At the very end of an acrimonious first year working with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office, the Senate reverted to form, looking very much like the Senate.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell came to the floor after 9:30 p.m. to call for voice votes on a slew of pending Trump nominees to posts across the federal government.
The Kentucky Republican, with the help of Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana, minding the presiding officer’s chair, also moved a bunch of cleared bills through unanimous consent.
Among those confirmed were members of the Securities and Exchange Commission, ambassadors and other nominees to State Department posts, along with assistant secretaries for positions in an assortment of Cabinet departments.
It was the kind of routine nominations package that observers of the Senate might expect in any other year, even with someone other than Trump in the Oval Office.
The flurry of activity came after senators reached an agreement to call up a short-term government funding bill practically as soon as it arrived from the House on Thursday, passing it 66-32 after a minimum amount of debate and just one procedural budget vote.
During the vote sequence, which came around dinnertime, one senator could be heard hoping the votes would move forward quickly enough to make an 8:06 p.m. flight to Charlotte.
Meanwhile, Senate Budget Chairman Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming passed out Christmas cards.
It wasn’t a sine die adjournment, but the Thursday session did have a sense of finality, with two senators casting their final votes and bidding farewell to their colleagues — for entirely different reasons.
Appointed Sen. Luther Strange’s tenure is coming to a close with the arrival in January of Democrat Doug Jones, who prevailed in Alabama’s special election. And Sen. Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, has announced his resignation will take effect on Jan. 2, prompted by allegations of sexual harassment.
But some advocates came away with lumps of coal. Supporters of providing a legal pathway for undocumented people who came to the United States as children generally voted against the continuing resolution, which left those senators hoping for progress in January.
“I did not support this government funding measure because it did not include the Dream Act,” said Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, an Illinois Democrat. “This isn’t just about the Dream Act for these young people — we are fighting for the American dream.”
Businesspeople supportive of the Export-Import Bank, many of whom might have cheered the lower corporate tax rate coming with the tax code overhaul, were given reason to be frustrated Thursday night.
Sen. Patrick J. Toomey would not allow the Senate to confirm nominees to be members of the board of the Export-Import Bank, an aide to the Pennsylvania Republican said Thursday.
Under Senate rules, nominations made to the chamber must be acted on during the session in which the nomination was made, or else they are returned to the White House. This restriction is often waived by unanimous consent at the end of a session.
In the case of the bank, Toomey wants to see former New Jersey GOP Rep. Scott Garrett confirmed as the leader of the agency, but Garrett faced bipartisan opposition from the Senate Banking Committee, which voted down his nomination earlier this week.
“I will support these nominees either en bloc, or I will support them sequentially, provided that Scott Garrett is confirmed first,” Toomey said last month. “And as long as that is the case, and Scott Garrett is confirmed by the United States Senate, then I will support, as I say, reconstituting the quorum on the board. If not, then I will do everything I can to prevent Ex-Im from getting a quorum.”
Toomey followed through on that Thursday.
Even with the holiday spirit seeping into the chamber, there were calls for lawmakers to stay in town, including from Democratic senators like Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, who blasted the passage of a short-term reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program as part of the continuing resolution, as opposed to a longer-term deal.
“The Republicans who run Congress had all the time in the world to cut taxes for the super-rich and big corporations and now are urgently skipping town before families who rely on CHIP have peace of mind in knowing that their kids’ health care coverage will continue beyond a matter of weeks. Instead of passing this bill, which stiffs kids, our law enforcement officers and fails to protect the dreamers, members of Congress should stay in town and address these issues,” Casey said in a statement.
Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican from neighboring Ohio who was one of the key architects of the tax overhaul, took to the floor after most of his colleagues had headed for the airport to praise the reports of companies granting bonuses to and increasing wages for employees in the aftermath of the tax plan being sent to Trump’s desk.
But Portman took much the same view as Casey when it came to CHIP, saying that he thought the short-term punt was unnecessary when the Senate Finance Committee already unanimously approved a broader reauthorization.
“I don’t get this notion that we couldn’t pass it because we couldn’t find the pay-fors. The pay-fors were there,” Portman said. “I don’t get it that this was controversial, because it’s not. I believe that on both sides of the aisle we wanted to resolve the Children’s Health Insurance Program.”
Still, that and other pending business will have to wait.
Other than brief pro forma sessions without any legislative business, the Senate chamber’s doors will be closed until the beginning of January.