McConnell cancels Senate's August recess

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLawmakers run into major speed bumps on spending bills Budowsky: Donald, Boris, Bibi — The right in retreat Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg to meet with lawmakers | Big tech defends efforts against online extremism | Trump attends secretive Silicon Valley fundraiser | Omar urges Twitter to take action against Trump tweet MORE (R-Ky.) announced Tuesday that he would cancel most of the August recess, allowing him to keep vulnerable Democrats off the campaign trail months before the midterm elections.

McConnell said working three weeks in August was necessary because of “historic obstruction” by Democrats, arguing the chamber needs to play catch-up on confirming President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump conversation with foreign leader part of complaint that led to standoff between intel chief, Congress: report Pelosi: Lewandowski should have been held in contempt 'right then and there' Trump to withdraw FEMA chief nominee: report MORE’s nominees and funding the government.

ADVERTISEMENT

“We have a lot of important work to do. ... The president’s made it quite clear he doesn’t intend to sign another omnibus, and in order to prevent that obviously we should do our work, which is to pass individual appropriations bills,” McConnell told reporters.

Under McConnell’s plan, senators will be on break the week of Aug. 6 before returning to Washington the following week and staying in session the rest of the month. Senators were previously expected to leave town on Aug. 3 and not return until early September, after Labor Day.

McConnell faced a mountain of pressure from conservatives, including members of his own conference, as well as from the White House to keep senators in town during August. His announcement Tuesday won praise from White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and a coalition of outside groups.

While GOP leaders note that they have a host of issues to tackle in the fall, the move to cancel the August break pays obvious political dividends for Republicans by forcing a slate of vulnerable red-state Democrats to remain in Washington and off the campaign trail months before the November elections.

Democrats are defending 10 seats in states won by Trump during the 2016 presidential election. By comparison, Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerThis week: Barr back in hot seat over Mueller report Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary MORE (Nev.), who publicly supported McConnell’s decision, is the only Republican incumbent senator running in a state won by Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonQueer Marine veteran launches House bid after incumbent California Rep. Susan Davis announces retirement Poll: Trump neck and neck with top 2020 Democrats in Florida Former immigration judge fined, temporarily banned from federal service for promoting Clinton policies MORE.

Democrats immediately painted McConnell’s decision as a purely political move aimed at giving Republicans a better chance in the midterms, where the party in power historically loses seats.

“The fact that the Republicans have resorted to keeping Democrats off the campaign trail in August shows you just how nervous they are about November,” said a senior Democratic aide.

David Bergstein, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, argued that McConnell is “terrified” about letting Democrats campaign.

“Given his horrendous recruits, Sen. McConnell is right to be terrified of Senate Democrats on the campaign trail, but whenever the GOP Congress is in session they find new ways to alienate and disgust voters,” he said.

A source familiar with the matter said McConnell had privately told Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSchumer, Pelosi push Trump to back universal background check bill Sinema says she would back Kennedy in race against Markey Democrats threaten to withhold defense votes over wall MORE (D-N.Y.) that senators could plan trips for the latter part of the recess, before ultimately backtracking and canceling everything except the first week of the break.

Red-state Democrats downplayed McConnell’s decision, brushing aside questions about their reelection efforts and suggesting they are ready to stay in Washington.

“It’s great. I hope we are going to start working on Mondays and Fridays, too. ... Maybe [McConnell] can encourage [Speaker] Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanThree-way clash set to dominate Democratic debate Krystal Ball touts Sanders odds in Texas Republicans pour cold water on Trump's term limit idea MORE [R-Wis.] to stay in, too,” said Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinGOP signals unease with Barr's gun plan READ: Trump administration memo on background checks NRA says Trump administration memo a 'non-starter' MORE (D-W.Va.), who is running in a state Trump carried by more than 40 percentage points in 2016.

Democrats responded to McConnell’s move Tuesday by touting efforts to rein in rising health insurance premiums as their top priority during the extra legislative days.

“We welcome the opportunity to address it, and we’re going to work very hard in August to require our Republican colleagues to do something about it,” Schumer said of rising premiums. “We Democrats want to use the additional weeks in August to reverse those policies that so hurt the middle class.”

The Democrats’ agenda for August will also include a push to expand access to Medicare, increase tax credits to help pay for insurance, create a national reinsurance program and lower drug costs, Schumer said.

The Democratic leader included a jab at Trump, saying the president should stay in Washington during the recess instead of “jetting off to Bedminster or Mar-a-Lago” — a reference to Trump’s properties in New Jersey and Florida that he regularly visits.

A spokesman for McConnell noted that the Senate still needs to approve the annual National Defense Authorization Act, water infrastructure legislation, the farm bill, reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration and renewal of the flood insurance program.

Republican Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGOP signals unease with Barr's gun plan NRA says Trump administration memo a 'non-starter' Barr fails to persuade Cruz on expanded background checks MORE (Texas) and Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderHere are the lawmakers who aren't seeking reelection in 2020 EXCLUSIVE: Swing-state voters oppose 'surprise' medical bill legislation, Trump pollster warns The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation MORE (Tenn.) have also been circulating a survey among their colleagues as they look for additional agenda items that would have enough support to pass during a midterm election year. 

Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) praised McConnell’s move Tuesday but also urged the Senate GOP leader to go even further.

“We should not go home until we have completed our work. It is important to remember that simply canceling the August state work period is not the goal. We should be working nights and weekends now to get the results the American people sent us here to deliver,” Perdue said.

It’s not the first time McConnell has canceled part of the August recess. He announced last year that the Senate would cancel two weeks of the break before ultimately staying in town for an extra week. 

GOP senators acknowledged Tuesday that they could still salvage at least part of their originally planned recess this year.

“I guess if we moved everything we wanted to on the calendar,” Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyLawmakers run into major speed bumps on spending bills Senate Democrats block government spending bill Senate Democrats demand wall-free spending allocation MORE (R-Ala.) said when asked about the possibility that the three weeks could be cut down even further, adding, “If the Democrats were to cooperate with us on a lot of things.”

McConnell downplayed any chance that he would back down from his decision, arguing the Senate had enough on its plate that it could use the extra time.

“It’s inconceivable to me that we can’t use these weeks,” he told reporters, “even with cooperation.”

Updated at 8 p.m.