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.


Sen. John CornynJohn CornynThis week: Washington barrels toward partial shutdown deadline GOP leader faces Trump test in latest shutdown crisis Trump finds himself isolated in shutdown fight MORE (Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican, said Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell’s marijuana conundrum: Cory Gardner The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump rips Dems as shutdown looms | Congress deadlocked | Flynn associates charged will illegal lobbying GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander won't seek reelection MORE (R-Ky.) has made an initial pitch to Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerMcConnell’s marijuana conundrum: Cory Gardner Democrats must stand up for Israel Retired Gen. McChrystal: Sending troops to build wall could be seen as ‘misuse of power’ 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 GrassleyFive takeaways from the court decision striking down ObamaCare The Year Ahead: Tough tests loom for Trump trade agenda Senate heads toward floor fight on criminal justice bill 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 TrumpReturn hope to the Middle East by returning to the Iran Deal Government shutdowns tend to increase government spending 'Full Frontal' gives six-bedroom house to group that works with detained immigrants 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 Kavanaugh‘Justice’ selected as Merriam-Webster’s 2018 word of the year Chief justice of California Supreme Court leaves GOP over Kavanaugh confirmation Doug Jones: Carmakers 'scared to death' over Trump tariffs 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 Heller How to reform the federal electric vehicle tax credit White House jumps into fight over energy subsidies One last fight for Sen. Orrin Hatch MORE (Nev.), who is running in a state won by Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonChelsea Clinton working on new children’s book about endangered animals GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander won't seek reelection GOP rep says there was a double standard in Flynn, Clinton probes 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.