The U.S. Senate is facing a stimulus vs. Supreme Court time crunch before the Nov. 3 election, says Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.
Whether either one or both get across the finish line hinges on the trio of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Tennessee, President Trump and COVID-19.
Wyden on Friday touched on some of the topics he expects will come up during a virtual town hall for residents of Deschutes, Jefferson and Crook counties on Monday at 11:30 a.m. on Facebook. Another town hall is scheduled for residents of Umatilla, Wallowa, Union and Morrow counties at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday.
With the Senate reconvening on Oct. 19, Wyden said a COVID-19 relief stimulus bill and President Trump's nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme court will dominate the limited time to debate prior to election day.
Wyden says he will also talk about action on wildfire recovery, water quality and management of forestlands. If residents have a question for Wyden, they can fill out a form provided by the Town Hall Project.
Due to COVID-19, Wyden has been limited to online sessions with constituents since early this year.
“The pandemic forces Oregon and the country to hold off on big indoor public gatherings until they’re safe to resume," Wyden said. "I want to make sure Oregonians still have every opportunity to ask me questions directly and voice their views."
Wyden has held 973 in-person town halls across Oregon's 36 counties since he was elected to the Senate in 1996.
Wyden expected to be in session in the Capitol this week. But a recess was called when three Republican senators tested positive for COVID-19 about the same time the virus sickened President Donald Trump.
When they return Oct. 19, the Senate will have 15 days before the Nov. 3 election. Democrats want to pass an up to $2.2 trillion stimulus bill to offset business losses and unemployment during the COVID-19 crisis.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had been in negotiations with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on legislation palatable to both the Republican-led Senate and Democratic-led House.
President Donald Trump returned to the White House after three days of COVID-19 treatment at Walter Reed Medical Center and quickly said he was pulling the plug on any deal. Talks have since resumed, but even Trump's allies are not sure what to do.
“The situation is kind of murky and I think the murkiness is a result of the proximity to the election and everybody kind of trying to elbow for political advantage,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, said during a press conference Friday. A deal was "unlikely in the next three weeks.”
McConnell instead wants to focus on Senate confirmation of Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court. She would replace Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a consistently liberal justice, who died last month at age 87. Trump's nominee would give the court a 6-3 conservative majority, which critics say could roll back decisions on abortion, health care and limits on large businesses.
Senate Judiciary Committee chair Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., wants to hold hearings soon, with a committee vote no later than Oct. 16. McConnell said a full vote by the Senate could come on Oct. 26.
Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate. Two GOP members — Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — have indicated they would not support an nominee this close to a presidential election, respecting a precedent set four years ago.
President Barack Obama had nominated Merrick Garland in March 2016 to fill a seat after the death of the court's conservative stalwart, Antonin Scalia. McConnell at that time said the Senate would not consider a nominee so close to the election in November. Graham said it was not a partisan power play and that if a Republican won the 2016 election and tried to nominate a Supreme Court justice in 2020, he would oppose the move.
"Let's let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination,' " Graham said.
If he allowed such a vote to go ahead in 2020, "You could use my words against me and you'd be absolutely right."
McConnell and Graham say circumstances have changed and the confirmation is appropriate. Both senators are in competitive re-election races.
Republicans worry they could lose the Senate majority in the election, shutting off a shot at placing Barrett into the lifetime position on the nation's highest court.
Wyden, who opposes Barrett's nomination, said McConnell's drive to fill the Supreme Court seat was not only hypocritical, but could squash action on a stimulus needed by millions of Americans to survive the end of current COVID-19 aid programs while the virus is still raging.
"Mitch McConnell is preparing to confirm a Supreme Court justice in just two weeks, but helping families pay rent and buy groceries during a pandemic is too 'confusing.'" Wyden said on Thursday.
Wyden predicted American voters will replace President Trump with Democrat Joe Biden and sweep McConnell and Senate Republicans out of power.
Wyden said the town hall will also look at long-range local issues where Congress can help: guaranteeing water purity, reducing the danger of wildfires, ensuring affordable housing and getting the economy ready to rebound for the unknown day in the future when a COVID-19 vaccine gets to Oregon residents.
Wyden, 71, has been in the Senate since January 1996, when he won a special election to replace Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Packwood, who resigned over a sex scandal.
Wyden had previously represented a Portland-area district in the U.S. House since 1981. Prior to political office, Wyden earned a law degree, and taught gerontology. He founded the Oregon chapter of the Gray Panthers, a senior rights activist group, in 1974.
Wyden's U.S. Senate seat is next up in 2022. He has not made an official announcement, but is expected to seek re-election. Sen. Jeff Merkley, also a Democrat, is Oregon's other U.S. Senator. He is seeking re-election to another six-year term this November.