Becker has more.
  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned his Russian counterpart of “serious consequences” if Moscow makes a military move on Ukraine as the Kremlin said it sees rising risk of attack by its neighbor on Russia-backed separatists there. Read more from Nick Wadhams and Ilya Arkhipov.
  • Hungary is blocking the European Union from formally participating in Biden’s Summit for Democracy later this month because Viktor Orban, the leader of the eastern member country, wasn’t invited. Hungary raised the issue at a meeting of EU ambassadors yesterday, saying it wouldn’t back the bloc’s joint contribution to the summit because the U.S. hadn’t invited all EU nations to participate, according to officials familiar with the discussion. Read more from Alberto Nardelli.
  • The Biden administration has reached a deal with the Mexican government to restart the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” program that requires asylum seekers to wait outside U.S. territory while their claims are processed, the Washington Post reports, citing two U.S. officials and a Mexican government official. The governments are planning to announce the agreement today, according to two of the officials, Nick Miroff and Kevin Sieff report.

To contact the reporters on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com; Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com

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