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Congress ramps up efforts to stimulate the economy

UP AGAINST THE CORONAVIRUS CLOCK Markets are in a tailspin. The coronavirus is spreading rapidly in the U.S. The airline and hospitality industries are at risk of going under. And lawmakers are increasingly worried about the dangers of being clustered together in the Capitol. All of those factors are putting intense pressure on Congress to quickly pass a massive stimulus package and get out of town. And there are clear signs that lawmakers are in a rush: from getting a unanimous consent agreement on the House’s revised coronavirus aid bill (despite pages of “corrections” and a threat from Rep. Louie Gohmert) to postponing a contentious Senate fight over surveillance legislation until May (more on that later).

PHASE 3: PROFIT … The Senate hasn’t even passed their second coronavirus package yet, and work is already underway on a third package to juice the economy. Some GOP lawmakers think they can pass legislation as soon as this week. It seems incredibly ambitious, but Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) raised this point: “I don’t think we can assume that we can keep reconvening the Senate every week like we did this week,” he told reporters. “With what might happen to airlines or travel schedules, with individual members having to go into quarantine or being exposed — I don’t think we can operate as if we can just bring the Senate and House back whenever we want.”

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Senior administration officials met with several senators Monday and are planning to pitch the broader GOP conference on a third coronavirus relief bill today. Officials want to prop up small businesses, hotels and airlines, which are seeking a $60 billion bailout. “We’ll be looking for support for small and medium-sized businesses, we’ll be looking for support for certain industries that we’ve talked about that are particularly hard hit. I’ve talked about airlines, hotels, others. And we will be looking at a general stimulus,” Mnuchin told reporters, though he notably did not refer to the proposal as a “bailout.” Much more from Bres and Brianna Gurciullo: https://politi.co/39Sca6O.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other top Democrats are planning to unveil their own $750 billion-plus relief package today, while House Transportation Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) warned his colleagues that the financial toll on airlines could be “worse than 9/11.” Trump and the GOP’s proposal may even top the Democrats’ price tag, with the administration preparing a rescue package of at least $800 billion, report Nancy Cook and Ben White, and it is likely to include a mix of industry aid and tax cuts. “I’m not going to comment on the specific numbers right now. … But it’s a big number,” Mnuchin told reporters last night. The dispatch: https://politi.co/3d6JoBm.

Related reads: “Support grows for sending every adult a $1,000 coronavirus check immediately,” via Susan Ferrechio of the Washington Examiner: https://washex.am/2vrdnmz; and “Casinos ask Congress for emergency aid as coronavirus toll sweeps industry,” by WaPo’s Jeff Stein, Rachel Siegel and Jonathan O’Connell: https://wapo.st/2Ql3YnK.

GOHMERT WITH THE FLOW … Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) backed off his threat to block a corrected version of the House’s coronavirus relief bill, allowing the chamber to pass the new version by unanimous consent last night. The bill — which is estimated by the Joint Committee on Taxation to cost around $100 billion — now heads to the Senate, where some GOP lawmakers are calling for changes and whipping up opposition to the package as drafted. Even Trump suggested “we may very well be adding something” and “they may make it even better.”

But making tweaks in the Senate would delay its final passage even further. Some Senate Republicans have dropped their initial opposition to the proposal, and now seem okay with just putting their stamp on the third coronavirus relief bill instead. Still, it’s unclear when the House’s measure will land on Trump’s desk. The latest from Bres and Marianne: https://politi.co/38SkFxn.

Related reads: “House Democrats Scale Back Paid-Leave Program in Coronavirus-Aid Bill,” by WSJ’s Siobahn Hughes, Natalie Andrews and Kate Davidson: https://on.wsj.com/2x7YLsH; and
“Republicans split on House-approved coronavirus bill,” from National Journal’s Zach C. Cohen, Erin Durkin and Harrison Cramer: http://bit.ly/2WkxnlP.

WE’RE NOT GONNA HAVE A HOUSE PARTY … The House may extend its weeklong recess amid coronavirus fears, with Democratic leaders telling lawmakers in a conference call yesterday that they won’t return to Washington until the next rescue package is ready for a vote. Leadership is also coordinating a plan to limit how many lawmakers are voting on the House floor at a single time. And across the Capitol, there are also new examples of social distancing, with reporters being encouraged to spread out during scrums with lawmakers and Schumer even holding the weekly caucus lunches via conference call today. The story from Heather, Sarah and Kyle: https://politi.co/2WuNpKj.

Related read: “Senate faces criticism for defying latest coronavirus guidance on gatherings,” per WaPo’s Paul Kane and Mike DeBonis: https://wapo.st/3b65tyq.

QUARANTINE CORNER — Two more members of Congress are opting to “self-quarantine” after being potentially exposed to the coronavirus — including a member of House Democratic leadership. Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), the assistant speaker and No. 4 House Democrat, decided to go on lockdown out of an abundance of caution, per a spokesperson. And Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) made a similar announcement. “While I have not shown any symptoms, I will follow guidance from public health officials and practice social distancing and self-quarantine to protect others from potential exposure,” Moore said.

CORONAVIRUS CANCELATIONSThe annual Easter Egg Roll Two weeks of SCOTUS oral argumentsSenate HELP committee hearing on COVIDThe NRCC’s snarky press releases (well, maybe)

HAPPY ST. PATTY’S DAY! Welcome to Huddle, the play-by-play guide to all things Capitol Hill, on this Tuesday, March 17, where we hope you’re able to entertain yourselves as much as these penguins on the loose at the Chicago Shedd Aquarium.

MONDAY’S MOST CLICKED: Axios’ report on Rep. James Clyburn’s list of VEEP picks for Biden was the big winner.

FISA FIGHT POSTPONED — “The Senate on Monday unanimously adopted a short-term extension of key federal surveillance programs that expired on Sunday night — a move that allows the chamber to more rapidly consider legislation addressing the economic impacts of the global coronavirus pandemic,” write Andrew Desiderio and Martin Matishak. “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell scrapped an initial procedural vote Monday night on a House-passed bill that would reauthorize now-expired provisions of the 2015 USA Freedom Act and alter the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.”

“Instead, McConnell and his leadership team worked out a deal with civil libertarian hard-liners who oppose that House bill, including Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), on a 77-day extension of the surveillance powers. As part of the agreement, Lee and Paul also secured a package of amendment votes on the House bill, which has the backing of Attorney General William Barr and leaders from both parties in the House.” The deets: https://politi.co/2we13GM.

Related: “Justice Department drops plans for trial over Russian interference in 2016 U.S. election,” via Josh Gertsein: https://politi.co/38WzFKD.

MITCH MAKES HIS PITCH — “Running out of federal court vacancies to fill, Senate Republicans have been quietly making overtures to sitting Republican-nominated judges who are eligible to retire to urge them to step aside so they can be replaced while the party still holds the Senate and the White House,” reports NYT’s Carl Hulse. “Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, who has used his position as majority leader to build a judicial confirmation juggernaut for President Trump over the past three years, has been personally reaching out to judges to sound them out on their plans and assure them that they would have a worthy successor if they gave up their seats soon, according to multiple people with knowledge of his actions.

“The overt effort by Republicans to create vacancies reflects a realization that Mr. Trump could lose the presidency, or that Republicans could lose the Senate majority and deprive Mr. Trump of his partner on judicial confirmations even if he did gain a second term. … Republicans are reminding the judges that it could be another eight years — 2029 — before they could leave under a Republican president.” The scoop: https://nyti.ms/2IVhSc9.

LOOKING AT LIPINSKI — “For the second time in two years, Rep. Dan Lipinski — one of the last members of a dwindling breed of conservative House Democrats who oppose abortion rights — is at risk of losing his seat in a primary,” writes our Ally Mutnick. “The Illinois lawmaker faces a rematch Tuesday against Marie Newman, a progressive upstart who nearly unseated him in 2018. But what should have been the left’s clearest shot yet at the incumbent is mired in uncertainty, with high-profile progressives distracted by Sen. Bernie Sanders’s floundering presidential campaign and the election itself enveloped by the coronavirus crisis.

“Both camps are at a loss for how to handicap the race. … Lipinski is liberals’ highest-profile 2020 primary target. Lining up behind Newman are Sanders, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), and the Justice Democrats. Ousting him would be a much-needed victory for these progressives who have struggled to recapture the magic of 2018, including Ocasio-Cortez’s defeat of a leading House Democrat, amid a series of roadblocks throughout the primary season.” The dispatch: https://politi.co/2QmKbo8.

Related: “Club for Growth spurns Sessions, endorses Tuberville in Alabama,” by James Arkin: https://politi.co/3b77ryt.

IN MEMORIAM — “Former U.S. Rep. Richard Hanna, a fiercely independent Republican from Upstate New York who championed LGBT and women’s rights, died Sunday at a hospital in Oneida County. He was 69,” reports The Post-Standard’s Mark Weiner. “Hanna’s family said in a statement that he died surrounded by loved ones ‘after a private and courageous battle with cancer.’ Hanna, of Barneveld in Oneida County, served three terms in Congress representing an eight-county district that stretched from Lake Ontario to the Pennsylvania border.

“He decided to retire at the end of his term in 2016. Before leaving office, he gained national attention as the only House Republican to publicly endorse and vote for Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. During his six years in Congress, Hanna stood out as one of only two House Republicans to support same-sex marriage, a woman’s right to an abortion and the Equal Rights Amendment, guaranteeing equal rights for women.” The obit: http://bit.ly/2UgJNZx.

Amy Hasenberg is now comms director for Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas). She was most recently deputy comms director for the House Judiciary GOP.

Elana Ross is now press secretary for the president of Planned Parenthood. She previously was press secretary for Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

The House is out.

The Senate meets at 10 a.m. for a period of morning business, with a recess scheduled from 12:30 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. for weekly caucus meetings. At some point, leaders will attempt to consider H.R. 6201 (116), the House-passed coronavirus package. Roll call votes are possible.

Social distancing.

MONDAY’S WINNER: Max Baker was the first to guess that John Quincy Adams and Theodore Roosevelt were both married outside of the country.

TODAY’S QUESTION: From Max: Where did Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, Jr. get his famous nickname “Tip?” The first person to correctly guess gets a mention in the next edition of Huddle. Send your best guess my way at [email protected].

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