Committees Stuck in Neutral During January Impeachment Trial

Dec. 18, 2019, 8:09 PM

Don’t expect bill markups or votes on presidential nominees in January during the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, the chairmen of Senate committees responsible for energy and environment legislation and related nominees said Dec. 18.

“It’s my understanding that committees are not going to be able to report to the floor bills during that period of time,” Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) told reporters.

Still under discussion, Barrasso said, is whether committees during the impeachment trial are “going to be able to have hearings or not, on what topics, and what legislation we’ll be able to pursue.”

The House on Dec. 18 was debating two articles of impeachment against Trump, with final impeachment votes were scheduled in the evening.

Morning Hearings

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said she expects the committee will be able to hold hearings in the morning up until about noon or so for days the Senate is in session in January.

“I don’t believe you can mark up bills” when the Senate is holding its impeachment trial, she said, though committees could continue to conduct oversight and hearings on both bills and nominees.

“But I don’t know that you could have that business meeting” to report Trump nominees for consideration by the full Senate, she said.

Holding only morning hearings would ensure no conflicts with the daily Senate impeachment trial.

Murkowski said senators have been discussing resuming the trail roughly around 1 p.m. each day, which “would follow the contours of the Clinton impeachment” nearly 20 years ago. An afternoon schedule would eliminate afternoon committee hearings.

There is a way for committees to vote on legislation and nominees, but it would require getting Senate consent in an agreement by both parties, she said.

Not being able to vote on energy legislation in January would have only a minor impact because Murkowski advanced around 70 bills through committee in 2019 with an eye toward stitching some of those together for an energy package on the Senate floor in 2020. Murkowski has worked closely with the energy panel’s top Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), on those measures, which range from battery energy storage to wind energy incentives.

Collaborative Committee Work

One senior Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), said he expects committee members from both parties will be working well together even after the January impeachment trial has ended.

“Our committee is pretty bipartisan on most issues,” Cardin told reporters. “I think Senator Barrasso and Senator Carper"—the Delaware Democrat who is the panel’s top Democrat—"are doing a good job keeping us together.”

A priority for the environment panel will be moving along the reauthorization of the highway bill (S. 2302) in 2020 on the Senate floor. The committee passed it in July by a unanimous 21-0 vote. The actual funding of the measure, however, will largely be set by the Senate Finance Committee, Cardin noted.

House progress on the highway bill shouldn’t be affected by the January trial, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee told Bloomberg Environment Dec. 18.

House impeachment managers will be involved in the trial in the Senate.

DeFazio is pushing a more climate-friendly bill in the Democratic-controlled House than the one that emerged from the Senate environment committee over the summer.

“I fully intend to have a major electrification title” to encourage electric vehicles, DeFazio said, part of a broader “defossilization” that will curb fossil fuel used in the surface transportation measure.

The measure also will include “resilient infrastructure” provisions to better protect roads, bridges, and other transportation infrastructure from increasingly severe weather events, he said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at dscott@bloombergenvironment.com; Tiffany Stecker in Washington at tstecker@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Renee Schoof at rschoof@bloombergenvironment.com

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