GOP lays debate trap for 2020 Democrats

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFormer HUD Secretary: Congress 'should invest 0B in direct rental assistance' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House approves .5T green infrastructure plan | Rubio looks to defense bill to block offshore drilling, but some fear it creates a loophole | DC-area lawmakers push for analysis before federal agencies can be relocated House approves .5T green infrastructure plan MORE (R-Ky.) is giving 2020 hopefuls a choice: Show up in the Senate to vote or hit the presidential campaign trail.

The Senate is moving forward with a mammoth defense bill and potentially a heated fight over President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse panel approves 0.5B defense policy bill House panel votes against curtailing Insurrection Act powers after heated debate House panel votes to constrain Afghan drawdown, ask for assessment on 'incentives' to attack US troops MORE’s ability to take military action against Iran, even as several Democratic senators are expected to be rotating out to go down to Miami this week for the first Democratic presidential primary debate.

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It’s one of the first high-profile examples of the crowded White House fight spilling over into the day-to-day running of the Senate, where seven lawmakers are competing for the Democratic nomination.

McConnell has relished the juggling act, taking multiple opportunities to hit Democrats over missing votes in order to campaign for the 2020 election.

“Some of our Democratic friends need to go hit the presidential campaign trail. They can’t be here because they have to go campaign. Not one day but two. This week. They’re too busy to stay in the Senate and authorize the resources that our all-volunteer armed forces rely on,” McConnell said during a Senate floor speech Tuesday. 

Spokesmen for McConnell didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about whether the GOP leader will try to accommodate the schedules of the Democratic 2020 candidates when scheduling votes related to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Republicans want to wrap up the bill, which authorizes $750 billion in defense spending, before lawmakers leave town for the weeklong July 4 recess. They are also expected to vote on roughly $4.5 billion in spending tied to the U.S.-Mexico border before leaving.

The Senate is expected to vote to end debate on the NDAA as soon as noon Wednesday. Senators are still trying to get a deal to allow for a vote on an amendment from Sens. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOvernight Defense: Lawmakers demand answers on reported Russian bounties for US troops deaths in Afghanistan | Defense bill amendments target Germany withdrawal, Pentagon program giving weapons to police Senators aim to limit Trump's ability to remove troops from Germany Filibuster reform gains steam with Democrats MORE (D-Va.) and Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallSenate rejects Paul proposal on withdrawing troops from Afghanistan OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats chart course to 'solving the climate crisis' by 2050 | Commerce Department led 'flawed process' on Sharpiegate, watchdog finds | EPA to end policy suspending pollution monitoring by end of summer House Democrats chart course to 'solving the climate crisis' by 2050 MORE (D-N.M.) that would block Trump from using funding to take military action against Iran without congressional approval.

McConnell didn’t make any announcement about whether or not they’ll be able to schedule the amendment vote when wrapping up the Senate on Tuesday, but he told reporters earlier that he was working on it. Under the Senate’s rules, any one senator could object to the vote, complicating the chances of debate.

If the Senate votes on the Iran amendment, it could result in 2020 contenders being absent from the Senate even as their colleagues engage in a debate over Trump’s war authority.

It’s hardly the first time presidential contenders have skipped votes in favor of campaigning. GOP Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's Campaign Report: The political heavyweights in Tuesday's primary fights Harrison goes on the attack against Graham in new South Carolina Senate ad Overnight Defense: Lawmakers demand answers on reported Russian bounties for US troops deaths in Afghanistan | Defense bill amendments target Germany withdrawal, Pentagon program giving weapons to police MORE (S.C.), Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTrump administration grants funding extension for Texas testing sites Hillicon Valley: Democrats introduce bill banning federal government use of facial recognition tech | House lawmakers roll out legislation to establish national cyber director | Top federal IT official to step down GOP lawmakers join social media app billed as alternative to Big Tech MORE (Texas), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSenate rejects Paul proposal on withdrawing troops from Afghanistan The Hill's 12:30 Report: Democratic proposal to extend 0 unemployment checks Rand Paul urges Fauci to provide 'more optimism' on coronavirus MORE (Ky.) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioJennifer Aniston urges fans to 'wear a damn mask:' 'It really shouldn't be a debate' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House approves .5T green infrastructure plan | Rubio looks to defense bill to block offshore drilling, but some fear it creates a loophole | DC-area lawmakers push for analysis before federal agencies can be relocated The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Stagwell President Mark Penn says Trump is losing on fighting the virus; Fauci says U.S. 'going in the wrong direction' in fight against virus MORE (Fla.) each missed final passage of the defense bill in November 2015, when they were running for the Republican nomination.

But the tight time frame makes it likely that at least some of the Democratic Party’s 2020 contenders will miss votes. The Senate voted Monday evening to start debate on the bill with White House hopefuls Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersHickenlooper beats back progressive challenge in Colorado primary Progressive groups urge Biden to tap Warren as running mate Young Turks host says Elizabeth Warren should be Biden's VP pick MORE (I-Vt.) and Democratic Sens. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandDemocratic lawmakers call for expanding, enshrining LGBTQ rights The Hill's 12:30 Report: Fauci 'aspirationally hopeful' of a vaccine by winter The Hill's Morning Report - Officials crack down as COVID-19 cases soar MORE (N.Y.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisLiberal veterans group urges Biden to name Duckworth VP GOP senators debate replacing Columbus Day with Juneteenth as a federal holiday If only woke protesters knew how close they were to meaningful police reform MORE (Calif.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenHouse Armed Services votes to make Pentagon rename Confederate-named bases in a year Overnight Defense: House panel votes to ban Confederate flag on all Pentagon property | DOD report says Russia working to speed US withdrawal from Afghanistan | 'Gang of Eight' to get briefing on bounties Thursday Liberal veterans group urges Biden to name Duckworth VP MORE (Mass.) all missing the vote.

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Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerOvernight Defense: House panel votes to ban Confederate flag on all Pentagon property | DOD report says Russia working to speed US withdrawal from Afghanistan | 'Gang of Eight' to get briefing on bounties Thursday Top intelligence officials to brief Gang of Eight on Thursday Over 1700 veterans ask Senate to pass statehood bill MORE (D-N.Y.) has requested that McConnell delay any votes on the defense bill until after this week’s Democratic presidential debate — slated for Wednesday and Thursday, starting at 9 p.m. each day — arguing the Senate GOP leader is well aware that several senators have scheduling conflicts.

“Considering the gravity of the situation with Iran, Democrats believe the full Senate should be present to vote on the Udall amendment. Leader McConnell is no doubt aware that several members of this body will be absent this week for the Democratic presidential debates,” Schumer said during a floor speech this week.

 He added that the Senate “should wait to have the vote until the full body is present. There’s no rush to complete” the NDAA.

The move sparked incredulous pushback from McConnell and other top Republicans. 

The GOP leader, recounting Schumer’s request, dismissed it on Tuesday, saying “come on.”

“[I’m] a little perplexed about the time out in the middle of the week related to an activity that has nothing to do with being a United States senator,” McConnell added during a weekly press conference.

 Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeSenate rejects Paul proposal on withdrawing troops from Afghanistan Liberal veterans group urges Biden to name Duckworth VP McConnell: Trump shouldn't veto defense bill over renaming Confederate bases MORE (R-Okla.), the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, predicted that Schumer would come to regret asking to delay the bill because of a presidential debate.

“To do something like that purely for political things, endanger our nation’s security, it just is something that’s pretty blatant. I think he’s going to, you know, regret that he used those words,” Inhofe told The Hill when asked about Schumer’s position.

Democrats are mulling whether to block the NDAA until they are able to get a vote on the Iran amendment and debated the issue for more than an hour during a closed-door caucus lunch on Tuesday.

The Senate Armed Services Committee advanced the NDAA in a 25-2 vote earlier this year, with only Warren and Gillibrand voting against it.

Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyConnecticut senators call for Subway to ban open carry of firearms Democrats optimistic about chances of winning Senate Gridlock mires chances of police reform deal MORE (D-Conn.), who is also co-sponsoring the Iran amendment, said there was a “strong belief” among several members of the caucus that the NDAA is the right vehicle for holding the line about demanding a vote on Iran.

“There’s a lot of strong belief that we need to take a vote on war in Iran,” Murphy said after the lunch. “There’s a lot of sentiment that this is the moment to take a stand.”