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 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.) moving to wrap up debate late last week.

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.), the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said the disagreement circled around four amendments: one from Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeWisconsin GOP Senate candidate rips his own parents for donations to Dems GOP moderates hint at smooth confirmation ahead for Kavanaugh GOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE MORE (R-Utah) barring indefinite detention, one from Sen. Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinHistory argues for Democratic Senate gains Controversial Trump judicial nominee withdraws Election Countdown: Senate, House Dems build cash advantage | 2020 Dems slam Trump over Putin presser | Trump has M in war chest | Republican blasts parents for donating to rival | Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders to campaign in Kansas MORE (D-Wis.) tightening "Buy American" requirements for the Pentagon, one from Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinChicago detention facility under investigation following allegations of abuse of migrant children Senate approves resolution warning Trump not to hand over US officials Deal to fix family separations hits snag in the Senate MORE (D-Ill.) stripping limitations on medical research funded by the Pentagon, and one from Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonBipartisan group introduces retirement savings legislation 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 Hillicon Valley: DOJ appeals AT&T-Time Warner ruling | FBI agent testifies in heated hearing | Uproar after FCC changes rules on consumer complaints | Broadcom makes bid for another US company | Facebook under fire over conspiracy sites 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 GillibrandThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump and Congress at odds over Russia Trump: ‘Dems have a death wish’ Election Countdown: Senate, House Dems build cash advantage | 2020 Dems slam Trump over Putin presser | Trump has M in war chest | Republican blasts parents for donating to rival | Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders to campaign in Kansas MORE (D-N.Y.) and 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) blocking Trump's ban on transgender troops won’t get a vote. Instead, the two senators joined with McCain and Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedSenate Dems press for info on any deals from Trump-Putin meeting Senate Dems tell Trump: Don't meet with Putin one-on-one Schumer: Trump should cancel meeting with Putin 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 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.) 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.