Road ahead: Senate has plenty to do before August recess jet fumes

McConnell wants to clear budget deal, confirm nominations before recess

The August recess jet fumes are getting stronger on the Senate side of the Capitol. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
The August recess jet fumes are getting stronger on the Senate side of the Capitol. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted July 29, 2019 at 5:00am

The Senate’s August recess jet fumes are getting stronger, but there is still an abundance of chamber business to take care of this week.

The House is in recess until Sept. 9, but the Senate needs to clear the bipartisan budget caps agreement that would also suspend the debt limit into the summer of 2021, following House action last week.

With Majority Leader Mitch McConnell having filed motions to limit debate on 19 of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominations, some cooperation will be needed to get done by Thursday.

“We need make more headway on the backlog of qualified judicial nominees who are waiting for confirmation,” McConnell said in a floor speech. A handful of the judicial nominees on the list were recommended to the White House by Democratic senators.

The first action of the week will see the Senate likely fall short over overriding Trump’s vetoes of a series of bipartisan resolutions that would block arms sales, including to Saudi Arabia. Congress had passed those resolutions largely as a proxy response to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

The primary legislative business, however, is sending to Trump the two-year spending cap and debt limit suspension.

The House passed the budget deal on July 25, on a 284-149 vote. A total of 219 Democrats voted to back the agreement, a mark that House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland was eager to tell reporters in the Capitol as the vote was gaveled closed.

“219. We passed it on our own!” Hoyer said.

In the Senate, the biggest suspense will be how many members of the Republican majority party will vote in favor of the agreement that was the result of negotiations led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Trump has called for Republicans to support the deal.

The 2020 presidential candidates who are members of the Senate Democratic caucus are likely to miss some key votes during the week, with Democratic presidential debates on CNN scheduled to take place in Detroit on Tuesday and Wednesday evening.

McConnell has also announced two other nominations that he intends to prioritize for the getaway week.

“Here’s what we need to accomplish before members depart next week: We need to confirm well-qualified nominees to two open positions of utmost importance,” McConnell said. “These jobs are important, the nominees are impressive, and we need to confirm David Norquist and Kelly Craft next week.”

Craft, the current ambassador to Canada, has been nominated by the president to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. She is from Kentucky and, along with her husband Joe, has been a longtime supporter of McConnell’s political activities.

Norquist, an undersecretary of Defense and the Pentagon comptroller, is the nominee to be elevated to deputy Defense secretary under Mark Esper, who was confirmed and sworn in last week.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham is planning to move ahead Thursday with a markup of Republican legislation to overhaul the asylum process at the U.S.-Mexico border after talks with Democrats led by Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois did not succeed.

“The asylum issue at our border is a new problem,” the South Carolina Republican said in a statement. “The asylum process is being abused. Next Thursday this committee will do our job. I have delayed consideration of this bill for a month.”

When the Judiciary Committee met last week, only one Democrat made an appearance, and Graham was not able to establish a quorum to move forward.

There’s also a full slate of hearings for what could be a truncated week leading in to the August recess. The Finance Committee is meeting Tuesday for a hearing on the proposed new trade agreement with Canada and Mexico.

The outside witnesses for the Finance hearing include U.S. Dairy Export Council President and CEO Tom Vilsack, formerly Democratic governor of Iowa and Agriculture secretary, and onetime Missouri GOP Gov. Matt Blunt of the American Automotive Policy Council, a son of Sen. Roy Blunt.

The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will be meeting the same morning for the latest hearing on asylum and issues at the southern border, while the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs panel will be holding a blockchain and cryptocurrency hearing.

The Armed Services Committee will be keeping busy ahead of the recess, as well.

In addition to likely action to confirm Norquist on the Senate floor, committee members will hear testimony this week from Air Force Gen. John Hyten, nominated by Trump to be vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Vice Adm. Michael Gilday, to be chief of Naval operations and promoted to admiral.

Hyten’s hearing could be the most contentious. He has faced questions about sexual assault allegations, and he met behind closed doors with members of the Armed Services panel last week.

“Gen. Hyten thanks Chairman Inhofe and the committee members for this opportunity to tell his side of the story,” Cmdr. Bill Clinton, Hyten’s spokesman at U.S. Strategic Command, said as that July 25 meeting was nearing a conclusion. 

Andrew Clevenger and John M. Donnelly contributed to this report.

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