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The Senate hasn’t held a major hearing since early March since the upper chamber of Congress – like the rest of the country – was shut down amid the coronavirus pandemic, but that will change this week now that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has called lawmakers back to Washington.
The Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday is set to hold a confirmation hearing for Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, after President Trump nominated him in late February to serve as director of national intelligence, a post that’s been vacant since last summer when then-DNI Dan Coats resigned.
Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, has been serving as acting DNI.
Ratcliffe, a staunch defender of Trump and vocal critic of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, originally was on the shortlist for DNI after Coats’ exit, but he withdrew his name following harsh criticism from Democrats over the former federal prosecutor’s lack of experience.
“I made the decision to withdraw from consideration because, you know, if your political future comes down to the vote of 100 U.S. senators, and you start out day one down 47 to nothing because every Democrat is against you, my concern was there’s not a lot of margin for error there,” Ratcliffe told Fox News at the time. “I just decided I was better served in the position that I am, where I can ask difficult questions of people like the special counsel and [former FBI Director] Jim Comey under oath and shape the investigation that way.”
There were also questions as to how much support the Texas Republican had from McConnell and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C.
In the interim, Ratcliffe went to bat for Trump this past fall during the House impeachment hearings, with the Texas lawmaker emerging as one of the president’s most ardent defenders.
In the meantime, no other candidate emerged to fill the empty DNI spot and Trump decided he would go ahead and nominate Ratcliffe anyhow.
Ratcliffe is still expected to face a fierce confirmation battle as Democrats have argued he was selected due to his loyalty rather than experience, and with the party still angry at McConnell calling the Senate back in session despite the coronavirus outbreak still raging throughout the country.
“The Republican leader has called the Senate back into session despite the District of Columbia appearing to be reaching a peak phase,” of the virus, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Monday. “If we are going to make these fine people come into work on these conditions, the Senate should focus like a laser on COVID-19… but the majority leader has scheduled no hearings on COVID-19.”
Schumer added that the Senate should be debating a new round of legislation to pump even more money into economic relief in response to the pandemic, as well as how to expand testing for the contagion, instead of approving presidential nominations.
Fox News’ Anna Olson and Brooke Singman contributed to this report.