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Senate leaves for Memorial Day break; full June agenda awaits on return

Public lands, defense authorization highlight next month’s schedule

The Senate will be away for the Memorial Day recess as scheduled, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has set up a full schedule for when lawmakers return in June.

Before wrapping up the chamber’s business for the week on Thursday, the Kentucky Republican said that next month, the Senate will work on the fiscal 2021 defense authorization bill and is expected to take up a public lands package. That measure would permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund and establish a fund for maintenance of national parks and other public lands.

The legislation has many champions on both sides of the aisle. McConnell highlighted the work of Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado and Steve Daines of Montana during floor remarks Thursday. Both are Republican incumbents facing serious reelection challenges in 2020.

“Our mountain towns were hit hard by COVID-19. The ski season ended early, restaurants closed, and hotels emptied. Now is the time to pass this bill that will provide billions of dollars in funding for new jobs across Colorado and the country while protecting our public lands,” Gardner said in a statement. “Now is the time for bold, bipartisan action to create immediate job opportunities, and the President has already called for this legislation to be sent to his desk for his signature.”

The National Park Service maintenance backlog legislation has been led by Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Mark Warner, D-Va.

In a statement, Portman highlighted his provisions in the bill, which he said “will create jobs and rebuild our national parks infrastructure by addressing the $12 billion deferred maintenance backlog at our national park sites throughout the country, including more than $100 million in maintenance backlog in Ohio’s eight national parks.”

The Senate may also take up further responses to the coronavirus pandemic, including modifications to the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, though no final agreement was at hand before senators departed for Memorial Day.

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FiscalNote, parent company of CQ Roll Call, has received a loan under the Paycheck Protection Program.

McConnell has also set up a series of votes to confirm more of President Donald Trump’s nominees. First, at 5:30 p.m. on June 1 will be a confirmation vote for John Leonard Badalamenti to be a federal judge in Florida.

The majority leader also noted that the Senate is expected to confirm the following nominations, on which he filed cloture to limit debate earlier Thursday:

  • Victor G. Mercado to be an assistant secretary of Defense
  • Brian D. Miller to be special inspector general for pandemic recovery at the Treasury Department
  • James H. Anderson to be a deputy undersecretary of Defense
  • Drew B. Tipton to be a U.S. district judge for the Southern District of Texas

McConnell criticized Democrats for opposing the nominations, particularly when it came to Miller to oversee the pandemic recovery.

“If we had … a nickel for every time our Democratic colleagues have claimed that congressional oversight of the recovery programs was important, the CARES Act would have paid for itself,” he said on the Senate floor, referring to the massive relief bill passed in March by its acronym. “And yet Democrats blocked the confirmation of the special inspector general to look over the program this week. So the Senate will prepare to confirm these qualified people the hard way.”

Before departing, the Senate also confirmed an assortment of Trump nominees by voice vote, headlined by two members of the National Regulatory Commission and Kenneth J. Braithwaite to be Navy secretary.

McConnell locked in a schedule for brief pro forma sessions with no planned business until June 1. The Senate will gavel in and out on Friday, and then again twice next week.

Jennifer Shutt contributed to this report.

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