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 McConnellLawmakers feel pressure on guns Bipartisan group of House lawmakers urge action on Export-Import Bank nominees Curbelo Dem rival lashes out over immigration failure MORE (R-Ky.) moving to wrap up debate late last week.

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainLawmakers worry about rise of fake video technology Democrats put Dreamers and their party in danger by playing hardball Trump set a good defense budget, but here is how to make it better MORE (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said the disagreement circled around four amendments: one from Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeThe 14 GOP senators who voted against Trump’s immigration framework Prison sentencing bill advances over Sessions objections Grassley ‘incensed’ by Sessions criticism of proposed sentencing reform legislation MORE (R-Utah) barring indefinite detention, one from Sen. Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinAmerican women will decide who wins and loses in 2018 elections Grassley, Dems step up battle over judicial nominees 10 Senate Democrats are up for reelection in Trump country MORE (D-Wis.) tightening "Buy American" requirements for the Pentagon, one from Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinAmerica’s waning commitment to the promise of the First Amendment Senate rejects Trump immigration plan What to watch for in the Senate immigration votes MORE (D-Ill.) stripping limitations on medical research funded by the Pentagon, and one from Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonGOP looks for Plan B after failure of immigration measures Senate rejects Trump immigration plan Our intelligence chiefs just want to tell the truth about national security 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 GillibrandAmerican women will decide who wins and loses in 2018 elections Dems ponder gender politics of 2020 nominee Calls mount from Dems to give platform to Trump accusers  MORE (D-N.Y.) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Tech: Judge blocks AT&T request for DOJ communications | Facebook VP apologizes for tweets about Mueller probe | Tech wants Treasury to fight EU tax proposal Overnight Regulation: Trump to take steps to ban bump stocks | Trump eases rules on insurance sold outside of ObamaCare | FCC to officially rescind net neutrality Thursday | Obama EPA chief: Reg rollback won't stand FCC to officially rescind net neutrality rules on Thursday 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 ReedFBI chief: Trump hasn't specifically directed me to stop Russian meddling in midterms Live coverage: FBI director testifies to Senate Intelligence Committee Senate Dems demand answers on cost of Trump's military parade proposal 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 SchumerDemocrats now attack internet rules they once embraced Schumer: Trump budget would ‘cripple’ gun background checks Schumer: Senate Republicans' silence 'deafening' on guns, Russia 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.