McConnell tells senators he might scrap August recess

McConnell tells senators he might scrap August recess
© Greg Nash

Republican senators say Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is seriously considering canceling part or all of the August recess as leadership plays catch up on confirming President Trump's nominees and funding the government.

McConnell has been tightlipped about his thinking, only saying he would make an announcement soon. 

But in multiple closed-door meetings, GOP senators say McConnell has told them that he is weighing canceling at least part of the four-week summer break, a move that could help the GOP in the midterm elections by forcing Democratic senators up for reelection to stay in Washington.

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Democrats are defending more than two dozen seats, while the GOP is only defending nine.

“They’re sending out a signal, a strong one, that we'll be here in August,” said Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyCongress reaches deal to fund government through Dec. 7, preventing shutdown Senate approves first 2019 spending package GOP shrugs off Trump shutdown threat MORE (R-Ala.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, who supports the idea.

The Senate is currently scheduled to leave town on Aug. 3 and return to Washington in early September.

Republicans are facing intense pressure from conservatives and the White House to stay in town if they haven't whittled down a backlog of nomination votes or made progress on a government funding bill. Congress faces a Sept. 30 deadline to pass a new funding bill.

“[McConnell] and I have talked pretty much every day,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), who is leading the effort to cancel at least part of the recess. “If we don't get the government funded by Aug. 1, then I think the recess is in play.”

The Senate has confirmed 426 of Trump’s nominees with another 195 stuck in the chamber’s pipeline, according to a tracker by The Washington Post and the Partnership for Public Service.

It’s taking an average of 85 days for a Trump nominee to clear the Senate, compared with 67 days for former President Obama and 44 days for former President George W. Bush.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump, GOP regain edge in Kavanaugh battle READ: President Trump’s exclusive interview with Hill.TV The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump slams Sessions in exclusive Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh accuser wants FBI investigation MORE (D-N.Y.) said he and McConnell are currently “talking about” the August recess, though any deal between McConnell and Schumer would likely need the White House’s blessing.

“Look, I think what is important here is to move the Senate forward on appropriations, and we Democrats have every intention of doing that and cooperating,” Schumer said.

GOP senators are signaling that they believe the political map gives them leverage to force Democrats to accept a deal if they want to get their red-state incumbents out on the campaign trail.

“I think we ought to look at more than just August. I think we ought to look at September and October as well. Because obviously with so many Senate Democrats running for reelection they’re not going to want to be here,” said GOP Sen. John CornynJohn CornynKey GOP senators appear cool to Kavanaugh accuser's demand Trump, GOP regain edge in Kavanaugh battle GOP mulls having outside counsel question Kavanaugh, Ford MORE (Texas), McConnell’s No. 2.

Cornyn added: “But they will be here until we clear the nominations.”

Republicans stress that the decision is ultimately up to McConnell, who sidestepped a question about the fate of the summer break on Tuesday.

“As I've indicated I'll have more to say about the August break in the near future,” he told reporters.

It wouldn’t be the first time the Senate leadership of either party has threatened to cancel a recess.

McConnell just last year said the Senate would nix the first two weeks of the August recess. In the end, the chamber only stayed in for one additional week after McConnell and Schumer got a deal to confirm dozens of nominations.

Multiple GOP senators acknowledged on Tuesday that the recess could ultimately be saved if Democrats agree to help move nominations and avoid a mammoth omnibus funding bill, which Trump has warned he will not sign.

Even as GOP senators indicated on Tuesday that they believe McConnell is leaning toward canceling part of the break, they also nodded to the yearly theatrics.

After noting that leadership is signaling that the Senate will be in session, Shelby added: “[But] will we be here? It depends on what happens.”

Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchDem vows to probe 'why the FBI stood down' on Kavanaugh Senate Democrats increase pressure for FBI investigation of Kavanaugh Grand Staircase-Escalante: A conservation triumph is headed for future as playground for industry MORE (R-Utah) downplayed the chances that Senate Republicans would ultimately cancel the August recess.

“Not in my experience,” he said with a laugh, asked if there was a chance it could happen. “But I’ll be happy to do it.”