Senate bracing for possible long weekend

Senate bracing for possible long weekend
© Greg Nash

The Senate is bracing for a long weekend as lawmakers scramble to prevent a third government shutdown that would begin Friday night at midnight.

Leadership is hoping to quickly schedule a vote on the $1.3 trillion omnibus, but is struggling to lock down the consent of every senator. When the chamber will take action, or if it will be able to meet the deadline, remains unclear.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFormer senior Senate GOP aide says Republicans should call witnesses Democrats step up pressure over witnesses after Bolton bombshell Bolton book alleges Trump tied Ukraine aid freeze to Biden investigations: NYT MORE (R-Ky.) filed cloture on the House-passed bill early Thursday evening.

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But under the Senate’s rules, the earliest the Senate could hold an initial vote is early Saturday morning. After that, senators could drag out the debate for up to an additional 30 hours — potentially pushing final passage of the bill until roughly 8 a.m. on Sunday.

“Any senator can decide to string out the process,” said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynTrump legal team offers brisk opening defense of president Nadler gets under GOP's skin Restlessness, light rule-breaking and milk spotted on Senate floor as impeachment trial rolls on MORE (R-Texas), explaining the chamber’s dilemma. He added it could be a “long couple of days.”

When reporters pressed him on the schedule, he quipped: “Y'all seem very anxious. You don’t want to spend your weekend with us?”

Beyond filing cloture, McConnell offered no hints about the path forward, or when the Senate will be able to break the current stalemate that has thrown the government into limbo.

The Senate’s schedule largely comes down to one senator: GOP Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulLindsey Graham will oppose subpoena of Hunter Biden Marsha Blackburn shares what book she's reading during Trump Senate trial Sekulow indicates Trump should not attend impeachment trial MORE (Ky.).

There is no doubt the bill will pass the Senate. It easily was approved by the House and has support on both sides of the aisle.

But Paul can slow its progress, and while he has been mum on his plans, he’s signaled he may draw things out.

“Page 281 of ‘crumni-bus’. CIA retirement funding. Wouldn’t it be great to amend out the retirement benefits of Trump hater John BrennanJohn Owen BrennanFederal prosecutor looking into Brennan's role in Russian interference findings: report FISA court's rebuke of the FBI: It broke or ignored the rules and our rights Where was American counterintelligence? MORE and Congressional dissembler James ClapperJames Robert ClapperTrump predicts 'historic' conclusions from DOJ's watchdog report on 'spying' The curious timeline for taking down Trump Fairness, tradition, and the Constitution demand the 'whistleblower' step forward MORE,” he said Thursday as part of a string of tweets detailing his progress in reading the 2,000-plus page bill.

Clapper and Brennan are both frequent Paul critics. Clapper is the former director of national intelligence, while Brennan is the former CIA chief.

Shortly after 6 p.m., Sergio Gor, a spokesman for Paul, sent out an email blast to reporters urging them to check out Paul's Twitter feed.

“Many of you have asked for updates. While everything remains in flux, I did want to share with you our twitter. We are posting some egregious examples of government spending. Worth a click!” he said.

Senators and reporters alike were keeping a close watch on Paul on Thursday as they tried to parse whether or not he would force a repeat performance of his hours-long shutdown from February.

The libertarian-minded GOP senator antagonized his colleagues by keeping the chamber in session until nearly 2 a.m. 

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntMeadows says Trump told him he didn't threaten senators on impeachment vote Democrats feel political momentum swinging to them on impeachment Trump team to present case for about two hours on Saturday MORE (R-Mo.) acknowledged he didn’t know if Paul would cooperate, but “hopefully he had time to make the point he wanted to make three weeks ago."

Republicans say Paul did not hint at his plans during a closed-door caucus lunch, which was largely a celebration for retiring GOP Sen. Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranBottom Line Mike Espy announces Mississippi Senate bid Biden has a lot at stake in first debate MORE (R-Miss.), who is set to retire after four decades next week.

“There are a lot of people who are going to put pressure on him,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.).

Asked if there was an effort to “prevail” on Paul, he added: “There always is. I'm not being cute. I think there always is an effort.”

For a brief moment Thursday it appeared Paul could have a partner in crime in his stalling tactics: GOP Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (La.). told reporters that he hasn't made a decision about if he would slow walk the bill, adding that the legislative process “sucks.”

But he had backed down by Thursday afternoon, saying he would oppose the bill but let it pass quickly.

“I'm not going to try to delay it out of respect for my colleagues,” he said.

The colossal funding package, which funds the government through the end of September, includes $695 billion in defense funding and $591 billion in nondefense funding.

Conservative lawmakers fumed over the higher spending levels, as well as a litany of unrelated issues stuck into the funding bill that is expected to be one of the last major pieces of legislation Congress passes before the midterm election.

“I could not be more discouraged about where we are today with our adult leadership here in Congress and at the White House. This is one of the most grotesque pieces of legislation I can remember,” said GOP Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerRNC says ex-Trump ambassador nominee's efforts 'to link future contributions to an official action' were 'inappropriate' Lindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Nareit — White House cheers Republicans for storming impeachment hearing MORE (Tenn.).

Other lawmakers grumbled about the breakneck pace of the 2,000-plus page omnibus, which cleared the House less than 24 hours after it was released.

Perdue, who is part of a committee aimed at reforming the appropriations process, added: “You all I know how I feel about the process. … [This] is just not the way to govern at all.”

But with a Christmas tree of legislative priorities included in the bill, leadership in both parties took a victory lap to tout wins for their side of the aisle.

McConnell pointed to the increase in defense funding, calling it a “top priority” for Republicans.

“First and foremost, in my view, this bill will mark the end of disproportionate and harmful cuts to Department of Defense funding. It delivers the largest year-on-year increase in defense spending in 15 years,” he said.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerBolton book alleges Trump tied Ukraine aid freeze to Biden investigations: NYT Trump legal team offers brisk opening defense of president Impeachment has been a dud for Democrats MORE (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiFormer senior Senate GOP aide says Republicans should call witnesses Democrats step up pressure over witnesses after Bolton bombshell Texas AFL-CIO endorses Cuellar's primary challenger MORE (D-Calif.) held a joint press conference on Thursday to tout provisions their party secured in the legislation.

“It was weeks of pain-staking negotiations,” Schumer said. “We Democrats are really happy with what we were able to accomplish on a number of priorities.”

He added that “this spending agreement brings the era of austerity to an unceremonious end.”