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Senate’s slow start to 2023 rolls on

Chamber took two roll call votes, is still waiting for organizing resolution

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer concludes a news conference in the Capitol on Tuesday.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer concludes a news conference in the Capitol on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate is taking its time getting to work for 2023.

Back in Washington after a two-and-a-half week recess, the chamber adjourned Thursday afternoon without adopting an organizing resolution, meaning committees will remain in their holdover state until at least next week.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer announced the Democratic committee assignments for the new Congress, with Michigan Democratic Sen. Gary Peters, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chair, earning a coveted seat on the Appropriations Committee.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has been active with its holdover membership from the last Congress, since committees like the Senate itself are continuing bodies. Senators on the panel held a hearing Tuesday on antitrust issues in the ticketing business (and cued up Taylor Swift puns), as well as another on Wednesday on a batch of President Joe Biden’s judicial nominations.

Once that committee has full membership, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., formally becomes the ranking member, it could move quickly to prepare holdover nominees for floor consideration now that Schumer leads a majority in the chamber, rather than a group that relies on Vice President Kamala Harris to break any 50-50 ties.

“I look forward to continuing the Committee’s work alongside its talented and diverse members to advance the cause of justice and move forward on issues that are important to the American people,” Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, the Judiciary Committee chair, said in a statement after the announcement of his Democratic membership for the next Congress.

On the GOP side, Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Mo., lost a bid to get a waiver from his Senate GOP colleagues to serve on the Judiciary Committee. Conference precedents generally limit each committee to one Republican senator from each state, and Josh Hawley, who is now Missouri’s senior senator, already sits on Judiciary.

The Senate did confirm one nominee on a roll call vote this week, the first of the year, Monday evening when Brendan Owens received bipartisan support to be secretary of Defense.

Senators have not been dormant, however. The light floor schedule gave plenty of opportunities for news conferences and a few hearings, and for members of the Intelligence Committee to receive briefings, even if they were frustrated on a bipartisan basis with the Biden administration’s unwillingness to provide details of classified documents that have been found outside of secure facilities (including at the properties of the current and former presidents).

That caused considerable venting among Intelligence Committee members Wednesday after a briefing from Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, and it was reiterated Thursday at the Judiciary Committee.

“It’s not hard to imagine some scenario in which classified information is taken out of a secure facility, made available to our adversaries, that it would threaten the national security of the United States in ways that we would need to respond to as policymakers,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. Cornyn said the Justice Department was blocking oversight on the issue, which he said Congress “has a constitutional responsibility to perform here.”

With the limited organization, there have been limited choices for legislation and nominations to occupy the floor. Thursday’s roll call vote, the second and last of the week, came on a resolution designating January as “National Stalking Awareness Month.” It’s the kind of symbolic measure the Senate might ordinarily adopt by unanimous consent or a voice vote, but on Thursday the vote was recorded and the tally was 94-0.

Before adjourning, bills were passed through unanimous consent to congratulate the University of Georgia’s football team for winning the NCAA championship and to recognize “the contributions of Catholic schools.” Another roll call vote is expected at the customary hour of 5:30 p.m. on Monday, but the substance was not announced.

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