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 McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Americans debate life under COVID-19 risks The 10 Senate seats most likely to flip Democratic leaders say Trump testing strategy is 'to deny the truth' about lack of supplies MORE (R-Ky.) moving to wrap up debate late last week.

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainThe 10 Senate seats most likely to flip What does Joe Biden believe about NASA, space exploration and commercial space? The Memo: Activists press Biden on VP choice MORE (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said the disagreement circled around four amendments: one from Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeThis week: Surveillance fight sets early test for House's proxy voting White House withdraws ATF nominee after GOP pushback Hillicon Valley: Commerce announces new Huawei restrictions | Russian meddling report round five | Google's ad business in spotlight MORE (R-Utah) barring indefinite detention, one from Sen. Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinKlobuchar and Harris could bolster Biden in the Midwest Legal challenges to stay-at-home orders gain momentum Democrats press USDA on worker safety at meat processing plants MORE (D-Wis.) tightening "Buy American" requirements for the Pentagon, one from Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenators weigh traveling amid coronavirus ahead of Memorial Day Congress headed toward unemployment showdown Senate to try to pass fix for Paycheck Protection Program Thursday MORE (D-Ill.) stripping limitations on medical research funded by the Pentagon, and one from Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonChinese official accuses US of 'pushing our two countries to the brink of a new Cold War' Sunday shows preview: States begin to reopen even as some areas in US see case counts increase Senate Republicans call on DOJ to investigate Planned Parenthood loans 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 GillibrandIt's as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process Hillicon Valley: Uber to lay off thousands of employees | Facebook content moderation board announces members | Lawmakers introduce bill to cut down online child exploitation Democrats introduce legislation to protect children from online exploitation MORE (D-N.Y.) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsBottom line The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Americans debate life under COVID-19 risks This week: Surveillance fight sets early test for House's proxy voting 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 ReedOvernight Defense: Trump to withdraw US from Open Skies Treaty | Pentagon drops ban on recruits who had virus | FBI says Corpus Christi shooting terror-related Trump to withdraw from Open Skies Treaty On The Money: Powell, Mnuchin split on benefits of easing COVID-19 restrictions | Warren, Mnuchin spar over Treasury's 0B bailout fund | Fight emerges over unemployment benefits in next relief bill 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 SchumerDemocratic leaders say Trump testing strategy is 'to deny the truth' about lack of supplies Trump slams Sessions: 'You had no courage & ruined many lives' Senate Democrats call on Trump administration to let Planned Parenthood centers keep PPP loans 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.