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.


Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellCollins: 'Extremely disappointing' ObamaCare fix left out of spending deal House poised to vote on .3T spending bill Budowsky: Stop Trump from firing Mueller 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 PaulHouse poised to vote on .3T spending bill Overnight Finance: Lawmakers race to finalize omnibus | What we know about funding bill | White House on board | Fed raises rates for first time under Powell Senate passes controversial online sex trafficking bill MORE (R-Ky.) because of a fight over amendments.

But with Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainZuckerberg: Maybe tech should face some regulations Schiff mocks Trump: Obama, Bush didn't need staff warning 'do not congratulate' Putin GOP senator tears into Trump for congratulating Putin 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 SchumerAmtrak to rename Rochester station after Louise Slaughter Conscience protections for health-care providers should be standard Pension committee must deliver on retirement promise 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 NelsonSteyer brings his push to impeach Trump to town halls across the nation Overnight Defense: Senate sides with Trump on military role in Yemen | Dem vets push for new war authorization on Iraq anniversary | General says time isn't 'right' for space corps Senate sides with Trump on providing Saudi military support MORE (D-Fla.) said on Friday that he is working across the aisle with Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCollins: 'Extremely disappointing' ObamaCare fix left out of spending deal Overnight Cybersecurity: Zuckerberg breaks silence on Cambridge Analytica | Senators grill DHS chief on election security | Omnibus to include election cyber funds | Bill would create 'bug bounty' for State GOP lawmakers blast Dems for opposing ObamaCare fix 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 GrahamDems aim to turn ObamaCare hikes into election weapon Steyer brings his push to impeach Trump to town halls across the nation Trump formally sends Pompeo nomination to Senate 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 HellerRepublican drops Senate primary challenge to Heller after Trump's urging Three states where Dems can pick up Senate seats GOP senator: Justice Kennedy is going to retire this summer 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 CruzTrump can save Republicans and restore sanity to California in 2018 Cruz says Cambridge Analytica assured him its practices were legal Dem battling Cruz in Texas: ‘I can understand how people think this is crazy’ 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 PortmanOvernight Tech: Zuckerberg breaks silence on Cambridge Analytica controversy | Senate passes sex trafficking bill | EU pushes new tax on tech | YouTube toughens rules on gun videos Senate passes controversial online sex trafficking bill GOP leaders to Trump: Leave Mueller alone MORE (Ohio).


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 BluntFunding bill gives billion boost for NIH medical research Spending talks face new pressure Senate GOP shoots down bill blocking Trump tariffs 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.