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Kelly Coyle

Kelly Coyle is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.

Trump’s pick for EPA administrator testifies before Senate committee

Andrew Wheeler, President Donald Trump’s nominee for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator, appeared before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on Wednesday.
 
After the committee votes on Wheeler’s nomination, the full Senate will have to vote to confirm him. He needs a simple majority for confirmation. Republicans currently hold the majority with 53 seats.
 
Wheeler currently serves as the acting administrator of the EPA. Trump announced his intent to nominate Wheeler as EPA administrator on November 16, 2018. Trump formally nominated Wheeler on January 9, 2019.
 
If confirmed, Wheeler will replace former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who resigned on July 6, 2018. The Senate confirmed Pruitt by a vote of 52-46 on February 17, 2017. Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) were the only Democrats to vote for Pruitt’s confirmation. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) was the only Republican to vote against his confirmation.


Trump’s pick for attorney general appears before Senate Judiciary Committee committee

The Senate Judiciary Committee held a confirmation hearing on January 15 and 16 for William Barr’s nomination to be United States Attorney General.
 
In his opening statement, Barr said that, if confirmed, he would “enforce the law evenhandedly and with integrity,” as he said during his confirmation hearing for attorney general in the George H.W. Bush administration. He added, “We live in time when the country is deeply divided. In the current environment, the American people have to know that there are places in the government where the rule of law – not politics – holds sway, and where they will be treated fairly based solely on the facts and an even-handed application of the law. The Department of Justice must be such a place.”
 
Barr also told senators that he that he would allow special counsel Robert Mueller to finish his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and let the public and Congress learn about the conclusions. He did not promise to release the full contents of the final report.
 
As attorney general, Barr said that his priorities would be combating violent crime and predatory violence, enforcing and improving immigration laws, and protecting the integrity of elections.
 
President Donald Trump announced his intent to nominate Barr to the position on December 7, 2018, and formally sent his nomination to the Senate on January 3, 2019. Barr will have to be confirmed by the Senate with a simple majority vote. Republicans currently hold the majority with 53 seats.
 
Barr served as the 77th United States Attorney General under former President George H.W. Bush (R) from 1991 to 1993. He was confirmed by a unanimous voice vote in November 1991. The previous attorney general under Trump, Jeff Sessions, was confirmed 52-47 in November 2017.


Trump’s pick for EPA administrator to appear before Senate committee

Andrew Wheeler, President Donald Trump’s nominee for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator, will appear before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on January 16, 2019. After the committee votes on Wheeler’s nomination, the full Senate will have to vote to confirm him. He needs a simple majority for confirmation.
 
Wheeler currently serves as the acting administrator of the EPA. Trump announced his intent to nominate Wheeler as EPA administrator on November 16, 2018. During a White House ceremony, Trump said, “He’s done a fantastic job and I want to congratulate him.” Trump formally nominated Wheeler on January 9, 2019.
 
If confirmed, Wheeler will replace former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who resigned on July 6, 2018. The Senate confirmed Pruitt by a vote of 52-46 on February 17, 2017. Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) were the only Democrats to vote for Pruitt’s confirmation. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) was the only Republican to vote against his confirmation.


Trump makes case for border barrier in televised address; Democratic leadership rejects request

In the televised address from the Oval Office on January 8, 2019, President Donald Trump said that there is a humanitarian and security crisis at the southern border, and he called on members of Congress to allocate $5.7 billion to build a wall or steel barrier to protect the nation. He said, “At the request of Democrats, it will be a steel barrier rather than a concrete wall. This barrier is absolutely critical to border security. It’s also what our professionals at the border want and need.”
 
In making his case for the barrier, Trump said that individuals who enter the country without legal permission from the southern border strain public resources and reduce job availability and wages. He also said that some drugs and criminals enter the country through the southern border, harming Americans.
 
In response to those, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who “have suggested a barrier is immoral,” Trump said, “Then why do wealthy politicians build walls, fences, and gates around their homes? They don’t build walls because they hate the people on the outside, but because they love the people on the inside. The only thing that is immoral is the politicians to do nothing and continue to allow more innocent people to be so horribly victimized.”
 
The address took place on the 18th day of a partial government shutdown. Trump said that he would not sign legislation to reopen the federal government if it did not include border funding.
 
Immediately after Trump’s speech, Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), issued a televised response rejecting Trump’s request for a border wall and calling on him to reopen the government. Pelosi said, “President Trump must stop holding the American people hostage, must stop manufacturing a crisis, and must reopen the government.”
 
Schumer said that Democrats support border security measures, but “disagree with the president about the most effective way to do it.” Schumer also criticized Trump for creating a crisis that he said did not exist. Schumer said, “This president just used the backdrop of the Oval Office to manufacture a crisis, stoke fear, and divert attention from the turmoil in his administration.”
 
In his address, Trump did not declare a national emergency over border security, something he is considering if Congress refuses to fund the requested border barrier. “Federal law allows the president to halt military construction projects and divert those funds for the emergency,” according to The Wall Street Journal. Democrats said that they would challenge Trump’s declaration in court if issued.


SCOTUS issues two unanimous opinions

The U.S. Supreme Court issued two unanimous opinions this week – Henry Schein Inc. v. Archer and White Sales Inc., and Culbertson v. Berryhill. Last term, the justices issued 20 unanimous opinions.
 
In Henry Schein Inc. v. Archer and White Sales Inc., the court considered a case regarding the Federal Arbitration Act. In his first opinion for the court, Justice Brett Kavanaugh vacated and remanded the ruling of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
 
In Culbertson v. Berryhill, the court considered a question concerning Social Security and attorney fees. The court unanimously reversed and remanded the ruling of the Eleventh Circuit Court.
 
The justices have granted cert in 65 cases and have issued decisions in seven of them. They have 26 cases remaining on their argument schedule.


Senate Judiciary Committee committee schedules hearings for Barr

The Senate Judiciary Committee announced that it will hold a confirmation hearing for William Barr’s nomination to be United States Attorney General on January 15 and 16. President Donald Trump (R) announced his intent to nominate Barr to the position on December 7, 2018, and formally sent his nomination to the Senate on January 3, 2019. Barr will have to be confirmed by the Senate with a simple majority vote before taking office.
 
Barr served as the 77th United States Attorney General under former President George H.W. Bush (R) from 1991 to 1993. He was confirmed by a unanimous voice vote in November 1991. The previous attorney general under Trump, Jeff Sessions, was confirmed 52-47 in November 2017.


Pelosi elected speaker of the House

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was elected speaker of the House with 220 votes. Fifteen Democrats did not vote for her. Eight of those who voted against Pelosi were among the 16 Democrats that signed a letter opposing her candidacy on November 19, 2018.
 
Pelosi previously served as speaker of the House from 2007-2011. She is the first and only woman to hold the position.
 
The speaker of the House presides over sessions of the lower chamber and is second in the line of presidential succession.


2019 Congressional calendar

The 116th Congress will convene on January 3, 2019, and will conclude on January 3, 2021. The House is scheduled to meet for 130 days in 2019, and the Senate is scheduled to meet for 168 days.
 
In 2018, the House had 171 legislative days, and the Senate had 186 days.
 
From 2001 to 2018, the House spent an average of 140 days in session each year, while the Senate averaged 165 days in session each year.
 
Click here to view the calendar for the first session of the 116th Congress.