Congress returns to work Monday to a packed schedule made all the more complex by the war in Ukraine. On tap for the week: Ukraine briefings; a $6.4 billion Ukraine aid bill; Supreme Court nominee meetings with senators; an abortion rights bill in the Senate; a Postal Service reform bill in the Senate; the State of the Union address on Tuesday; and finally, meeting the March 11 deadline for funding the government.
The week starts with classified briefings late Monday, when members have returned from Presidents’ Day recess. Congressional intelligence leadership has been receiving regular briefings throughout the crisis, and members have had unclassified updates from administration officials, but this will be the first classified briefings for the full chambers from principle officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo, and USAID Deputy Administrator Isobel Coleman.
The administration has requested a $6.4 billion emergency supplemental bill for “humanitarian, security, and economic assistance to Ukraine and Central European partners due to Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified invasion.” It includes a request for $3.5 billion to the Pentagon for military assistance and $2.9 billion for security and humanitarian aid. That aid could come in a single emergency supplement or be divided up.
The Defense funding could be split apart and included in the omnibus spending bill Congress needs to pass before March 11, while the $2.9 billion could move quickly as an emergency bill for the State Department and USAID, according to appropriations committee staff. That would be a smart way to approach it: Use the crisis to get that omnibus bill with the defense spending boost over the Republican hump of obstruction.
Speaking of Republican obstruction, the Senate is scheduled to hold cloture votes Monday on a House-passed bill, the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would preserve access to abortion nationwide, attempting to codify Roe v. Wade at the federal level to prevent states from banning abortion when the Supreme Court eventually overturns that right. It won’t get the 60 votes it needs to proceed to actual consideration. Republicans will filibuster it.
Likewise, they’ve decided to stop the U.S. Postal Service reform bill that 120 House Republicans voted for and that has 14 Republicans co-sponsors in the Senate. Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), who made news last week with his announced agenda to take a wrecking ball to democracy should the Republicans retake the Senate, has already blocked the bill once and is likely to do it again. He is now demanding that Majority Leader Chuck Schumer postpone the vote.
Also in the Senate, President Biden’s Supreme Court nominee, Ketanji Brown Jackson, will begin meeting with senators on Wednesday. She’ll start with Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, along with the Judiciary Committee chair and ranking member Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA). Schumer wants to have the appointment confirmed by mid-April before the Easter recess begins on April 11.
Finally, everyone is preparing for President Biden’s State of the Union address, including the White House, which has had to pivot in the intended message on COVID, inflation, crime rates—all of the domestic issues that these speeches usually feature, particularly in election years—to Ukraine and the “major crisis facing the West” posed by Russia’s war. The Washington Post reports that a White House adviser tells them the speech “will reflect the way the crisis has added urgency to [Biden’s] longtime theme of defending democracies.”
The House will likely be full and at least half unmasked Tuesday night. Congress’s Office of the Attending Physician sent out a new guidance Sunday to lift the mask mandate for the speech, following the new guidance from the Biden administration. Positive test rates in the Capitol are down to 2.7%, Capitol Physician Brian Monahan said. “Individuals may choose to mask at any time, but it is no longer a requirement,” he wrote. Expect very few Republicans to wear a mask Tuesday night.
On a final note, deepest condolences to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on the death of her husband of more than four decades, Richard Blum, who died Sunday after a long battle with cancer. “My husband was my partner and best friend for more than 40 years,” Feinstein said in the statement. “He was by my side for the good times and for the challenges. I am going to miss him terribly.”
Republished with permission from Daily Kos.