NOW COMES THE HARD PART –– Congress swiftly passed a coronavirus funding package last week — but the next phase of their legislative response won’t be nearly as easy. Discussions of an economic stimulus package kicked off on Capitol Hill yesterday, with President Donald Trump and some of his top officials pitching the Senate GOP on a payroll tax cut, among other things, as a way to juice the economy. And Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin then met with Speaker Nancy Pelosi for 30 minutes to talk about a path forward. “We worked together on the spending deal and we’re going to work together on a bipartisan basis to figure out how we can get things done quickly,” Mnuchin said.
But it’s unclear whether all the sides will be able to reconcile their differences. And the timeline for an economic relief bill remains uncertain, since Congress is scheduled to go on recess next week, meaning a deal could be weeks away. House Democrats — who are demanding that any stimulus package focus on helping low-income families with things like paid sick leave and extra money for school lunches — have started plotting their own legislation. They plan to unveil at least the outline of their plan today, with the goal of voting on something later this week in order to put pressure on Trump and the GOP.
Meanwhile, even some Republicans aren’t sold on the idea of cutting or suspending the federal payroll tax. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said there was a “mixed” reaction to the proposal during yesterday’s GOP lunch. “I don’t know if that’s the best way to do it,” said Graham, a top Trump ally. “The president is pushing it. I will have to sit down and think about it.” And even Mnuchin and chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow expressed skepticism over the payroll tax cut during a meeting of the president’s economic team. The story from Heather, Andrew and Bres: https://politi.co/335CGXS.
Related reads: “Trump Tells GOP He Wants Payroll Tax Waived Through Election,” by Jennifer Jacobs of Bloomberg: https://bloom.bg/2W66fXJ; and “White House intensifies push for coronavirus stimulus measures,” via WSJ’s Andrew Restuccia, Andrew Duehren and Richard Rubin: https://on.wsj.com/2TG5PG4.
I’M THE CAPTAIN NOW — Pelosi is holding firm on her desire to keep the Capitol open for legislative business and tourist activity amid the coronavirus outbreak — despite growing anxiety among lawmakers in both parties. During their weekly caucus meeting, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) raised the idea of voting remotely, but Pelosi swiftly shot it down. “We are the captains of the ship. We are the last to leave,” Pelosi told Democrats in the meeting, according to attendees.
Some members are frustrated that Hill officials haven’t implemented a uniform policy for dealing with a potential outbreak and are instead leaving it up to individual offices, which Rep. Donna Shalala (D-Fla.) called “the Wild, Wild West.” And yesterday’s briefing with the attending physician office grew tense at one point when Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.) — an emergency room doctor — stood up and started giving his own advice to members, going beyond the physician’s own recommendations. The story from Heather, Andrew and Bres: https://politi.co/335CGXS.
HAPPENING ON THE HILL TODAY … The House Oversight Committee will hold a hearing with top health officials on “coronavirus preparedness and response” at 9:30 a.m.
Related read: “Pelosi joins Asian American lawmakers in demanding McCarthy apology for ‘bigoted’ tweet,” from Carla Marinucci: https://politi.co/39J6k7U.
QUARANTINE CORNER — Rep. Don Beyer became the latest lawmaker to “self-quarantine” after the Virginia Democrat announced that he and his wife had dinner with a friend who has since tested positive for the virus. Beyer interacted with lawmakers and reporters all day yesterday — and even stood next to Democratic leaders at a coronavirus presser. “Neither of us have shown symptoms, and we understand the probability that we have an infection is low,” Beyer said in a statement.
Meanwhile … Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who also opted to self-quarantine after learning he was potentially exposed to coronavirus, announced that he tested negative for the virus. But apparently, Gaetz had to sleep in a Walmart parking lot on Monday night because he couldn’t stay in a hotel after he landed in D.C. on Air Force One. The backstory on his whirlwind 24 hours, from Jim Thompson of the Northwest Florida Daily News: http://bit.ly/2IAKhV1.
Related read: “Trump allies got coronavirus tests despite lack of symptoms and shortage,” per WaPo’s Mike DeBonis and Carolyn Y. Johnson: https://wapo.st/2TXySUa.
WE’RE HALFWAY THERE! Welcome to Huddle, the play-by-play guide to all things Capitol Hill, on this Wednesday, March 11. The practice of “social distancing” is being implemented at the Pentagon briefing room, but it looks like the Capitol hasn’t gotten the memo yet.
TUESDAY’S MOST CLICKED: Roll Call’s report on Congress getting little clarity on the coronavirus was the big winner.
FISA FINALIZED — House leaders reached a bipartisan agreement to renew a trio of surveillance tools, just days before the law is set to expire. The deal started to come together in recent days after Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) got involved in the negotiations. This takes a major “to do” item off Congress’ plate at a time when lawmakers are grappling with how to respond to the coronavirus. And it also represents a remarkable accomplishment, given that the key players in the FISA talks were just fighting each other over impeachment a month ago. (Did anyone really think Pelosi, McCarthy, Adam Schiff, Jerry Nadler, Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows would be joining forces anytime soon?)
The Senate, however, was not involved in the House discussions. And there are senators in both parties who have already criticized the deal. But without a solution of their own — and a broad desire to not let the surveillance authorities lapse — senators may be forced to accept the agreement hammered out by House leaders and Trump’s top allies on Capitol Hill. Senate Majority Whip John Thune (S.D.) said they want to move FISA legislation this week, but it will depend “on how many procedural roadblocks some of our members might want to throw up.” The story from your Huddle host: https://politi.co/39HCxML.
Some highlights of the measure, according to a summary being sent arround: “Includes the reauthorization of the business records, lone wolf, and roving wiretap provisions critical to U.S. national security, but does not reauthorize the NSA’s call detail records (CDR) program … Requires the Attorney General to approve in writing a FISA investigation of an elected official or federal candidate. … Authorizes independent legal advisors to identify concerns with applications and provide requirements for the approval of applications. … Requires the FBI to describe what investigative techniques it carried out before making an application to target a U.S. person.”
Related: “Democrats should get Mueller evidence, judges rule,” by Josh Gerstein and Kyle: https://politi.co/3cP2ewY.
INCOMPLETE INTEL? — “Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer directly confronted senior intelligence officials Tuesday during a classified election security briefing — accusing them of providing insufficient and contradictory information about Russian efforts to interfere in the 2020 election,” report Kyle, Martin Matishak and Heather. “Their concerns, described by multiple attendees, reflected frustration among House Democrats at what they said was incomplete, unspecific and at-times inconsistent information about the intentions of Russian President Vladimir Putin in the upcoming election.
“Democrats had initially anticipated that Ric Grenell, Trump’s newly installed acting director of national intelligence who lacks any experience in the intelligence community, would be among the briefers. But his office issued a statement earlier Tuesday indicating it ‘did not communicate to Congress at any point that Acting DNI Grenell would participate in election security briefings.’ Instead, his office was represented by William Evanina, the top counterintelligence official in the Office of the DNI.” The latest: https://politi.co/2TUIShb.
Related: “Intelligence Officials Temper Russia Warnings, Prompting Accusations of Political Influence,” by NYT’s Julian Barnes, Nicholas Fandos and Adam Goldman: https://nyti.ms/2VZmq9n.
BERN OUT — “Even before Joe Biden romped in another big primary night on Tuesday, Democrats were already talking about the next move: how to get Bernie Sanders out of the race,” writes Natasha Korecki. “More than two dozen political operatives and delegate experts agreed in interviews that a walloping in Michigan and Mississippi and a tight finish in Washington state would all but close Sanders’ path to the nomination.
“Now Democrats, trying to avoid a prolonged primary that they say would only help Donald Trump’s reelection efforts, are conferring over when — or even whether — to prod Sanders to clear the way for Biden. Democrats agree they want to avoid a repeat of 2016’s protracted race and risk turning over a bloodied and bruised nominee to face off against President Donald Trump. … Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge said if the polls are right and Biden wins big in Michigan and elsewhere Tuesday, Sanders should consider dropping out.” The story: https://politi.co/3cQRSMQ.
Related: “Clyburn calls for Democrats to ‘shut this primary down’ if Biden has big night,” via NBC News’ Jane C. Timm and Dareh Gregorian: https://nbcnews.to/2WePGsX.
TWEET HOME ALABAMA — “Trump spurned Jeff Sessions and endorsed Tommy Tuberville in the Alabama Senate race Tuesday, an enormous blow to Trump’s former attorney general, whom he had excoriated for recusing from the Justice Department’s Russia investigation,” writes James Arkin. “The endorsement of Tuberville is a major boost for the former Auburn University football coach three weeks before the primary runoff between the two Republicans. Tuberville earned the top spot in last week’s primary, narrowly edging out Sessions but falling well short of the 50 percent of the vote needed to avoid a runoff.
“Trump was long expected by Republicans in Washington and Alabama to endorse Sessions’ opponent in the runoff given his vocal disdain for his former attorney general. … Tuberville’s finish in the top spot of the primary put him in strong position heading into the runoff, and a series of polls Tuesday showed Tuberville either leading or tied with Sessions. A poll from the independent firm Cygnal showed Tuberville ahead by 12 percentage points.” More: https://politi.co/2Q6fweN.
Leslie Shedd is now comms director for the House Foreign Affairs GOP. She most recently was an SVP at Firehouse Strategies.
Michaela Sundermann is now press secretary for the House Homeland Security GOP. She previously was digital director for Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.).
The House gavels in at 10 a.m., with first votes expected between 1:30 and 2:30 p.m. Today’s agenda: http://bit.ly/2TFp0j9.
The Senate meets at 10 a.m. to resume consideration of S.J. Res. 56, which would block Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ rewrite of the Obama-era “borrower defense” rule, with a vote on the identical House companion, H.J. Res. 76, set for noon.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) holds his weekly pen and pad briefing at 11 a.m. in H-107.
Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) hold a news conference with the National Council for Behavioral Health to urge Congress to pass the “Excellence in Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Expansion Act” at 11:30 a.m. in 325 Russell Senate Office Building.
TUESDAY’S WINNER: Stefani Koorey was the first to guess that the first U.S. case of the 1918 Flu Epidemic (aka Spanish Flu) was on a military base in Kansas, when Woodrow Wilson was president.
TODAY’S QUESTION: From Stefani: President Thomas Jefferson named the first two librarians of the Library of Congress. What were their names and what other position did both men simultaneously hold while librarians? The first person to correctly guess gets a mention in the next edition of Huddle. Send your best guess my way at email@example.com.
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