Not so fast, recess: Senate hurdles to late-summer departure

McConnell: There’s little time to confirm several Trump nominees, and clear a budget measure to beat the debt ceiling deadline

Empty chairs and a “quiet please” sign sit outside the Senate Committee on Appropriations hearing room in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Tuesday, July 30, 2019. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Empty chairs and a “quiet please” sign sit outside the Senate Committee on Appropriations hearing room in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Tuesday, July 30, 2019. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted July 30, 2019 at 11:51am

Senators hoping to get out of town for an early summer recess departure faced a potentially lengthy workweek.

There’s little time to confirm several of President Donald Trump’s nominees, including judges, and clear a budget measure to beat the Treasury Department’s debt ceiling deadline before leaving, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday in opening remarks.

[Shelby finalizing allocations for fiscal 2020 bills; first markup Sept. 12]

“We can’t head home without making another big dent in the backlog of qualified district judge nominees whom partisan obstruction has already kept waiting too long,” McConnell said. He added that “the Senate is not going anywhere until we confirm two impressive nominees to executive branch positions,” referring to the nominations of Kelly Craft to be ambassador to the United Nations and David Norquist for deputy secretary of Defense.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., in his own floor comments called on McConnell to prioritize the budget vote. He pointed out Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s comments that there there was a chance the agency could run out of funds before the end of the August recess if Congress doesn’t act. Lawmakers aren’t due back in Washington after this week until Sept. 9.

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“Democrats are ready to vote on the House bill today so it can get to the president’s desk and we can avoid even a glimmer of default,” Schumer said.

McConnell, who filed for cloture on the motion to proceed to the budget bill on Monday, would say only that the timeframe for a vote was “later this week.”

“I think a lot of it depends on these judge votes. We’re trying to dispose of some of them and the way they were sequenced in terms of the cloture filings would have the judges voted on before we get to that,” said Senate Majority Whip John Thune, R-S.D.

In addition to the order of events on the Senate floor, there are discussions about the ongoing whip count on the budget vote and Republicans who want to offer amendments. “There are always members of ours who would like to have amendment votes. So ultimately the leader will make the call about how it all gets set up for a final vote,” Thune said. “We’re in the process of working that vote. I’m hopeful and optimistic that when the time comes we’ll have the votes we need to get it done.”

The bipartisan compromise would suspend the debt ceiling through July 31, 2021, and raise spending caps by $324 billion over the next two fiscal years above the austere cap levels imposed under a 2011 deficit reduction law.

The Senate vote is the last hurdle and Trump has assured he will sign the bill.

“Why don’t we vote on the caps deal today?” Schumer asked. “Now the clock is ticking.”

The leaders’ remarks made clear that lawmakers have different legislative priorities they want completed before leaving town.

Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., asked unanimous consent to pass a bill that would extend Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelans that the House passed Thursday. But Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, objected, noting lawmakers would want a chance to amend the legislation before sending it to the president.

The Senate work period runs through Friday, but lawmakers could agree to leave earlier than that.

The motion to limit debate on the budget bill filed by McConnell on Monday sets up a vote on a motion to proceed to the legislation Wednesday, but that could mean a final vote as late as Friday if lawmakers don’t agree to speed things up.

McConnell may have listed the confirmations first on his list of legislative to-dos, but he also gave a strong endorsement of the budget pact later in his opener: “The Trump Administration has negotiated their way to a major win on defense,” he said, adding, “the president is ready and waiting to sign it.”

But as is always the case before a big fly-out, the impasse could break quickly if senators reach agreement.

Speaking from the floor Tuesday morning, Thune expressed optimism the Senate would wrap up quickly: “I’m looking forward to getting out of D.C. in the next few days and heading home to South Dakota,” he said.

Jennifer Shutt contributed to this report.