GOP loads up lame-duck agenda as House control teeters

Republican lawmakers are packing their agenda for the lame-duck session after the Nov. 6 elections, recognizing it could be their last shot for at least two years to pass legislation under unified GOP control of Congress.

Their top priorities include spending legislation, the farm bill, a package to extend expiring tax breaks, criminal justice reform, reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act and passing the Jobs Act 3.0, which is intended to spur capital formation.

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Also high on the to-do list is a batch of executive and judicial branch nominees — including 36 federal District Court and three circuit court judges. 

Asked about the agenda for December, Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynGOP senators urge Trump not to restrict guest worker visas Castro, Warren, Harris to speak at Texas Democratic virtual convention Democratic unity starts to crack in coronavirus liability reform fight MORE (Texas) said, “Nominations, more nominations.”

Many of the legislative items on the GOP agenda could be weighed down or even pushed aside by a partisan brawl over President TrumpDonald John TrumpMinneapolis erupts for third night, as protests spread, Trump vows retaliation Stocks open mixed ahead of Trump briefing on China The island that can save America MORE’s demand that Congress fund construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“There’s going to be a major fight over that and that’s going to make progress on other areas difficult,” said Rep. Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeHouse FISA bill suddenly on life support House GOP lawmaker breaks with party to back proxy voting House conservatives voice concerns over minority rights during remote hearings MORE (R-Okla.), a member of the House Appropriations Committee.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerVA hospitals mostly drop hydroxychloroquine as coronavirus treatment Democrats call on FTC to investigate allegations of TikTok child privacy violations Lawmakers introduce bill to invest 0 billion in science, tech research MORE (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday opened the door to a possible deal by saying Democrats are not opposed to strengthening the U.S. border.

“We Democrats believe in strong border security,” he said, noting that the Senate immigration reform bill backed by Democrats in 2013 included billions of dollars in border security funding. “We’re going to keep fighting for the strongest, toughest border security.”

Cole later said Schumer’s remarks could pave the way for a compromise linking border wall funding to legislation shielding immigrants who came to the country illegally as children — known as "Dreamers" — from deportation.

“The natural deal is DACA and the wall,” he said, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that Trump rescinded last year, putting young immigrants at risk of removal.

But Republicans acknowledge that getting a deal on the border wall and other contentious issues will depend on the outcome of the midterm elections.

“What kind of mood the Democrats are in, I don’t think we know,” Cole said.

Schumer on Tuesday said he would discuss Democratic priorities for the lame duck at a later date.

Senate Republican Conference Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneFrustration builds in key committee ahead of Graham subpoena vote  The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - US death toll nears 100,000 as country grapples with reopening GOP faces internal conflicts on fifth coronavirus bill MORE (S.D.) said there’s strong desire among GOP lawmakers to pass a package of so-called tax extenders and to make some corrections to the $1.5 trillion tax-reform legislation Congress passed last year.

“There will be an attempt to try and get as much done as we can before the end of this calendar year,” Thune said. “We could get something done on finishing up the tax reform stuff of last year, technical corrections.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - George Floyd's death sparks protests, National Guard activation COVID-19 workplace complaints surge; unions rip administration Senate Democrats pump brakes on new stimulus checks MORE (R-Ky.) on Wednesday told reporters that he would put criminal justice reform legislation on the floor in the lame-duck session if it can garner 60 votes to overcome a potential filibuster.

“Criminal justice has been much discussed,” he said. “What we’ll do after the election is take a whip count and if there are more than 60 senators who want to go forward on that bill, we’ll find time to address it.”

That legislation combines a House-passed prison reform bill, the First Step Act, with bipartisan sentencing reform provisions crafted by the Senate. It is a top priority of senior White House adviser Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerTrump's strategy to stay in office Trump tries to soothe anxious GOP senators Press: King Donald's goal - no checks, no balances MORE, the president’s son-in-law.

Trump signaled he could support the criminal justice reform compromise when he met with Republican senators in early August.

McConnell has never been a big fan of the legislation, which divides his caucus, but Trump’s support is a major factor to consider.

“We’re going to try real hard to get it done,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyFormer Romney strategist joins anti-Trump Lincoln Project Frustration builds in key committee ahead of Graham subpoena vote  Rosenstein to testify as part of Graham's Russia investigation probe MORE (R-Iowa), who helped put the compromise together.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsGovernment watchdog: 'No evidence' Pompeo violated Hatch Act with Kansas trips The 10 Senate seats most likely to flip State Department scrutiny threatens Pompeo's political ambitions MORE (R-Kan.) says it now looks certain that the farm bill, which has been stuck in protracted Senate and House negotiations, won’t move until after the election.

“We’re making progress, we are closing out titles,” he said.

GOP lawmakers are also pressing for action on reforms that have been under discussion for months by the Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Reform.

Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordGOP senator calls on State Department to resume passport application processing GOP senators urge Trump not to restrict guest worker visas Senate revives surveillance brawl MORE (R-Okla.), a member of the task force, said Congress needs to pass the reforms and they need to be signed by the president by the end of the year, at which time the select committee will dissolve.

Also up for consideration is legislation overhauling how Congress handles sexual harassment claims and bills designed to improve the security of U.S. elections and to slap sanctions on foreign powers that try to interfere in U.S. elections.

Senate and House negotiators have yet to reconcile measures passed by each chamber dealing with sexual harassment, and the election security measure could hinge on what, if any, meddling is seen in connection with the midterm elections.

Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandSenate Dems press DOJ over coronavirus safety precautions in juvenile detention centers Senate Democrat introduces bill to protect food supply It's as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process MORE (D-N.Y.), who played a prominent role in pushing the Senate to pass sexual harassment legislation earlier this year, said she would talk to McConnell about its timing after the election, adding that Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanTwitter joins Democrats to boost mail-in voting — here's why Lobbying world John Ratcliffe is the right choice for director of national intelligence — and for America MORE (R-Wis.) will also be needed to help push the measure toward the finish line.

“I will speak to Sen. McConnell again because we’re just waiting on Republican leadership,” she said. “We’re waiting on both Speaker Ryan and Leader McConnell to decide to let the bills be conferenced.”

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntWashington prepares for a summer without interns GOP faces internal conflicts on fifth coronavirus bill Senators weigh traveling amid coronavirus ahead of Memorial Day MORE (R-Mo.), who has jurisdiction over the issue as chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, said part of the problem is that the House had been out of session in August and recently recessed again to allow lawmakers to campaign for the midterms.

“If you look back at the end of July on, there have been maybe 10 days when House and Senate members have really been here at the same time,” he said.

Blunt, who also has jurisdiction over the election security legislation, said he was uncertain of its prospects in the lame-duck session.

“I don’t know about that. We will certainly look at the election and see what happened,” he added. “I’m never very optimistic about a lame duck.”

“It will be totally dependent on what happens Election Day, the whole atmosphere,” Blunt said. 

Cornyn, the second-ranking GOP leader in the Senate, said Congress needs to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.

“That goes until Dec. 7, so we’ll need to address that before then,” he said.

Republican chairmen are pushing to get some of their pet priorities onto the loaded schedule.

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoOn The Money: US tops 100,000 coronavirus deaths with no end in sight | How lawmaker ties helped shape Fed chairman's COVID-19 response | Tenants fear mass evictions GOP senators urge Trump not to restrict guest worker visas How lawmaker ties helped shape Fed chairman's COVID-19 response MORE (R-Idaho) said he hopes the Senate will take up the House-passed Jobs Act 3.0, which addresses capital formation.

And Thune, chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said he wants McConnell to schedule time on the AV Start Act, which would set national standards for the testing and deployment of self-driving cars.

He also wants action on legislation known as the Streamline Act that would promote the rapid deployment of 5G networks.