GOP fights piling up for McConnell

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTSA agents protest government shutdown at Pittsburgh airport The case for Russia sanctions Pompeo planning to meet with Pat Roberts amid 2020 Senate speculation 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 John TrumpTrump knocks BuzzFeed over Cohen report, points to Russia dossier DNC says it was targeted by Russian hackers after fall midterms BuzzFeed stands by Cohen report: Mueller should 'make clear what he's disputing' MORE, Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerTrump's battle with Pelosi intensifies McConnell blocks bill to reopen most of government More than Mueller: Senators must ask Barr about criminal justice policy 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 GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyDem calls for Cohen to testify before Senate panel over explosive report Senate Republicans eye rules change to speed Trump nominees IRS shutdown plan fails to quell worries 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 CornynTrump tells GOP senators he’s sticking to Syria and Afghanistan pullout  Texas governor, top lawmakers tell Trump not to use hurricane relief funds to build border wall The Hill's Morning Report — Trump’s attorney general pick passes first test 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 CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonOn The Money: Shutdown Day 26 | Pelosi calls on Trump to delay State of the Union | Cites 'security concerns' | DHS chief says they can handle security | Waters lays out agenda | Senate rejects effort to block Trump on Russia sanctions Senate rejects effort to block Trump on Russia sanctions Overnight Defense: Trump faces blowback over report he discussed leaving NATO | Pentagon extends mission on border | Senate advances measure bucking Trump on Russia sanctions 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 MurphyDems demand answers following explosive new Cohen report Dem senators debate whether to retweet Cardi B video criticizing Trump over shutdown Cardi B expresses solidarity with federal workers not getting paid MORE (D-Conn.), Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersKamala Harris picks Baltimore as headquarters for potential 2020 campaign: report Sen. Casey says he won't run for president in 2020 Women's March plans 'Medicare for All' day of lobbying in DC MORE (I-Vt.) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeHillicon Valley: Trump AG pick signals new scrutiny on tech giants | Wireless providers in new privacy storm | SEC brings charges in agency hack | Facebook to invest 0M in local news AG pick Barr wants closer scrutiny of Silicon Valley 'behemoths' Grassroots political participation is under attack in Utah and GOP is fighting back 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.