This week: Senate races to wrap up work before recess

Greg Nash

Senators have a long to-do list and only days to go until they leave for the five-week August recess. 

Though the House left Washington until September last week, senators are scheduled to be in town through Thursday.

At the top of their agenda is passing the two-year budget agreement, which also suspends the debt ceiling through mid-2021. 

“Obviously we need to pass the bipartisan funding agreement that President Trump’s negotiating team worked out with Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi. … The president is strongly in support of it. The Senate needs to pass it and put it on the president’s desk next week,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said during a floor speech where he outlined the chamber’s schedule ahead of the recess. 

{mosads}Under the agreement, the top line for defense spending would be $738 billion and $740 billion for the 2020 and 2021 fiscal years, respectively. Nondefense spending would be $632 billion for fiscal 2020 and $634.5 billion for fiscal 2021. 

Lawmakers had until January to negotiate a budget deal and avoid deep across-the-board cuts forced by sequestration. But growing concerns from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that Congress needed to raise the debt ceiling before leaving moved up the timeline for clinching a combined budget and debt deal, with congressional leadership uninterested in separating the two issues. 

The deal passed the House in a 284-149 vote last week and is expected to easily clear the Senate as early as Tuesday.

Republicans are seizing on the boost to defense spending as a key reason for voting for the deal, with Trump urging House Republicans to support it last week because it “greatly helps our Military and our Vets.” 

But the agreement is facing fierce pushback from conservatives and fiscal hawks because it adds an estimated $1.7 trillion to the deficit over the next decade compared to the billions in spending cuts that would have kicked in without a budget deal. 

Nearly a dozen Republican senators have already said they will oppose the budget deal when it gets a vote on the floor this week. Several others are undecided or have voiced concerns, meaning the GOP opposition could climb higher before the final vote. 

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who has sparred with Trump, announced last week that he would oppose the budget agreement, saying it “perpetuates fiscal recklessness.” 

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), another “no” vote, said the deal is “another example of why Congress is broken.” 

Veto override

The Senate is set to attempt to override Trump’s three vetoes of a Saudi arms deal on Monday evening. 

The resolutions marked the third, fourth and fifth time Trump was forced to issue a veto this year. Trump also vetoed a resolution earlier this year that would have forced him to withdraw U.S. troops in or affecting Yemen unless they were fighting al Qaeda. 

But the Senate’s override attempts are expected to fall short after the resolutions initially passed the Senate with 51 and 53 votes — well short of the 67 votes needed to override a veto. 

Trump vetoed the resolutions last week, arguing that they “would weaken America’s global competitiveness and damage the important relationships we share with our allies and partners.”

The 22 arms sales, estimated to be worth more than $8 billion, would provide weapons to Saudi Arabia, as well as the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.


A fight on overhauling the asylum system is set to come to a head in the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is threatening to change the panel’s rules so they can vote on his asylum bill on Thursday after most Democrats skipped last week’s business meeting where his legislation was on the agenda. 

“I’ve been informed by my Democratic colleagues that Sen. [Dianne] Feinstein will be the only Democrat here. Under our rules we’re not supposed to do business unless we get seven from the majority and two from the minority,” Graham said at the time.

“So what we’ll do is we’ll take this up Thursday, next week, I will make a motion to change the rules … and we’re going to vote,” he added. 

It wasn’t clear why the committee’s 10 Democrats, except Feinstein (D-Calif.), missed last week’s meeting, or if they would attend Thursday’s. Several of the panel’s Democrats are running for president, while others were at other meetings happening at the same time. 

Democrats are urging Graham to back down from his threat and delay his asylum bill until after the August recess. 

“Your announcement to disregard these rules, proceed with legislation in violation of our rules and practices, and change the rules unilaterally in a partisan manner is deeply concerning,” Feinstein wrote in a letter to Graham on Friday. 

Graham introduced legislation earlier this year that would increase the number of days a family can be held together from 20 days to 100 days. Democrats have balked at changes to the Flores settlement, which limits the amount of time a minor can be held in custody to 20 days.

It would also require asylum claims be filed in Mexico or a home country instead of the United States, provide funding for 500 new immigration judges and allow unaccompanied minors from Central America to be sent back to their home countries, similar to unaccompanied minors from Canada or Mexico.

The fight in the Judiciary Committee comes as the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on Tuesday about the border with Mark Morgan, the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, and Jennifer Costello, the acting inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security.


McConnell has teed up nearly 20 nominations and indicated he wants to get more done before the Senate leaves on Thursday. 

“[We] need to process a significant bipartisan package of district court nominees,” McConnell said. 

McConnell has filed cloture on 19 district court nominations. Under a rules change Republicans forced through earlier this year, senators can confirm district judges with only two hours of debate after the defeat of a Democratic filibuster. 

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee also sent on Kelly Craft’s nomination to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations to the full Senate for a confirmation vote, while the Armed Services Committee advanced David Norquist’s nomination to be deputy Defense secretary. McConnell indicated that he wants to confirm both before the recess. 

Tags arms sale Budget deal budget deficit debt ceiling Donald Trump Flores settlement Josh Hawley Judicial nominations Lindsey Graham Mitch McConnell Mitt Romney Saudi arms deal Steven Mnuchin

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