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 McConnellGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat McConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Brent Budowsky: A plea to Alabama voters 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 PaulLexington mayor launches bid for Congress Trump-free Kennedy Center Honors avoids politics Meet the Iran hawk who could be Trump's next secretary of State MORE (R-Ky.) because of a fight over amendments.

But with Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat Meghan McCain knocks Bannon: 'Who the hell are you' to criticize Romney? Dems demand Tillerson end State hiring freeze, consult with Congress 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 SchumerAmerica isn't ready to let Sessions off his leash Schumer celebrates New York Giants firing head coach: ‘About time’ GOP should reject the left's pessimism and the deficit trigger 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 NelsonOvernight Health Care: Ryan's office warns he wasn't part of ObamaCare deal | House conservatives push for mandate repeal in final tax bill | Dem wants probe into CVS-Aetna merger Ryan's office warning he wasn't part of deal on ObamaCare: source Overnight Health Care: Funding bill could provide help for children's health program | Questions for CVS-Aetna deal | Collins doubles funding ask for ObamaCare bill MORE (D-Fla.) said on Friday that he is working across the aisle with Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Health Care: 3.6M signed up for ObamaCare in first month | Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' next year | Dems push for more money to fight opioids Study: ObamaCare bills backed by Collins would lower premiums Right scrambles GOP budget strategy 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 and Dems bitterly divided by immigration We are running out of time to protect Dreamers US trade deficit rises on record imports from China 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 HellerDems look to use Moore against GOP Senate hearing shows Fed chair nominee acts the part Senate GOP votes to begin debate on tax bill 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 CruzDebbie Wasserman Schultz marks 10 years as breast cancer survivor Foreign agent registration is no magical shield against Russian propaganda Let Trump be Trump and he'll sail through 2020 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 PortmanMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Overnight Finance: House approves motion to go to tax conference — with drama | GOP leaders to consider Dec. 30 spending bill | Justices skeptical of ban on sports betting | Mulvaney won't fire official who sued him How four GOP senators guided a tax-bill victory behind the scenes 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 BluntDems push for more money for opioid fight Trump asked Senate Republicans to end Russia election interference investigation: report An overlooked solution to the opioid epidemic 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.