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 Cornyn Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 Trump struggles to reshape Fed Congress opens door to fraught immigration talks MORE (Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican, said Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Mueller report is a deterrent to government service Senate Republicans tested on Trump support after Mueller Anti-smoking advocates question industry motives for backing higher purchasing age MORE (R-Ky.) has made an initial pitch to Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerHillicon Valley: House Dems subpoena full Mueller report | DOJ pushes back at 'premature' subpoena | Dems reject offer to view report with fewer redactions | Trump camp runs Facebook ads about Mueller report | Uber gets B for self-driving cars Dem legal analyst says media 'overplayed' hand in Mueller coverage Former FBI official praises Barr for 'professional' press conference 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 GrassleyOn The Money: Inside the Mueller report | Cain undeterred in push for Fed seat | Analysis finds modest boost to economy from new NAFTA | White House says deal will give auto sector B boost The 7 most interesting nuggets from the Mueller report Government report says new NAFTA would have minimal impact on economy 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 TrumpTrump calls Sri Lankan prime minister following church bombings Ex-Trump lawyer: Mueller knew Trump had to call investigation a 'witch hunt' for 'political reasons' The biggest challenge from the Mueller Report depends on the vigilance of everyone 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 KavanaughJuan Williams: Buttigieg already making history Dems plot next move in Trump tax-return battle Fight over census citizenship question hits Supreme Court 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 HellerTrump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary Oregon Dem top recipient of 2018 marijuana industry money, study finds MORE (Nev.), who is running in a state won by Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonIt is wrong to say 'no collusion' 10 factors making Russia election interference the most enduring scandal of the Obama era And the winner of the Robert Mueller Sweepstakes is — Vladimir Putin 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.