Effort to overhaul archaic election law wins new momentum
McConnell warns Senate it could work through Christmas break
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday warned that the Senate will be in session between Christmas and New Year's to finish their work unless senators agree to fast-track some items on their to-do list.
"Members should now be prepared to work between Christmas and New Year's, if necessary, to complete our work," McConnell said from the Senate floor.
He added that without an agreement among senators to speed up the time it takes to work through a piece of legislation it is "virtually certain" they will need to stay in Washington.
"Unless we approach all this work in a highly collaborative, productive way and take real advantage of unanimous consent to expedite proceedings, it is virtually certain that the Senate will need to be in session between Christmas and New Year's in order to complete this work," McConnell added.
It would be the second time the chamber delayed its end-of-year working deadline. The Senate had initially been expected to leave town on Dec. 14. That date got pushed back to Dec. 21 after Congress passed a two-week bill to fund part of the government.
McConnell, explaining why the Senate might need to stay in session longer, ticked off a lengthy list that remains before the chamber, including confirming nominees, passing a massive farm bill, an unwieldy fight over Yemen and preventing a partial government shutdown on Dec. 21.
"In just a few hours from now ... we will receive an indication of whether that cooperation will begin to take shape. My friend, the Democratic leader, and his counterpart in the House are scheduled to meet with President Trump at the White House later today," McConnell said, referring to the meeting between Trump, Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.).
He added that he hoped Schumer and Pelosi "are prepared to have a serious discussion and reach an accommodation with the president on funding for border security."
Both sides are far apart on funding for the border.
Republicans and the White House are demanding $5 billon - a number in line with the House's Department of Homeland Security (DHS) bill. Democrats are prepared to offer $1.3 billion as part of a one-year stopgap bill for DHS, while wrapping the other remaining six bills into one package.
In a surprise move, McConnell also announced that the Senate will take up a criminal justice bill that merges a House-passed prison reform effort with four changes to sentencing laws.
"At the request of the president and following improvements to the legislation that has been secured by several members, the Senate will take up the recently revised criminal justice bill," McConnell said from the Senate floor.
The bill has broad support in the Senate but has run into vocal opposition from a group of Republican senators.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who is deeply opposed to the criminal justice bill, warned on Friday that trying to move the measure as part of the year-end spending bill would guarantee senators had to work on Christmas.
"If the jailbreak bill gets stuck in the spending bill, everyone bring your stockings to the Senate, because we'll be there on Christmas!" he said in a tweet.
Updated at 10:43 a.m.