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McConnell cancels Senate's August recess

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell halts in-person Republican lunches amid COVID-19 surge Biden and reproductive health rights Biden's Cabinet a battleground for future GOP White House hopefuls 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 TrumpPennsylvania Supreme Court strikes down GOP bid to stop election certification Biden looks to career officials to restore trust, morale in government agencies Sunday shows preview: US health officials brace for post-holiday COVID-19 surge MORE’s nominees and funding the government.

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“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 HellerOn The Trail: Democrats plan to hammer Trump on Social Security, Medicare Lobbying World Democrats spend big to put Senate in play 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 ClintonGroups seek to get Black vote out for Democrats in Georgia runoffs Biden's political position is tougher than Trump's Valadao unseats Cox in election rematch 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 SchumerChuck SchumerProtect America's houses of worship in year-end appropriations package Club for Growth to launch ad blitz in Georgia to juice GOP turnout Inequality of student loan debt underscores possible Biden policy shift 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 RyanPaul Ryan calls for Trump to accept results: 'The election is over' Bottom line Democratic anger rises over Trump obstacles to Biden transition MORE [R-Wis.] to stay in, too,” said Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinMajor unions back Fudge for Agriculture secretary Voters split on eliminating the filibuster: poll OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee | Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects | Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight 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 CruzFormer CIA head, Cruz trade jabs over killing of Iranian nuclear scientist: 'You are unworthy to represent the good people of Texas' O'Brien on 2024 talk: 'There's all kinds of speculation out there' Ocasio-Cortez, Cruz trade jabs over COVID-19 relief: People 'going hungry as you tweet from' vacation MORE (Texas) and Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderWe need a college leader as secretary of education As Biden administration ramps up, Trump legal effort drags on The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump holds his last turkey pardon ceremony 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 ShelbySpending deal clears obstacle in shutdown fight Trump, Pelosi barrel toward final border wall showdown On The Money: Push for student loan forgiveness puts Biden in tight spot | Trump is wild card as shutdown fears grow | Mnuchin asks Fed to return 5 billion in unspent COVID emergency funds 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.