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 CornynTrump puts GOP in tough spot with remarks on foreign 'dirt' Trump puts GOP in tough spot with remarks on foreign 'dirt' Overnight Health Care: Pelosi to change drug-pricing plan after complaints | 2020 Democrats to attend Planned Parenthood abortion forum | House holds first major 'Medicare for All' hearing 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 TrumpTrump defends Stephanopolous interview Trump defends Stephanopolous interview Buttigieg on offers of foreign intel: 'Just call the FBI' 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 ColeEx-GOP lawmaker says Trump 'illegitimate president,' should be impeached Ex-GOP lawmaker pens op-ed calling for Trump to be impeached House panel approves language revoking 2001 war authority as Iran tensions spike MORE (R-Okla.), a member of the House Appropriations Committee.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw US women's soccer team reignites equal pay push 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 ThuneTrump's border funding comes back from the dead Public policy expert: US has become 'outlier' on immigration practices Public policy expert: US has become 'outlier' on immigration practices 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 McConnellElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw Overnight Defense: Trump doubles down on claim Iran attacked tankers | Iran calls accusations 'alarming' | Top nuke official quietly left Pentagon | Pelosi vows Congress will block Saudi arms sale 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 KushnerFinancial disclosure form shows Ivanka Trump earned M from DC Trump hotel Financial disclosure form shows Ivanka Trump earned M from DC Trump hotel Kim Kardashian West joins Trump at White House event for ex-prisoners 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 GrassleyOvernight Defense: Pompeo blames Iran for oil tanker attacks | House panel approves 3B defense bill | Trump shares designs for red, white and blue Air Force One On The Money: Pelosi says no debt ceiling hike until deal on spending caps | McConnell pressures White House to strike budget deal | Warren bill would wipe out billions in student debt | Senate passes IRS reform bill On The Money: Pelosi says no debt ceiling hike until deal on spending caps | McConnell pressures White House to strike budget deal | Warren bill would wipe out billions in student debt | Senate passes IRS reform bill MORE (R-Iowa), who helped put the compromise together.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsEPA exempts farms from reporting pollution tied to animal waste EPA exempts farms from reporting pollution tied to animal waste Conservatives spark threat of bloody GOP primaries 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 LankfordElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw Overnight Defense: Trump hails D-Day veterans in Normandy | Trump, Macron downplay rift on Iran | Trump mourns West Point cadet's death in accident | Pentagon closes review of deadly Niger ambush 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 Elizabeth Gillibrand2020 Democrats mark 7th anniversary of DACA 2020 Democrats mark 7th anniversary of DACA Julián Castro defends going on Fox: I'm focused on 'the people out there watching' 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 RyanIndiana GOP Rep. Brooks says she won't seek reelection Indiana GOP Rep. Brooks says she won't seek reelection Inside Biden's preparations for first debate 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 BluntElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw McConnell ups pressure on White House to get a budget deal 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 CrapoCongress can defend against Russia by outlawing anonymous shell companies On The Money: Senate passes disaster aid bill after deal with Trump | Trump to offer B aid package for farmers | House votes to boost retirement savings | Study says new tariffs to double costs for consumers Senate passes disaster aid bill after deal with Trump 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.