GOP fights piling up for McConnell

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Memo: Trump's justices look set to restrict abortion Conservatives could force shutdown over Biden vaccine mandate Freedom Caucus urges McConnell to block government funding over vaccine mandates MORE (R-Ky.) has a difficult two weeks ahead of him as he tries to navigate disputes within his conference over the lame-duck Congress’s final legislative goals.

McConnell, who prides himself in working with his Republican colleagues and allowing the GOP conference to work its will, finds himself in the middle of an increasingly public and bitter battle over criminal justice reform that pits President TrumpDonald TrumpMedia giants side with Bannon on request to release Jan. 6 documents Cheney warns of consequences for Trump in dealings with Jan. 6 committee Jan. 6 panel recommends contempt charges for Trump DOJ official MORE, Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerBiden celebrates start of Hanukkah Kushner looking to Middle East for investors in new firm: report Watchdog finds no money has flowed out of agency tasked by Trump admin to fight pandemic MORE and the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee against a group of conservatives opposed to the bill.

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The GOP leader is also at the center of a fight over Saudi Arabia, with some Republicans demanding tough legislation in response to the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

The criminal justice reform bill is turning into the biggest headache for McConnell.

The White House is clamoring for the legislation, with Kushner, a White House adviser and Trump’s son-in-law, set to highlight it during an appearance Monday night on Sean Hannity’s television show on Fox News.

Trump has personally called out McConnell, urging him to allow a vote on the legislation. The efforts portend new complaints directed toward the GOP leader if the president doesn’t get his way.

Separately, and perhaps most importantly to McConnell, tensions appear to be building with Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyGraham emerges as go-to ally for Biden's judicial picks Iowa Democrat drops bid to challenge Grassley after death of nephew Bipartisan senators press FBI, inspector general for changes following Nassar case MORE (R-Iowa), the Judiciary Committee chairman who has publicly said the GOP leader owes him a vote on the bill, given his efforts to shepherd through a record number of appeals court judges and two Supreme Court nominees.

Grassley was blunt on Monday in responding to a question about McConnell. “Let’s put it this way, I’m frustrated,” he said.

Last week, Grassley touted his efforts on judicial nominations, McConnell’s top priority.

“I think I’ve delivered pretty well, more judges than any previous president has gotten in their first two years, two new Supreme Court justices. We’ve worked together on that so maybe I should have some consideration for that, but beyond that it seems to me we’re never going to get all of the judges done between now and Christmas,” Grassley said at a recent Washington Post event.

The legislation would merge a House-passed prison reform bill aimed at decreasing recidivism with a handful of changes to sentencing laws and mandatory minimums. Supporters are expected to introduce the final version of the bill imminently, with changes aimed at winning over more Republican supporters.

McConnell and Sen. John CornynJohn CornynCongress's goal in December: Avoid shutdown and default Mental health: The power of connecting requires the power of investing Senators call for Smithsonian Latino, women's museums to be built on National Mall MORE (R-Texas), his No. 2, say less than half the caucus supports the criminal justice legislation. The bill’s supporters say McConnell and Cornyn are lowballing the whip count.

Cornyn hit back at critics on Monday, saying they didn’t understand “how actual legislation gets passed.”

“My job as whip is to give Leader McConnell an accurate count of where the conference is because he doesn’t want to ever put anything on the floor and be surprised,” Cornyn added.

But he also said adding the bill to legislation funding the rest of the government remained a possibility.

“I could see a way where this gets put on a year-end spending bill, but ... we’ve still got to do some work,” he said.

Doing so, however, would intensify an already difficult fight. Supporters, including Grassley, have publicly blamed concerns about infighting and not making incumbents take a tough vote as one of the roadblocks for previous criminal justice bills, which they also believed had 60 votes.

Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonConservatives target Biden pick for New York district court GOP anger with Fauci rises Cotton swipes at Fauci: 'These bureaucrats think that they are the science' MORE (R-Ark.) warned Friday that any attempt to add the criminal justice bill to the funding measure would force Congress to work through the Christmas holiday and risk a partial government shutdown.

“Only thing worse than early release from prison of thousands of serious, violent, & repeat felons is to do that in a spending bill with no debate or amendments, forcing senators to either shut down government or let felons out of prison,” Cotton said in a tweet.

The funding bill is already at an impasse over Trump’s demand that it include $5 billion in funding for his U.S.-Mexico border wall, something Democrats are rejecting. The legislation will need support from Democrats to overcome a filibuster in the Senate, and may need Democratic votes in the House, too.

Leadership has fewer than 10 full working days until the Dec. 21 government funding deadline.

The Senate is expected to take up a resolution aimed at forcing Trump to end support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen as soon as Wednesday.

The measure — from Sens. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyMurphy criticizes anti-abortion lawmakers following Michigan school shooting Republicans struggle to save funding for Trump's border wall Senate Democrats call on Biden to push for COVID-19 vaccine patent waivers at WTO MORE (D-Conn.), Bernie SandersBernie SandersSymone Sanders to leave the White House at the end of the year Briahna Joy Gray says Chris Cuomo will return to CNN following scandal Postal Service expansion into banking services misguided MORE (I-Vt.) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeGOP sets back Biden's vaccine mandates amid omicron On The Money — Powell, Yellen face pressure on inflation Senate Republicans clash over government shutdown strategy MORE (R-Utah) — would require Trump to withdraw any troops in or “affecting” Yemen within 30 days unless they are fighting al Qaeda.

Though 14 Republicans voted late last month to kick the resolution to the full Senate, it’s expected to advance this week over the objection of most GOP senators — including McConnell, who voted against advancing the measure out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Because supporters are using the War Powers Act, they can effectively force McConnell’s hand as long as enough Republicans join with the 49-member Democratic caucus to give them a simple majority. Lee is the only formal Republican co-sponsor, but both supporters and opponents believe they’ll have the votes to jam the resolution through the Senate this week even if only a handful of Republicans vote for the bill.