Senate GOP to skip town, leave Dems working weekend shift

Senate Republicans will let their rank-and-file members leave town for the Christmas break, leaving Democrats to vote around the clock to confirm the latest batch of President Obama’s nominees.

Republicans, angered over last month’s gutting of the filibuster, decided at a meeting Thursday afternoon that they will not yield back any time on the Defense authorization bill or expedite consideration of any of Obama’s nominees.

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Senate GOP Whip John Cornyn (Texas) said it is up to individual senators if they want to stick around Congress on Friday and Saturday to vote on nominees Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has put on the schedule.

Cornyn said his leadership would maker sure at least one Republican senator remains on or near the floor at all times to object to Democratic requests to waive various procedural hurdles.

“I’m not sure how many Republicans will stick around,” said one GOP senator. “I don’t think the Democrats remembered how important it is to get unanimous consent on little things to make this place work.”

Republicans are refusing to cooperate on the nominees to protest Reid’s use of the nuclear option last month, which stripped Republicans of the power to filibuster nominees.

“Getting rid of the filibuster was a big deal. We’re still really mad about it,” said the GOP lawmaker. “I guess Reid thought we would just throw up our hands and say, ‘Oh well, we lost.’”

The lawmaker predicted Democrats may have trouble gaining the 51 votes they need for a quorum to move the nominees if most Republicans take off.

Doubling down on his pledge to confirm a group of nominees before Christmas, Reid told colleagues Thursday that he will have them voting late at night, before dawn and throughout the day to stay on schedule.

“We just had a ‘Go team!’ meeting,” said a Democratic senator who met with his colleagues in the Mansfield Room just off the Senate floor.

Democratic aides briefed on the schedule said the Senate will vote at 11:15 p.m. Thursday evening to pass the Defense authorization bill and end debate on Alejandro Mayorkas, Obama's pick to serve as deputy secretary of Homeland Security. 

The Senate will then vote at 4 a.m. Friday to confirm Mayorkas and end debate on John Koskinen, Obama's choice to serve as the next IRS Commissioner.   

The Senate will vote again at 9 a.m. Friday to confirm Koskinen and end debate on Brian Davis, a nominee to serve as district judge for the Middle District of Florida. 

At 11 a.m., the Senate is scheduled to confirm Davis and vote to end debate on Janet Yellen, whom Obama has tapped to replace Ben Bernanke as chairman of the Federal Reserve. Unless Republicans yield back time, a final vote on Yellen would take place on 6 p.m. Saturday. 

Republican senators showed little desire to participate in the vote-athon.

“Christmas is a family time of year,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) “I'm going to be with my family so I'm leaving tomorrow night.”

She said Reid “keeps moving the goal posts” by adding must-pass items to the schedule.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) on Thursday morning said he would block a quick confirmation of Koskinen, blowing up hopes of adjourning the Senate by Thursday.

“They just expect the elected representatives of the people to roll over and rubber stamp a new presidential nominee to head the IRS,” McConnell said. “They want Congress to forget what happened too, and just move on.

“They expect us to just clear the way tomorrow and let them ram through the president’s new pick to run the IRS.”

Democrats and Republicans alike had hoped McConnell and Reid would reach a deal on nominees to allow them to leave town Thursday evening.

Reid vowed earlier on Thursday to keep the Senate in session as necessary to finish its work.

“I am disappointed that several Republican senators have suggested that these nominees are non-essential or unimportant, and could easily be held over until next year,” he said. “Everyone should understand that the Senate will not wait until the New Year to consider these nominations.”

Besides Yellen, Reid has also filed motions to advance Mayorkas; Sarah Bloom Raskin, the nominee to be deputy secretary of the Treasury; Sloan Gibson, the pick to serve as deputy secretary of Veterans Affairs; Sarah Sewall, the choice for under secretary of State for civilian security and human rights; and Michael Connor, the selection to be deputy secretary of the Interior Department.

Senators had hoped a deal could be worked out to allow them all to go home early.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (Okla.), the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, went so far as to display an enlarged picture of his family on the Senate floor and plead with colleagues to let him get out of town in time on Thursday to celebrate his 54th wedding anniversary.

“I would sure like those 20 kids and grandkids [who] are waiting for me for a big dinner on our 54th wedding anniversary tomorrow night,” he said motioning to the photo of his family behind me.

“So have mercy, give us a break and let’s try to get this thing voted on and go home,” he added, referring to the Defense authorization bill, which has been held up as part of the year-end gridlock. 

Once the chamber clears the Defense authorization, it is slated to vote to end debate on Mayorkas’s nomination.

Republicans say Mayorkas should not receive a vote until the Homeland Security inspector general’s office has completed an investigation into allegations of political favoritism.

Yellen is fourth on the queue of nominees after Mayorkas, Koskinen and Davis. 

This story was posted at 12:14 p.m. and updated at 4 p.m.