As a practical matter, the 115th Congress is finally history.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made the announcement that the Senate will convene for a pro forma session at 11:50 a.m. Thursday, but there will be no real business until after noon arrives, when the new Congress begins, as outlined in the Constitution.
Even amid a partial government shutdown, senators agreed to confirm a large batch of President Donald Trump’s nominees before finishing work less than 24 hours before they would be due to expire.
After McConnell repeated past statements that the Senate wouldn’t be interested in taking “show votes” on legislation to reopen the government from House Democrats that has no chance of a presidential signature, the Kentucky Republican reported a much more bipartisan development when it came to a backlog of executive branch nominations.
“I’m pleased to announce this evening that the Democratic leader and I have reached an agreement to confirm a number of the administration’s nominees,” McConnell said on the Senate floor before turning to the nominations package.
Trump choices for an assortment of departments and agencies won confirmation, including a batch of U.S. attorneys and several nominees to lead offices of inspectors general. The list also included nominees to be members of the Federal Communications Commission, as well as a batch of foreign service officers.
Perhaps the most notable name to win confirmation was Arthur B. Culvahouse Jr., the White House counsel at the end of the Reagan administration, who was Trump’s nominee to be ambassador to Australia.
The position of top U.S. diplomat in Canberra proved one of the most difficult for the Trump White House to fill. The names of outgoing Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and Orrin G. Hatch of Utah surfaced in connection to the ambassadorship, and Corker’s office confirmed that the Foreign Relations chairman had actually discussed the job with Trump.
Retired Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., who was expected to take the position in Australia, ended up going to South Korea instead.
“I’m glad the president will have more of his rightful team in place, said McConnell. “I’m glad that this group of newly confirmed nominees will be able to get to work on important business for the American people.”
The deal, as expected, did not include confirmation of additional lifetime appointments to the federal judiciary.
Senators finished up work for the 115th Congress Wednesday — two weeks after they thought they were done.
That, of course, was the evening of Christmas carols and goodbyes, and passage of a stopgap spending bill that ended up being rejected by the president and the outgoing Republican majority in the House.
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