Politics

With Eye on Policy, and Politics, McConnell Scraps August Recess

Senate expected to be away the first week in August before returning for the rest of the summer

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced in a Tuesday statement that the Senate would substantially curtail the August recess. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has announced that the Senate will be in session throughout much of August, citing the need to move legislation and nominees. While widely viewed as a gambit to keep Democrats in competitive 2018 races off the trail, the move could have unintended and unpredictable political consequences. 

“Due to the historic obstruction by Senate Democrats of the president’s nominees, and the goal of passing appropriations bills prior to the end of the fiscal year, the August recess has been canceled,” the Kentucky Republican said in a statement.“Senators should expect to remain in session in August to pass legislation, including appropriations bills, and to make additional progress on the president’s nominees.”

The Senate is expected to take a week away from D.C., for a district work period the week of August 6, before returning for the balance of the month, according to the revised schedule.

The conventional wisdom is that vulnerable incumbent senators will be put at a disadvantage by McConnell’s decision to keep the Senate in session for much of August, but the Nevada Republican who leads the most vulnerable list thinks otherwise.

“I think it’s great,” Sen. Dean Heller told Roll Call.

“I think good policy makes for good politics,” Heller said. “Let’s get the work done, and I think that that’ll speak for itself back home.”

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, the Democrat from Maryland who is the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, is portraying the schedule change as an opportunity for legislating and messaging.

“Our members are eager to actually get some things done like addressing the problem of increasing health care costs, the increasing costs of prescription drugs,” Van Hollen said. “We hope we’ll use this time period on something the American people care about.”

Watch: McConnell Cancels Recess, Schumer Says Democrats “Welcome” Extended Schedule

Republican senators were aware of the direction that McConnell seemed to be headed before his formal announcement.

“August we’ll be here,” Sen. Cory Gardner told Roll Call.

The Colorado Republican, who is chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said ahead of Tuesday’s Republican Conference lunch that he was not anticipating much of a break around Labor Day.

“I don’t even think that. I think we’ll be here in August,” Gardner said. “I do not plan on going anywhere, at any point, in August.”

Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a senior GOP appropriator and chairman of the Energy-Water spending subcommittee, said he did not know exactly how many weeks of August senators would end up being at the Capitol, but he suggested it should be dictated by the workload.

“As long as we have lots of nominations that aren’t confirmed and appropriations bills that aren’t passed, we should be here,” Alexander said.

That, of course, would open the door to another negotiation between now and August between McConnell and Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York.

Sen. David Perdue of Georgia, one of the Republican lawmakers who spearheaded the latest push to increase the Senate’s workload, said as much following the McConnell announcement.

“It tells everybody how to plan,” Perdue said. “If they want to be obstructionists and not work with us on the funding, then plan on staying here in August, because we’re going to stay here and get it done.”

But McConnell suggested Tuesday there may not be much room for negotiating.

“If you look at the amount of work that we have to do, it’s inconceivable to me that we can’t use these weeks, even with cooperation,” McConnell said. “I hope we’ll get greater cooperation, but everybody should anticipate that we will be here as I announced today.”

McConnell previously stated he intended to work through numerous nominations and process legislation including fiscal 2019 spending bills, the defense authorization, a water resources package and the farm bill.

On Tuesday, the Kentucky Republican’s office had a more expansive list of potential priorities beyond spending. The list included additional legislation designed to continue the fight against the opioid crisis, and reauthorizations of the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Flood Insurance Program.

The first challenge comes with the defense programs legislation, which could reach the Senate floor as early as Wednesday.

Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee has been developing a potential amendment to the defense bill that would curtail some executive branch authorities to take Section 232 trade actions — like those taken by President Donald Trump on steel and aluminum.

Specifically, the draft legislation would provide a 60-day period of expedited congressional consideration for reviewing such declarations, according to a source familiar with the Tennessee Republican’s plan. It also would provide a two-year look back period.

McConnell stressed that his goal for the summer will be completing legislation, but the possibility of an amendment that could run up against the president’s trade agenda underscores what may happen if the Senate floor actually opens for an amendment process.

The same can probably be said for an amendment that would reprise a debate over the rights of Americans to avoid indefinite detention without a trial, which Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said he would try to bring back on this week’s defense bill.

“We’ll introduce an amendment to get rid of what we call indefinite detention without trial,” Paul said. “We’ve been working on it for seven years now. We won one time, we had 65 votes for it, and then [Armed Services Chairman John] McCain stripped it out in conference committee. But, we’ll try it again.”

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