On December 17, 2018, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) announced that he would not seek re-election to his seat in 2020. He was first elected to the Senate in 2002 and was re-elected in 2008 and 2014. Alexander was previously a two-term governor of Tennessee and served for two years as the U.S. Secretary of Education under George H. W. Bush.
Both U.S. Senators from Tennessee have been Republicans since 1995. The last time a Democrat won a Senate election in the state was in 1990 when then-Senator and future Vice President Al Gore won re-election to his second term.
Democrats held both U.S. Senate seats in the state from 1913 through 1994, with two exceptions. Former Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker (R) served three terms from 1967 until 1985, and William Brock (R) represented the state for one term in the 1970s.
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) became the seventh Democratic elected official to enter the 2020 presidential race, announcing her run Monday on Good Morning America. She was first elected to the Senate in 2016 after previously serving as California’s attorney general.
Harris joins former Obama Cabinet member Julian Castro, former Rep. John Delaney (Md.), Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), and state Sen. Richard Ojeda (W.V.) in running for the Democratic nomination. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) also formed an exploratory committee last month.
Ballotpedia’s latest tracking count details 49 politicians and public figures that have been discussed as potential candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
More than 470 people have filed with the FEC as candidates for the 2020 presidential race, including 143 Democrats, 64 Republicans, 18 Libertarians, and 10 members of the Green Party.
Juan Rodriguez, who led Harris’ 2016 campaign for Senate, will serve as her campaign manager. Maya Harris, her sister and a senior policy advisor on the 2016 Clinton presidential campaign, will be her campaign chair.
U.S. Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) announced that he will resign from office on January 23, 2019, to take a job in the private sector. It’s likely he won’t be alone in leaving his Congressional seat early—20 members of the 115th Congress (2017 and 2018) did so before their terms expired.
Seventeen U.S. House members left the 115th Congress early: 14 Republicans and three Democrats.
Democrats picked up three of the seats vacated by Republicans. All were in Pennsylvania, where Congressional districts were re-drawn by the state Supreme Court in early 2018: Pennsylvania’s 7th, 15th, and 18th Congressional districts.
Republicans did not flip any of the House districts vacated by a Democrat.
Three members of the U.S. Senate in the 115th Congress left office early: Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) Al Franken (D-Minn.), and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). Democrat Doug Jones won the seat that Sessions vacated. Republicans held the seat that Cochran vacated, and Democrats held the seat that Franken vacated.
Yesterday’s congressional approval rating was 17 percent, according to Ballotpedia’s polling average. The congressional approval rating indicates public satisfaction in the job performance of the members of the United States Congress.
The 17 percent rating was the lowest rating since the week of September 24, 2018, when the rating was also 17 percent. Since January 2017, the lowest congressional approval rating was 12 percent in April, October, and November 2017, and April 2018. The highest approval rating was 25 percent in February and March 2017.
A day after a federal judge in California enjoined new contraception rules in 13 states and Washington, D.C., a federal judge in Pennsylvania issued a nationwide injunction. The Departments of Health and Human Services, Treasury, and Labor announced the two final rules on contraception in November 2018. According to the agencies, those rules provide flexibility to employers with moral or religious objections to health insurance plans that cover contraception and sterilization. Under the new rules, those employers would be able to offer alternative health insurance plans without such coverage.
The agencies followed a process called notice-and-comment rulemaking to issue the rules. That process allows agencies to amend, repeal, or create administrative regulations after considering public feedback on proposed rules.
Pennsylvania and New Jersey sued the Trump administration over the final rules and made five arguments against them:
The agencies failed to comply with notice-and-comment procedures required by the Administrative Procedure Act (APA)
The rules fail the arbitrary-or-capricious test
The rules violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act
The rules violate the equal protection guarantee of the Fifth Amendment
The rules violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment
Judge Wendy Beetlestone, one of 333 judges nominated by Obama during his presidency, held that the states’ argument that the agencies failed to follow notice-and-comment procedures, in violation of the APA, was likely to succeed. She also held that the rules failed the arbitrary-or-capricious test because they exceeded the scope of agency authority granted by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). She cited Chevron v. NRDC (1984) and wrote that the ACA was clear on the question so the agencies were not entitled to judicial deference.
Judge Beetlestone ruled that the negative effects of a short period of decreased access to no-cost contraceptive services would be direct and irreversible. She said that states would be obligated to shoulder much of the burden of providing contraception for women who lose coverage following the final rules.
Beetlestone defended the nationwide scope of her injunction in light of criticism for similar actions taken by judges in other recent cases. She argued that an injunction limited to Pennsylvania and New Jersey would not reach citizens of those states who work for out-of-state employers nor reach students who may not be considered residents of those states. She said that her injunction might be broader than necessary to provide full relief to the states, but that the lack of empirical data requires judges to exercise discernment when crafting such orders.
On January 16, President Donald Trump (R) announced six nominees to Article III federal judicial positions. Article III federal judges are appointed by the president, confirmed by the Senate, and serve for life. The nominees are:
Greg G. Guidry, nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
James Wesley Hendrix, nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas.
Sean D. Jordan, nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.
Michael T. Liburdi, nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona.
Mark T. Pittman, nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas.
Peter D. Welte, nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota.
The nominees will fill out a questionnaire and be reviewed by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The committee will hold a hearing with the nominee. After the hearing, the committee votes to approve or return the nominee. If approved, the nomination advances to the full Senate for a confirmation vote. Confirming a judicial nominee requires a majority vote of 51 Senators.
Since assuming office in January 2017, Trump has nominated 167 individuals to serve as Article III federal judges. He nominated 69 judicial nominees in 2017 and 92 in 2018. At the sine die adjournment of the 115th Congress on Jan. 3, 2019, 31 nominees were awaiting a Senate vote, 24 were awaiting a committee vote, and 16 were awaiting a hearing. The President must renominate these 71 individuals to the 116th Congress if he wishes to move forward with their nominations.
Currently, the six new nominations are awaiting a committee hearing. None of the six were previously nominated by the president in 2017 or 2018. There are currently no nominees awaiting a committee vote or Senate vote.
As of January 2019, the Senate has confirmed 85 judges—53 district court judges, 30 appeals court judges, and two Supreme Court justices—nominated by the president. Comparatively, the Senate had confirmed 62 judges—2 Supreme Court judges, 16 appeals court judges, and 44 district court judges—nominated by President Barack Obama (D) at the same point in his presidency.
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.
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.
Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.), who has served in the U.S. House since 2011, announced Thursday that he will resign from Congress on January 23, 2019, to pursue a job in the private sector.
Marino served as the state co-chair for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016 and was briefly a nominee to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy in 2017.
Gov. Tom Wolf (D) will schedule a special election to fill Marino’s vacancy. This will be the second congressional special election called for this session. The other will be held in November 2020 to fill the remainder of John McCain’s (R) term in the U.S. Senate representing Arizona.
Marino’s district, Pennsylvania’s 12th, was created in 2018 after the state Supreme Court ruled the original map was an illegal partisan gerrymander. The district backed Marino by a margin of 32 percentage points in 2018.
On January 13, 2019, Federal Judge Haywood Gilliam blocked Trump administration contraception rules from going into effect in Washington, D.C., and thirteen states. The plaintiff states are challenging two final rules announced by the Departments of Health and Human Services, Treasury, and Labor in November 2018. According to the agencies, those rules provide flexibility to employers with moral or religious objections to health insurance plans that cover contraception and sterilization. Under the new rules, those employers would be able to offer alternative health insurance plans without such coverage.
The agencies issued the rules following a process called notice-and-comment rulemaking. That process allows agencies to amend, repeal, or create administrative regulations after considering public feedback on proposed rules.
Judge Gilliam agreed to issue an injunction against the new rules because he found that the suing states’ finances would suffer as a result of the new rules. First, the states claimed the rules would lead women to lose employer-sponsored contraceptive coverage and turn to the state for reimbursement after purchasing contraceptives. Next, the states argued that the rate of unintended pregnancies would rise following the implementation of the new rules. They claimed that the rise in unintended pregnancies would lead to higher expenses because states pay for child delivery and newborn care for mothers who have low incomes.
Judge Gilliam held that the states showed that the rules posed a reasonably probable threat to their economic interests because they would have to pay for contraceptives that had been guaranteed cost-free by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Gilliam held that granting an injunction against the rules was the only way to redress the potential harm to the states while their lawsuit makes its way through the court system. He limited the injunction to the plaintiff states and Washington, D.C., because the case involves difficult questions of law that might benefit from multiple decisions in various courts of appeals.
Judge Gilliam also defended his decision to issue a preliminary injunction against the contraception rules using the arbitrary-or-capricious test. That test comes from the part of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), that instructs courts reviewing agency actions to invalidate any that they find to be arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law. The plaintiff states argued that the new rules are not in accordance with the ACA, which is one of the relevant laws that determine what rules agencies may pass regarding contraception. The parties to the case will discuss the next phase of the lawsuit at a case management conference scheduled for January 23rd.