SPONSORED:

Senate gets to work in August — but many don’t show up

The Senate is working through the August recess. Sort of.

Senators didn’t arrive in Washington for this week’s work until late in the day Wednesday and held their last votes of the week at 1:45 p.m. Thursday, adjourning a few hours later.

Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinBiden angers Democrats by keeping Trump-era refugee cap Chicago Police Union head calls Adam Toledo shooting 'justified,' says 'officer's actions actually heroic' Progressives put Democrats on defense MORE (Ill.), the second-ranking Democrat, skipped the week altogether, as did seven Republican senators — not counting Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainCongress brings back corrupt, costly, and inequitably earmarks Trump knocks CNN for 'completely false' report Gaetz was denied meeting The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - Biden, lawmakers start down a road with infrastructure MORE (R-Ariz.), who is away from Washington indefinitely while he undergoes treatment for brain cancer.

ADVERTISEMENT

The poor attendance on the Republican side of the aisle did not sit well with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPew poll: 50 percent approve of Democrats in Congress Pelosi on power in DC: 'You have to seize it' Progressives put Democrats on defense MORE (R-Ky.), who has emphasized for weeks that the Senate would work through August to get its business done.

McConnell criticized his colleagues for skipping votes during a private meeting Thursday, warning it would be difficult to set up votes next week if so many Republican colleagues continue to miss work.

With nine Senate GOP absences on Wednesday and eight on Thursday, Senate Democrats held a majority of the votes in the chamber this week.

“He’s rightfully, I think, upset. I wasn’t at lunch, but I knew what he was going to say,” said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), chairman of the Senate Republican Conference.

Two of the GOP senators who missed votes this week, Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeBiden sparks bipartisan backlash on Afghanistan withdrawal  Hillicon Valley: Biden nominates former NSA deputy director to serve as cyber czar | Apple to send witness to Senate hearing after all | Biden pressed on semiconductor production amid shortage Apple to send witness to Senate hearing after pushback from Klobuchar, Lee MORE (Utah) and Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisBipartisan Senate proposal would grant million to minority businesses Biden's gun control push poses danger for midterms The Hill's Morning Report - Biden assails 'epidemic' of gun violence amid SC, Texas shootings MORE (N.C.), had signed a letter to McConnell in May urging him to cancel the August recess.

“We, and the American people, expect Congress to work tirelessly to restore American greatness,” they wrote earlier this year.

But that was then — when the high average temperature in Washington was still in the 70s.

After months of nonstop work on repealing ObamaCare, passing tax reform, repealing Obama-era regulations and confirming 26 circuit court nominees, many senators are ready for a break from D.C.

This is especially true when the mercury is hovering around 90 degrees and the humidity is more than 50 percent.

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiModerates' 0B infrastructure bill is a tough sell with Democrats The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - CDC in limbo on J&J vax verdict; Rep. Brady retiring Trump mocks Murkowski, Cheney election chances MORE (R-Alaska) warned that she would be “grumpy” about having to come back to Washington in August, as she needs a long recess to visit as much of her massive state as possible.

“I’m going to be chairman of the cranky caucus,” she said when asked about the possibility that canceling August recess may become a new Senate precedent.

She said the travel requirement is much tougher for senators on the West Coast than those from other parts of the country.

But Murkowski, who has one of the longest commutes to the Senate, was at work on Wednesday and Thursday.

The Senate held only one hearing on Wednesday, and several of the hearings scheduled for Thursday morning were sparsely attended.

The Senate Judiciary Committee never had more than seven members present at its business meeting Thursday morning, which meant it didn’t have the quorum necessary to actually move business (which requires the presence of 9 members).

“I think we should have had more Republicans there,” Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamWall Street spent .9B on campaigns, lobbying in 2020 election: study Biden aide: Ability to collect daily intel in Afghanistan 'will diminish' Leaving Afghanistan: Is it victory or defeat? MORE (R-S.C.), a member of the Judiciary panel, chuckled.

At the same time the Judiciary Committee was meeting, a hearing of the Environment and Public Works Committee was similarly empty.

When a reporter looked into the room about a half hour after it started, there were six lawmakers present and what looked to be about 15 empty seats. 

Some senators, such as Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinWhen it comes to the Iran nuclear deal, what's a moderate Democrat to do? Battle lines drawn on Biden's infrastructure plan GOP senator hammers Biden proposal to raise corporate tax rate MORE (D-Md.), don’t think the Senate will even be in session for the entire month, betting that it could be out the week before Labor Day.

This all has some senators wondering if the highly anticipated cancelation of the August recess is more for show than substance.

“I think everyone knows we’re just marking time,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerFox News inks contributor deal with former Democratic House member Senate GOP faces retirement brain drain Roy Blunt won't run for Senate seat in 2022 MORE (R-Tenn.), who estimated that only about seven or eight senators were at the hearing his panel held Thursday morning. “This is all for show.”

But Corker, who is retiring at the end of this Congress, insisted he's "very happy to be here” in August because he knows his time in power is limited.

“I only have so much time left. There are hearings that I want to have,” he said, noting the Foreign Relations panel will have a NATO-Russia hearing next week.

Democrats were quick to criticize the schedule.

“If we’re going to work, let’s work. It’s not sort of working, it’s not working,” said Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyDemocratic senators call on Biden to support waiving vaccine patents Giffords group unveils gun violence memorial on National Mall Democrats back up Biden bid to return to Iran nuclear deal MORE (D-Conn.), who pointed out the abbreviated schedule. “It seems silly to drag folks back from the West Coast for two votes."

“Let’s come in on Monday and let’s vote until Friday,” he said.

“I’m not so sure the taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely to fly us back. I'm basically here for 24 hours, and it took me 24 hours to get here,” said Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterLobbying world The Hill's Morning Report - Biden's infrastructure plan triggers definition debate Lawmakers say fixing border crisis is Biden's job MORE (D-Mont.).

Senate GOP leadership aides, however, vigorously disputed that it was a light week in the Senate.

They pointed to the confirmation of Marvin Quattlebaum Jr. and Julius Ness Richardson to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals and an agreement to begin debate on a bill funding the departments of Defense, Labor, and Health and Human Services, which often waits until the end of the year.

“Two circuit court judges and an appropriations bill? That’s not a light week. Next week we’re doing the two biggest appropriations bills there are. That’s not a light week,” said Don Stewart, a spokesman for McConnell.

He also noted that legislation to combat opioid addiction and overdoses, to build water infrastructure and to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration are on the agenda.

Stewart knocked down the rumor that the Senate will leave town again the week of Aug. 27.

“We’re not going anywhere. We’re going to be here for the rest of the time,” he said. “Some people thought we were going to be out next week. We’re not going to be out next week. We’re not going to be out the last week. We’re going to be here.” 

Another senior GOP aide said rumors the Senate will be gone after next week are “the wishful thinking of some members.”