GOP lays debate trap for 2020 Democrats

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats seize Senate floor to protest gun inaction: 'Put up or shut up' Democrats press for action on election security Hillicon Valley: Election security looms over funding talks | Antitrust enforcers in turf war | Facebook details new oversight board | Apple fights EU tax bill 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 TrumpJimmy Carter: 'I hope there's an age limit' on presidency White House fires DHS general counsel: report Trump to cap California trip with visit to the border 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.


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 KaineBolton exit provokes questions about Trump shift on Iran Overnight Defense: Dems grill Trump Army, Air Force picks | House chair subpoenas Trump Afghanistan negotiator | Trump officials release military aid to Ukraine Air Force nominee: Setting up Space Force would be 'key imperative' MORE (D-Va.) and Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallOvernight Energy: Trump to revoke California's tailpipe waiver | Democrats propose bill to revoke Trump endangered species rollback | Trump officials finalize rule allowing fewer inspectors at pork plants Here are the lawmakers who aren't seeking reelection in 2020 Democrats propose bill to revoke Trump endangered species rollback 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 GrahamTrump fires back at Graham over Iran criticism Overnight Defense: GOP wary of action on Iran | Pence says US 'locked and loaded' to defend allies | Iran's leader rules out talks with US Republicans wary of US action on Iran MORE (S.C.), Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzDemocrats seize Senate floor to protest gun inaction: 'Put up or shut up' Prospects for Trump gun deal grow dimmer Ted Cruz knocks New York Times for 'stunning' correction on Kavanaugh report MORE (Texas), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulRepublicans wary of US action on Iran EXCLUSIVE: Swing-state voters oppose 'surprise' medical bill legislation, Trump pollster warns Rand Paul: Almost every mass shooter 'is sending off signals' MORE (Ky.) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRepublicans wary of US action on Iran California poll: Biden, Sanders lead Democratic field; Harris takes fifth The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation 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 SandersJimmy Carter: 'I hope there's an age limit' on presidency 2020 candidates keep fitness on track while on the trail Mark Mellman: The most important moment in history? MORE (I-Vt.) and Democratic Sens. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandDemocrats seize Senate floor to protest gun inaction: 'Put up or shut up' At debate, Warren and Buttigieg tap idealism of Obama, FDR Trump court pick sparks frustration for refusing to answer questions MORE (N.Y.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisKavanaugh impeachment push hits Capitol buzz saw Mark Mellman: The most important moment in history? Biden leads in new national poll, Warren close behind in second place MORE (Calif.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenKavanaugh impeachment push hits Capitol buzz saw Mark Mellman: The most important moment in history? Katie Pavlich: The Democrats' desperate do-overs MORE (Mass.) all missing the vote.


Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSchumer, Pelosi push Trump to back universal background check bill Sinema says she would back Kennedy in race against Markey Democrats threaten to withhold defense votes over wall 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 InhofeHouse rejects GOP motion on replacing Pentagon funding used on border wall Republicans wary of US action on Iran Is the Senate ready to protect American interests in space? 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 MurphyKavanaugh impeachment push hits Capitol buzz saw Democrats seize Senate floor to protest gun inaction: 'Put up or shut up' Senate Democrats to hold the floor to protest inaction on gun violence 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.”