Senators and staffers should enjoy the Memorial Day recess, because it might be a long summer on Capitol Hill.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is far from waving off the idea that he might truncate the August recess, and doing the math on the amount of floor time needed for his current legislative agenda seems to point to one thing: extra work weeks.
The tentative legislative schedule for the year includes recess weeks for Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, with the traditional August state work period effectively kicking off Friday, Aug. 3.
“I’ll have more to say definitively about that the week after next, but I’ve said to all the press corps and the members up here I wouldn’t buy any nonrefundable tickets,” McConnell told Fox News on Thursday.
The Kentucky Republican made similar comments to several media outlets the same day, and during the Fox News appearance, he suggested an aggressive legislative agenda.
“The record of this Congress is quite spectacular, and we’ll be able to add even more achievements throughout the summer by taking up the farm bill, by taking up the National Defense Authorization Act, and by beginning to function on appropriation bills, which the Democrats ground to a halt last year,” McConnell said. “We think that’s not going to happen this year.”
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Each bundle of fiscal 2019 spending bills — likely to be processed roughly three at a time — could easily take a week of floor time. The same is true of the defense authorization bill reported out by the Armed Services Committee this week.
As for the farm policy measure? One Republican member of the Agriculture Committee suggested it could take three weeks to work through floor amendments once reported by the panel.
Of course, all that would be in the event of a robust amendment process on the floor and without a need by McConnell to expedite the process through procedural maneuvers such as filling the amendment tree.
With respect to immigration and the expected House floor debate launched via a discharge petititon, McConnell was clear about that in more than one interview Thursday.
“If there’s a bill that clears the House that President [Donald] Trump indicates he would sign, then I’ll give it serious consideration, because then we’d be making a law and not just spinning our wheels for a week or so. I can’t afford to do,” he said on Fox News. “We have appropriation bills to pass and other matters.”
The remarks about immigration were largely an echo of what the majority leader told The Wall Street Journal in another sit-down.
There are also plenty of Trump’s nominations to be confirmed, and McConnell set up votes to limit debate on a series of additional nominations to lifetime seats on the federal bench for when the Senate returns.
“There are over 1,200 executive branch appointments that come to us for confirmation, and among the most important — in fact, I would argue, the most important — confirmations we have are lifetime appointments to the judiciary,” McConnell told NPR on Thursday . “Obviously, this is my top priority.”
The calendar would be further complicated in the event of the retirement of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy from the Supreme Court.
McConnell made clear in the NPR interview that the standard under which he decided the Senate would not consider President Barack Obama’s 2016 nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to fill the unexpected vacancy caused by the death of Antonin Scalia applies only to presidential election years, not midterm election years.