This week: Senate GOP picks up the pieces after agenda setback
© Greg Nash

Senate Republicans are looking for a path forward after a key GOP agenda pillar to repeal and replace ObamaCare ran off the rails early morning on Friday. 

GOP senators will return to Washington on Monday to regroup after ceding months of time and political capital to trying to cobble together a deal on healthcare only to fall short during a dramatic middle-of-the-night vote.

While the House left town on Friday—less than a day after members were asked to stay “flexible” if a repeal bill passed the Senate—senators aren’t currently scheduled to leave Washington for the August recess until the end of next week.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPelosi: 'Thug' Putin not welcome in Congress GOP to White House: End summit mystery Sunk judicial pick spills over into Supreme Court fight MORE (R-Ky.), with a legislative slate that is months behind schedule, has shown no interest in using the next two weeks to try to rehash the healthcare fight.

“It’s time to move on,” the Kentucky Republican said during an emotional floor speech after the bill failed—a vote that marks McConnell’s biggest setback since becoming majority leader.

It is unclear how senators will use the next two weeks of floor time. McConnell tried to bring up the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), but was blocked by Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump and Congress at odds over Russia GOP leader blocks resolution backing intelligence community on Russia Rand Paul blocks Sanders's Russia resolution, calls it 'crazy hatred' against Trump MORE (R-Ky.) because of a fight over amendments.

But with Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainThe Memo: Summit fallout hits White House Graham: Biggest problem is Trump ‘believes meddling equals collusion’ Obama, Bush veterans dismiss Trump-Putin interpreter subpoena MORE (R-Ariz.) back in his home state to undergo treatment for brain cancer, the annual defense policy could be on hold until he returns. Questioned about the timing of the bill, Minority Leader Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerData confirm that marijuana decriminalization is long overdue Pollster: Kavanaugh will get Dem votes Democrats slam Trump for considering Putin’s ’absurd’ request to question Americans MORE (D-N.Y.) directed questions to McConnell.

“I had hoped, in honor of John McCain, we could do NDAA. I thought we could've probably worked out the Rand Paul issue on the floor there. And McCain, and [Jack] Reed, and I were talking to him,” he told reporters.  

GOP leadership will huddle for the first time since the failed healthcare vote on Monday evening. The full caucus will hold its regular lunch on Tuesday, giving senators a chance to gather since they scattered following the ObamaCare repeal vote. 

McConnell has also placed an FDA reauthorization bill on the Senate’s calendar, which would allow him to bring it up quickly.

He also said he wanted to try to raise the debt ceiling before lawmakers left.

But that vote appears likely to be kicked to the fall, as senators are heading toward the August recess without a deal in hand and the House already out of town.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said on Friday that the country will hit its debt limit by late September, potentially pushing the vote up against what could already be a contentious fall fight to fund the government.

Though healthcare appears to be shelved, at least for now, not every senator is ready to walk away.

Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonHistory argues for Democratic Senate gains Polling analyst: Same Dems who voted for Gorsuch will vote for Kavanaugh Election security bill picks up new support in Senate MORE (D-Fla.) said on Friday that he is working across the aisle with Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report — Russia furor grips Washington Overnight Health Care: Novartis pulls back on drug price hikes | House Dems launch Medicare for All caucus | Trump officials pushing ahead on Medicaid work requirements Senate panel to vote next week on banning 'gag clauses' in pharmacy contracts MORE (R-Maine), who opposed the GOP repeal effort. They and a small group of bipartisan senators are trying to find a way forward.

"This group of senators met for dinner the other night to start sharing our ideas and discussing a path forward. While we still have a long way to go, we are starting to work together to try to get this done in a bipartisan way," Nelson said on Friday.

Meanwhile, Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP strategist: Putin press conference 'made Trump look weak' Release of Carter Page surveillance documents reignites debate Graham: Warrant for Carter Page surveillance was 'a bunch of garbage' MORE (R-S.C.) met with Trump at the White House late last week to discuss his healthcare proposal with GOP Sens. Bill Cassidy (La.) and Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerHistory argues for Democratic Senate gains Senate Dems build huge cash edge in battlegrounds Jacky Rosen hits Dean Heller over health care in first negative ad MORE (Nev.). Their proposal would shift much of the decision-making authority to the states.

“I had a great meeting with the president," Graham said after the White House meeting. "President Trump was optimistic about the Graham-Cassidy-Heller proposal. I will continue to work with President Trump and his team."

Conservatives are also pledging that Friday’s early morning vote was not a final, fatal blow to one of the key pillars of their party’s agenda.

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzDem leaders fend off calls to impeach Trump Cruz: 'I'm glad' Disney fired James Gunn over 'horrible' tweets Washington needs to end hidden inflation tax on our capital gains MORE (R-Texas) predicted that voter backlash would force GOP senators to come back to the negotiating table.

And Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who leads the House Freedom Caucus, said a new effort is underway to write a bill that would include proposals offered by Graham, Cassidy, Cruz and GOP Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanGOP to White House: End summit mystery US to provide additional 0M in defensive aid to Ukraine Senate GOP attempts to wave Trump off second Putin summit MORE (Ohio).

Nominations

Republicans are also hoping to use their limited time before the August recess to work through a backlog of Trump’s nominees.

Democrats have been slow-walking the picks because of the fight over healthcare, but signaled they could agree to speed things up if the GOP effort to repeal ObamaCare fell short.

“Leader McConnell has made it clear he wants to move nominations. If we stop playing this game with TrumpCare … we could move on to all these other things in a good, strong, bipartisan way and start to get things done,” Schumer said last week ahead of the healthcare vote.

As of late last week, Trump had almost 200 nominees stuck at various points in the Senate’s confirmation pipeline, according to the Partnership for Public Service and the Washington Post.

Though the Trump administration has also been slow to fill key positions, Democratic tactics to drag out debate on otherwise uncontroversial nominees has frustrated GOP senators.

“Our colleagues across the aisle have had, frankly, more than enough time to come to terms with the election results. Unfortunately, they seem to be channeling their disappointment through the confirmation process by engaging in an unprecedented level of obstruction,” Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSenate GOP attempts to wave Trump off second Putin summit Election security bill picks up new support in Senate Overnight Defense: Fallout from tense NATO summit | Senators push to block ZTE deal in defense bill | Blackwater founder makes new pitch for mercenaries to run Afghan war MORE (R-Mo.) said during a recent floor speech.

One nomination that GOP leadership wants to vote on before cutting out of town: Trump’s pick to lead the FBI.

Christopher Wray was approved unanimously by the Judiciary Committee, and is expected to easily skate through the upper chamber.

In the meantime, the Senate will hold an initial vote on Kevin Newsome’s nomination to be a U.S. district court judge. The move sets up a final vote on his nomination for as soon as Wednesday morning.