Senate leaders in talks to wrap up October session

Senate leaders in talks to wrap up October session
© Greg Nash

Senate leadership is discussing a package of nominations that would let the chamber wrap up its work weeks before the November elections.

The chamber is slated to be in session through Oct. 26. If senators are able to get an agreement on nominations, it would let several vulnerable incumbents return to their home states to campaign in the crucial final weeks leading up to the Nov. 6 midterm, where control of Congress hangs in the balance.

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Sen. John CornynJohn CornynGOP wants commitment that Trump will sign budget deal Hillicon Valley: Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract | FTC weighs updating kids' internet privacy rules | Schumer calls for FaceApp probe | Report says states need more money to secure elections Senators introduce legislation to boost cyber defense training in high school MORE (Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican, said Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report: Trump walks back from 'send her back' chants GOP rattled by Trump rally Third Kentucky Democrat announces challenge to McConnell MORE (R-Ky.) has made an initial pitch to Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTop Democrats demand security assessment of Trump properties Lawmakers pay tribute to late Justice Stevens Trump administration denies temporary immigrant status to Venezuelans in US MORE (D-N.Y.) on a nominations package, which is the last item on the chamber's to-do list before they can wrap up until after the election.

"I think Sen. McConnell has made a pitch to him on a list of nominations that are not particularly controversial. And if they'll agree to dispose of those then I think we'll be able to go back home," Cornyn said.

A Senate Democratic aide confirmed that "discussions are ongoing" about a nominations package.

McConnell hasn't yet filed cloture on any nominations, which would be an early hint of the deal he wants Democrats to agree to. Spokesmen for McConnell didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

But he told reporters Wednesday that senators were working to wrap up nominations, including both executive and judicial, before they head back to their states.

"We will be moving forward and trying to wrap up some more nominations on the executive calendar, both for the administration and for the judiciary, before we begin to wrap up business here and head home for the election," McConnell said.

McConnell has hinted for weeks that if Democrats want to leave town early they need to agree to a deal on nominations.

“Our friends on the other side who have a number of incumbents running for reelection this year are going to want to … recess," McConnell said at last month’s Values Voter Summit, an annual gathering of conservatives in Washington.

"It won’t surprise you that I’m making my list and checking it twice," McConnell said. "That, my friends, is how we’re dealing with obstruction.”

Sen. Charles GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyScandal in Puerto Rico threatens chance at statehood Poll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Democrat: Treasury 'acknowledged the unprecedented process' in Trump tax return rejection MORE (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, argued that the Senate should stay in session until it approves all 49 judicial nominations that are currently ready for floor action.

Democrats have several vulnerable incumbents running for reelection in red and purple states won by then-Republican presidential candidate Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpCould Donald Trump and Boris Johnson be this generation's Reagan-Thatcher? Merkel backs Democratic congresswomen over Trump How China's currency manipulation cheats America on trade MORE in 2016. But senators have been stuck in D.C. amid an unusually busy Senate schedule, including a protracted fight over Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughLindsey Graham's Faustian bargain Liberal, conservative Supreme Court justices unite in praising Stevens The Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment MORE's Supreme Court nomination. 

Ten Democratic senators are running for reelection this fall in states Trump won in 2016 compared to one Republican, 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 is running in a state won by Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPoll: Majority of Democratic voters happy with their choices among 2020 contenders No presidential candidate can unite the country GOP lawmakers speak out against 'send her back' chants MORE.

Cornyn added on Wednesday that "Schumer is the key" to getting an agreement on nominations that would let the Senate adjourn early.

"I guess they can't go raise money and campaign, but really the keys are in their hand. They can get out of here as soon as they agree to a reasonable number of nominees," Cornyn said, asked about the impact that staying in Washington, D.C., has on senators up for reelection.

But Democrats could face intense blowback from progressive outside groups if they agree to a deal on nominations, particularly judicial picks who are getting confirmed to lifetime appointments.

With a simple majority needed for nominations, Democrats can't block them on their own. But progressive outside groups want to see Democrats use any procedural tactics available to slow down Trump's nominees.

Schumer received a blistering from progressive outside groups when he accepted a deal in August that let senators reclaim part of the summer recess.

As chatter of the negotiations spread, Leah Greenberg, the co-executive director of Indivisible, said on Twitter that Schumer should not make a deal with McConnell. 

"There is no reason Democrats should be making any deals with Mitch McConnell to make it easier to confirm more radical conservatives to the courts. Especially not after Kavanaugh," she said

And Heidi Hess, a co-director of Credo Action, said Democrats could keep the Senate in session, but still let vulnerable members go back to their home states as needed.

Asked late last week about a potential deal on nominations, Hess said: "Do we think that Schumer should have not gotten played by McConnell in the first place and shouldn't get played again? Yeah."

—Updated at 4:02 p.m.