This week: Senate wrapping up defense bill after amendment fight
© Greg Nash

The Senate is aiming to finish its work on a mammoth annual defense bill before leaving Washington mid-week.

The House left town on Thursday until the 25th. Senators are scheduled to be in session through Wednesday, before taking a two-day state work period for Rosh Hashana.

But before then leadership wants to wrap up the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), after a fight over amendments forced lawmakers to end debate and run out the clock.

More than 400 amendments were filed to the legislation—which lays out broad guidelines on foreign policy and for the Pentagon—with roughly 100, so far, worked into the bill by unanimous consent.


But a back-and-forth over votes on some senators' more controversial amendments brought debate on the bill to a standstill, with 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.) moving to wrap up debate late last week.

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.), the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said the disagreement circled around four amendments: one from Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSupreme Court takes on same-sex wedding cake case House approves motion to go to tax conference — with drama Trump really will shrink government, starting with national monuments MORE (R-Utah) barring indefinite detention, one from Sen. Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinDemocrats turn on Al Franken The Hill's 12:30 Report Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign MORE (D-Wis.) tightening "Buy American" requirements for the Pentagon, one from Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDemocrats turn on Al Franken Minnesota's largest newspaper calls on Franken to resign Democratic senator predicts Franken will resign Thursday MORE (D-Ill.) stripping limitations on medical research funded by the Pentagon, and one from Sen. Tom CottonTom CottonGOP and Dems bitterly divided by immigration Grassley offers DACA fix tied to tough enforcement measures Five things senators should ask Tom Cotton if he’s nominated to lead the CIA MORE (R-Ark.) repealing enforcement of spending caps.

"I must say that we're at an impasse on about four amendments, all four of which are important amendments, and we simply can't get an agreement," McCain said late last week.

That means an amendment from Sens. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandDemocrats turn on Al Franken Report: Franken will resign Thursday Minnesota's largest newspaper calls on Franken to resign MORE (D-N.Y.) and 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) blocking Trump's ban on transgender troops won’t get a vote. Instead, the two senators joined with McCain and Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Raymond ReedSenate panel moves forward with bill to roll back Dodd-Frank Army leader on waiver report: 'There's been no change in standards' 15 Dems urge FEC to adopt new rules for online political ads MORE (D-R.I.), the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, to introduce a stand-alone bill.

It’s a familiar predicament for the NDAA. Though it normally clears the Senate by a large bipartisan margin its status as a must-pass bill makes it a lightening rod for other proposals.

The push toward wrapping up the bill comes after Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) threatened to slow-walk the defense bill and block any other amendments from getting a vote until the Senate voted on his proposal to sunset two war authorizations. Senators shot down that measure Wednesday in a 61-36 vote.

The Senate is expected to finish the NDAA on Monday night. A final procedural vote is scheduled at 5:30 p.m., where the bill will need, and is expected to easily get, 60 votes. Lawmakers will then immediately move to final passage.

Once the legislation passes the upper chamber, senators will need to head to conference with the House to merge their two versions of the bill. Two potential areas of conflict include a fight over funding levels and whether or not Congress should back creating a new military branch dedicated to space, called the Space Corps.


The Senate is also expected to take up Trump’s pick for the No. 3 spot at the Justice Department.

Senators, absent an agreement, are scheduled to take up an initial vote on Noel Francisco’s nomination to be solicitor general on Tuesday morning.

The role would bring him before the Supreme Court to argue on behalf of the government.

Francisco—whose background largely leans toward Republicans—formally practiced law at Jones Day, including successfully defending former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) in his corruption case.

He also represented religious nonprofits seeking exemption from a provision in ObamaCare that required employers to pay for contraception coverage.

Francisco advanced out of the Judiciary Committee in June on a party-line 11-9 vote.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and 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.) could be overheard joking about his nomination as part of Senate floor conversation picked up on a hot mic late last week.

Schumer, told that Francisco clerked for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, asked “do we nominate anyone who's not a Scalia or Thomas clerk for anything?"

"I hope not. I hope not. That's the game plan,” McConnell quickly quipped in response, to laugher.