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Senators to punt on border, fly home after FAA, nominations

Not enough time to get a deal, draft a bill and vote before holidays

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., has held up an aviation extension as leverage to keep senators in town.
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., has held up an aviation extension as leverage to keep senators in town. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

With no prospect for a border security deal in sight, the Senate was preparing to leave town for the holidays and punt an emergency war funding package into the new year.

Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., acknowledged Tuesday that reaching a bipartisan deal on policies to stem the flow of migrants at the southern border would not come together in time for a vote this week. 

“While we’ve made important progress over the past week on border security, everyone understands that we have more work to do and it’s going to take more time,” Schumer said on the floor.

Republicans have insisted on an immigration deal as a condition for backing more aid to Ukraine in its defense against Russian aggression, and also want to ensure the legislative text reflects any framework that’s agreed to.

After a weekly Democratic caucus lunch, Schumer said he was “much more hopeful” than he was late last week about reaching a deal that would clear a path for a $110.5 billion emergency spending package (HR 815). But he also made clear that no deal was imminent.

“I’m optimistic that we get things done … as soon as we get back,” Schumer said.

The Senate’s lead Democratic negotiator, Christopher S. Murphy of Connecticut, vowed to continue the border discussions with Republicans and White House staff “for however long it takes to get this done.” While he planned to take a “day and half off” for Christmas, he said, negotiators are “closer than ever before to an agreement.”

“We need to get this right,” Murphy said, cautioning that it would still take some time to hammer out.

Expectations for a deal were already low as senators filed back into town Monday for an extra few days of legislative session before a shortened holiday recess. Only 61 of the 100 senators showed up Monday night for their first scheduled vote of the week, though that increased to a still-paltry 67 for votes Tuesday afternoon.

And with no spending package on the table, the workload for the remainder of the week promised to be light.

Topping the agenda, Schumer said, is a short-term reauthorization of Federal Aviation Administration financing and fee-collection authorities.

“Before the Senate adjourns for the holidays, we must also pass a temporary extension of FAA funding or else funding will run out on Dec. 31,” he said. “A funding extension for the FAA is critical to minimize chaos during the holiday season, so Congress must get this done as soon as we can.”

But it wasn’t clear how much time a vote on that measure might require. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Col., said Tuesday he still had a “hold” on the FAA bill in an effort to force action on additional Ukraine aid. 

After the Democratic lunch, Bennet suggested he might be willing to give ground. “We’re working through things,” he told reporters.

And Schumer said he also plans votes to confirm the last of the military nominations that had been held up for months by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., in a protest over a Pentagon policy on abortion access.

“There are still 11 nominees that are awaiting confirmation,” Schumer said. “We will not leave town until every last one of these delayed nominees is finally confirmed. I hope we can do so quickly.”

Other nominations are on the docket as well as Senate Democrats try to approve as many of Biden’s selections as possible before recessing for the year. Any nominees that have not been confirmed by Jan. 1 would have to be resubmitted by the president next year. 

Briana Reilly contributed to this report.

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