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Mitch McConnell's slow and steady summer plans for the Senate

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has a long list of things to do this summer, hoping to net a string of smaller...

Posted: Jun 4, 2018 5:58 PM
Updated: Jun 4, 2018 5:58 PM

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has a long list of things to do this summer, hoping to net a string of smaller but solid victories for Republicans -- including members of his conference up for re-election -- as well as the President.

The Kentucky Republican has been preparing action on a series of lower-profile measures like farm legislation, an annual defense policy bill, re-authorization of the Federal Aviation Administration and a water infrastructure bill. He also plans to force votes on a slew of Trump's judicial and executive branch nominees, including a new nominee for Veterans Affairs secretary, Robert Wilkie, who will likely be confirmed before the month is out.

Among the largest tasks facing senators as they return from recess Monday, McConnell has said over the next few weeks he will move several government spending bills, packaged together into small groups, to restore "regular order" on appropriations bills, something that hasn't been achieved in many years.

The push comes after bipartisan frustration over a process that led to agency shutdowns earlier this year and governing by "continuing resolutions," large catch-all bills that were not carefully tailored to the needs of agencies.

The sentiment to change was reenforced by Trump who vowed never again to sign one of the giant bills.

McConnell has threatened to keep the Senate in session into the August recess -- a move Trump has publicly backed -- if sufficient progress isn't made on the spending bills and backlog of nominations created by nearly constant Democratic filibusters. That could hurt members of the Democratic caucus, 25 of whom are up for re-election, 10 from red and purple states Trump won.

"I'm not into playing games this summer," McConnell told Roll Call over the Memorial Day week-long recess. "I want to accomplish things."

Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican and the second ranking GOP senator as whip, has suggested also that Democrats could be forced to work longer weeks in September and October -- and be kept off the campaign trail during that critical stretch -- if they continue to slow-walk nominees and other legislation.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, who is in talks with McConnell about the schedule, has said he is hopeful they won't have to work into August.

As for Trump's pick to lead the Veterans Affairs department, GOP leaders appeared more optimistic than they did for previous nominee Ronny Jackson.

"I think he's a great choice," said Georgia Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson, chair of the VA Committee, who watched Trump's last pick for the top VA job withdraw after facing a variety of complaints about his personal and professional conduct.

Sen. Jon Tester, a centrist Democrat running for re-election in Montana, a state easily won by Trump, led the charge against Jackson. He will meet with Wilkie this week and has signaled a positive view of him, which could help him with some Montana voters who want to see the senator cooperate with Trump.

One thing McConnell is not expected to address this summer is immigration.

Even though House Republicans appear locked in a battle over whether to vote on a series of immigration related bills, such measures appear unlikely to go anywhere should they reach the Senate - unless President Donald Trump got involved.

McConnell said in the interview with Roll Call that there wouldn't be enough floor time available.

"If it came out of the House and the President said he was for it, I'd obviously consider it," he said. "What I'm not interested in doing is having another week, and certainly not more than one week, as I said yesterday, spinning our wheels and getting nowhere."

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