Week in Review

The House remains in recess until after November 13, the week following the midterm elections. Last Saturday, the Senate voted 50-48 to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh to serve as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) voted ‘present’ to offset a missing ‘yes’ vote from Senator Steve Daines (R-MT), who was attending his daughter’s wedding. Murkowski had previously voted against moving ahead with the vote. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) was the only Democrat to support the nomination. Kavanaugh was sworn in on Saturday evening and heard his first arguments this week.

The Senate returned on Tuesday afternoon after observing Columbus Day to take up House-passed water infrastructure legislation. The bill passed on Wednesday 99-1 and now awaits the President’s signature. The Senate also processed several nominations this week, including confirming Jeffrey Clark and Eric Dreiband to serve as Assistant Attorneys General and James Stewart to be an Assistant Secretary of Defense.

On Tuesday, UN Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley joined the President in the Oval Office to announce she will step down at the end of the year. On Wednesday, the President signed into law two bipartisan bills that prohibit so-called gag clauses that prevent pharmacists from informing consumers when it would be cheaper to pay for a prescription outside of their insurance plans. At the signing ceremony, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said the public should expect the Administration to announce additional actions to lower drug prices in the coming weeks. The bill signing coincided with the Justice Department’s announcement that it is clearing the CVS-Aetna merger based on a settlement under which Aetna will divest its Medicare Part D prescription drug business. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and FEMA Administrator Brock Long also briefed the President on emergency response efforts as Hurricane Michael approached the southeast. Today, the President signed the Music Modernization Act into law (for details on the legislation, click here).

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced on Wednesday that it will extend the deadline for its request for comments on the Administration’s approach to consumer privacy from October 26 to November 9.

The Week Ahead

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is looking to bring a number of pending executive branch nominations to the floor before the Senate leaves Washington for the midterm elections. While bipartisan negotiations continue, Senate committees will consider a number of other nominees throughout next week. On Monday, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will vote on the nominations of Steven Dillingham and Michael Kubayanda, who the President has nominated to serve as Director of the Census and a Commissioner of the Postal Regulatory Commission, respectively. On Wednesday, the Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Ron Vitiello, the President’s nominee to lead Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Vitiello is currently leading the agency in an acting capacity. The Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on Friday to examine pilot programs at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The House remains in recess.

Law360 Quotes MWC’s Michael Drobac on Drone Integration in New FAA Reauthorization

The President recently signed into law a five-year reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that provides a blueprint for near-term US aviation policy, including traveler and consumer protections, drone integration, airport upgrades and expands on top flight issues addressed in FAA reauthorization legislation from the past several years.

In an Oct. 3 Law360 article, McGuireWoods Consulting senior advisor Michael Drobac commented on how the legislation will impact drone integration.

“The new legislation demonstrates a real commitment by the U.S. government to stay competitive as a global leader on UAS [unmanned aircraft systems] and drone technology, and it gets the ball rolling on eventually allowing advanced operations that are restricted under the FAA's existing rules,” said Drobac.

The FAA reauthorization creates or advances policies and programs to explore areas that had either not previously been permitted or that are critical to enabling safe expanded drone operations, including advancing low-altitude UAS traffic management systems and services and authorizing advanced operations like delivery.

In addition, the legislation includes a key provision that enables the FAA to regulate all UAS or drone operators – which will allow the FAA to move forward with additional regulations for expanded operations.

"There's no longer a carveout for model aircraft, so there's now parity,” Drobac added.