Senators Break for August Recess
Senate Democrats ran for the exits armed with a few legislative victories and a handful of defeats going into the five-week summer recess.
Members of the majority, who will spend August drawing a sharp contrast to Republicans on the economic recovery, celebrated the passage of a $26 billion funding measure for schools and cash-strapped states. They cheered the confirmation of Elena Kagan, President Barack Obama’s second nominee to the Supreme Court, and the unanimous approval of a child nutrition bill pushed by Agriculture Chairman Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.).
“This has been a good week for children in Nevada and across America,” Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said in a statement. “After Democrats fought to prevent hundreds of thousands of teachers from being laid off earlier today, we led passage of much-needed child nutrition legislation this afternoon.”
Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) also won a surprising victory Thursday evening, when the chamber unanimously approved a $600 million funding measure for 1,500 new Border Patrol and immigration agents and for unmanned aerial border patrols. He has pursued a comprehensive immigration package for more than a year, but the effort has stalled in the face of near-unanimous GOP opposition.
Other Democratic priorities were left on the table. Reid indicated Thursday that the chamber will take up a small-business jobs package, which faltered in recent weeks, in the first week back in session in September. He filed a cloture motion on a fresh substitute for the bill before adjourning Thursday night.
“We believe we have the necessary votes to prevail on that,” he said. “We have problems with time. … Without getting into the intricacies of how I plan to move forward, we are going to move forward — it’s just a question of when on small business.”
The chamber cleared 51 executive and judicial nominations before adjourning, including that of James Clapper to be director of national intelligence. Republicans briefly threatened Clapper’s nomination in their quest for an intelligence report on the threat factor of detainees at the U.S. facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Sen. John McCain dropped his hold on the nomination Tuesday, after the Arizona Republican received a classified intelligence report from the Obama administration.
Other high-profile nominees to win confirmation Thursday night were James Jeffrey to be ambassador of Iraq and Gen. James Mattis to replace Gen. David Petraeus as head of U.S. Central Command.
A dozen other nominations, however, were returned to the White House, including Donald Berwick’s to be administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Republicans were angered when Obama used a recess appointment to install Berwick to the post in July. That appointment expires at the end of next year, and Obama sent Berwick’s nomination to serve a full term to the Senate last month.
Others included in the return pile were Goodwin Liu, the controversial nominee to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; Peter Diamond, nominated to the board of governors of the Federal Reserve; and John McConnell, a prominent Democratic donor tapped to serve as a district judge in Rhode Island. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) made a last-ditch effort to prevent McConnell’s nomination from being sent back but was not successful.
Also during wrap-up, Reid cleared a resolution honoring Washington sports legend Manute Bol, the 7-foot-7-inch Sudanese powerhouse who played center for the Washington Bullets and died in June at the age of 47.
The judicial nomination of Jane Stranch to serve on the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will be considered when the Senate returns Sept. 13. The chamber will be in session for a four-week stretch that runs to the Columbus Day recess, when Members will head home to campaign in the final days before the midterm elections.
Among the priorities on the legislative horizon are the fiscal 2011 defense authorization, which contains language to repeal the military’s ban on gay service members; the issue of whether to significantly change or eliminate the Senate’s use of secret holds; and how to extend tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 under President George W. Bush.