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Senate races to finish coronavirus relief package

with help from Marianne LeVine

COVID OR GO HOME Most of America might be shutting down, but the Senate is still in session. On the agenda this week: renewing a trio of surveillance tools that expired Sunday and clearing the House’s coronavirus relief package that passed early Saturday morning after hours of drama. And it feels like senators are up against the clock, especially with the CDC now advising against public gatherings of 50 or more people. It’s unclear, however, exactly when the Senate will take up the coronavirus bill — particularly given that the House still needs to make some technical corrections to the legislation, which will happen sometime this week in a pro forma session via unanimous consent.


Here’s what we expect: First, the Senate will vote this evening at 5:30 p.m. on moving forward with the House-passed bill to reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. While President Donald Trump dangled the idea of a veto last week amid some GOP criticism of the bipartisan bill, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters on Friday that Trump will indeed sign the legislation. “The president will sign it. He told me he will,” McCarthy said.

Then, after FISA is finished, the Senate will turn to the corrected coronavirus bill (unless senators get an agreement to address it earlier, though that seems unlikely.) Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement Sunday evening that they are eyeing additional congressional action to mitigate the economic impacts of the global pandemic. “Senate Republicans feel strongly that this bill must only be the beginning of Congress’s efforts to support our nation’s economy and stand with American families,” McConnell said. “Discussions are already underway on these key pillars. The Senate is eager to work with the Administration and the House to deliver the solutions our nation deserves.”

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) has signaled discontent with the House bill, saying in a statement that he hopes “the Senate will approach this with a level head and pass a bill that does more good than harm- or, if it won’t, pass nothing at all,” while the conservative Club for Growth issued a key vote against it. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), however, urged the Senate to prioritize the coronavirus bill over FISA. “FISA needs to be carefully reviewed. That takes time. That can wait,” he tweeted. “The emergency response to #coronavirus should be the first order of business in the Senate tomorrow. There is no reason for this to take days & days.”

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, are calling for immediate passage of the House bill and are criticizing McConnell for sending the Senate home Thursday. “It was remarkably irresponsible and out of touch for Senator McConnell to send senators out of town for the weekend in the middle of this public health crisis and before the House passed this vital people-focused legislation,” Schumer said in a statement Friday following the House reaching a deal. “Senator McConnell and Republicans should pass this legislation as is immediately so it can get to the president’s desk so he can sign it right away.” More from Bloomberg’s Steven T. Dennis on how a few GOP senators’ concerns are threatening to slow the bill’s passage:

Related reads: “White House eyes additional cash for Pentagon, Homeland Security as virus outbreak widens,” via Caitlin Emma:; and “Teetering economy sparks talk of second stimulus package,” from The Hill’s Alexander Bolton:

ISOLATION, ISOLATION, BABY — The House is officially on a weeklong recess — and Speaker Nancy Pelosi is calling on lawmakers to practice social distancing and allow staff to telework. Some offices had already begun doing so, but there is no uniform policy and some lawmakers had been clamoring for more guidance. “The health and safety of our staff is essential to this mission. In bipartisan consultation with the Attending Physician and the Sergeant at Arms, and out of an abundance of caution, I am writing to encourage you to take steps to promote social distancing within your Washington, D.C. office as we engage in the District Work Period,” Pelosi wrote in a “Dear Colleague” letter. “This may entail more than half of your Washington staff teleworking from home.”

Rep. Devin Nunes, however, had a different take: the California Republican urged Americans to “stop panicking” and encouraged healthy people to visit restaurants and bars, even as several cities and states are taking steps to shutter those establishments. “If you’re healthy, you and your family, it’s a great time to just go out and go to a local restaurant, likely you can get in easily,” Nunes told Fox News’s Maria Bartiromo. “Let’s not hurt the working people in this country that are relying on wages and tips. So don’t run to the grocery and buy $4,000 worth of food. Go to your local pub.”

Related: “Most federal workers will report to the office Monday — as the rest of the country isolates itself,” via WaPo’s Lisa Rein, Ian Duncan and Tracy Jan:

QUARANTINE CORNER — Daniel Goldman, a former staffer for Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) who led the questioning during the House’s impeachment hearings, confirmed that he tested positive for coronavirus. Goldman had chronicled his struggles on Twitter trying to get tested in New York City. “My difficulty in getting a test despite the exact symptoms and a neg flu test underscores how shockingly unprepared this administration is to deal with this pandemic. In fact, I was told that NYC hospitals STILL would not test my wife — with similar symptoms — unless admitted,” he tweeted. The latest from WSJ’s Siobhan Hughes:

Meanwhile, two more congressional staffers have tested positive for the virus: a D.C. staffer who works for Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) and a Delaware-based staffer who works for Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.). Both offices will be teleworking and anyone who came into contact with the infected individuals are under self-quarantine. “A member of our DC team has been informed by the Virginia Department of Health that they tested positive for COVID-19. They are resting comfortably at home and following guidance from local health officials,” Schweikert said in a statement. “Given that I have interacted with the employee who tested positive, I will be working from home until otherwise told by doctors.”

Related: “Lindsey Graham tests negative for coronavirus,” per The Daily Caller’s Henry Rodgers:

HAPPY MONDAY! Welcome to Huddle, the play-by-play guide to all things Capitol Hill, on this March 16. This D.C. distillery is delivering hand sanitizers with all its booze purchases, proving not all heroes wear capes.

FRIDAY’S MOST CLICKED: TIME’s report on how Congress is locked in a partisan funding fight was the big winner.

PRIMARIES POSTPONED — At least two states have already postponed their primaries amid coronavirus fears. And Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill is also seeking to move the state’s March 31 runoff races, which includes two GOP House races as well as the Senate GOP primary matchup between former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Tommy Tuberville. But it’s unclear whether Merrill has the legal authority to delay the runoffs.

Merrill has requested an “emergency opinion” from the Attorney General’s office to clarify whether he can postpone the races. “In the nature of keeping Alabamians safe from the potential spread of the virus, Merrill has asked if, under the emergency powers granted to the Governor … the Governor has the authority to postpone the election,” Merrill’s office said in a statement. “In postponing the election until the threat of the Coronavirus is eliminated, Alabamians will be able to participate in the electoral process in a safe and healthy environment, as they have done in the past.”

Related: “Ebola Fears Helped Elect Trumpist Senator Thom Tillis. Coronavirus Fears Could Help Oust Him,” by The Daily Beast’s Eleanor Clift:

FEMALE VEEP — Joe Biden has promised to pick a female running rate — and “Rep. James Clyburn has a list of African American women who are qualified to be vice president,” reports Ursula Perano of Axios. “[H]e told ‘Axios on HBO’ in an interview that there’s a ‘much deeper bench than people realize.’ … Clyburn is widely credited with saving Biden’s campaign following his endorsement in the South Carolina Democratic primaries. ‘I’ll never tell you who I’m going to advise him,’ Clyburn said in the interview, ‘but I would advise him that we need to have a woman on the ticket, and I prefer an African American woman.’

Clyburn’s short list: Sen. Kamala Harris, Rep. Marcia Fudge, Rep. Val Demings, Former Georgia state Rep. Stacey Abrams, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Former National Security Adviser Susan Rice. Also on his list: Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren. The story:

Related: “Biden ends the drama by promising female VP,” via John Harris:

FISA FUMBLE — “Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) are playing hardball as they try to torpedo a House-passed surveillance deal,” writes The Hill’s Jordain Carney. “The two GOP senators, and their allies on both sides of the aisle, have already netted one victory: They will have successfully forced a days-long expiration of three surveillance programs, including the controversial Section 215, when the intelligence authorities lapse Sunday night.

“Now, they are trying to get President Trump to upend the fight over the House bill — which ties a reauthorization of the three expiring provisions of the USA Freedom Act, a 2015 law that overhauled the country’s intelligence programs, with some changes to a shadowy surveillance court. … Because negotiations over the legislation went down to the wire, with the House not passing its measure until Wednesday, Paul and Lee were able to throw up procedural roadblocks to the Senate voting on it before Sunday’s deadline.” The dispatch:

DID SOMEONE SAY 2024? — “Arkansas Republican Tom Cotton, a freshman senator up for reelection in November, launched a highly unusual new TV ad this week. The content was standard, pro-Trump, anti-Democrat fare. What was very atypical was that it aired hundreds of miles from his home state, in Ohio,” writes Alex Isenstadt. “As it turns out, the ad had nothing to do with Cotton’s current campaign, and everything to do with the one he’s eyeing four years from now — for the White House.

“He and Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) are running commercials aimed at raising their profiles in key electoral battlegrounds and — perhaps more important — ingratiating themselves with President Donald Trump and his supporters, who could prove critical in any future Republican presidential primary contest. The twin offensives underscore how the 2024 Republican presidential primary is already underway even as Trump is battling for a second term. Republicans with future national aspirations are hitting early primary states, jockeying to win the favor of major donors, and auditioning before conservative activists.” Much more:

Ryan Johnson, previously press secretary for Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and communications director for Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), is joining BerlinRosen as account director on the issue advocacy team.

The House is out.

The Senate meets at 3 p.m. Lawmakers will resume consideration of the motion to proceed to H.R. 6172 (116), which would reauthorize the 2015 USA Freedom Act. At 5:30 p.m., they will vote on the motion to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed.

Fly-in day.

FRIDAY’S WINNER: Bob Koczera was the first to guess that two First Ladies — Louisa Adams and Melania Trump — were born outside the U.S.

TODAY’S QUESTION: From Bob: How many presidents got married out of the country and who were they? 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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