GOP lays debate trap for 2020 Democrats

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellRepublicans give Barr vote of confidence Democrats block two Senate abortion bills VA could lead way for nation on lower drug pricing 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 TrumpWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Democrats duke it out in most negative debate so far 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 KaineRepublicans give Barr vote of confidence The Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in Overnight Defense: Senate votes to rein in Trump war powers on Iran | Pentagon shifting .8B to border wall | US, Taliban negotiate seven-day 'reduction in violence' MORE (D-Va.) and Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallOvernight Energy: EPA moves to limit financial pressure on 'forever chemical' manufacturers | California sues Trump over water order| Buttigieg expands on climate plan Now is our chance to turn the tide on ocean plastic pollution Buttigieg expands on climate plan with new proposals 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 GrahamDemocrats duke it out in most negative debate so far Republicans give Barr vote of confidence Overnight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — Lawmakers raise alarms over Trump coronavirus response | Top official warns virus appears inevitable in US | Democrats block two Senate abortion bills MORE (S.C.), Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSteyer calls for Senate term limits to pass gun control legislation Cruz targets California governor over housing 'prescriptions' This week: House to vote on legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime MORE (Texas), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulTrump creates new headaches for GOP with top intelligence pick Congress set for clash over surveillance reforms Senate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony MORE (Ky.) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Energy: Critics pile on Trump plan to roll back major environmental law | Pick for Interior No. 2 official confirmed | JPMorgan Chase to stop loans for fossil fuel drilling in the Arctic MacGregor confirmed as Interior deputy chief GOP casts Sanders as 2020 boogeyman 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 SandersWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Sanders most searched, most tweeted about candidate during Democratic debate MORE (I-Vt.) and Democratic Sens. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandNow is the time for a US data protection agency The Hill's Campaign Report: Warren up, Bloomberg down after brutal debate Ginsburg, accepting lifetime achievement award, urges working fathers to take an active role in kids' lives MORE (N.Y.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisThis week: House to vote on legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime Juan Williams: Black votes matter Clyburn: Biden 'suffered' from not doing 'enough' in early debates MORE (Calif.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Sanders most searched, most tweeted about candidate during Democratic debate MORE (Mass.) all missing the vote.

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Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOvernight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — Lawmakers raise alarms over Trump coronavirus response | Top official warns virus appears inevitable in US | Democrats block two Senate abortion bills Lawmakers raise alarms over Trump coronavirus response Democrats block two Senate abortion bills 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 InhofeLobbying World GOP chairman after Africa trip: US military drawdown would have 'real and lasting negative consequences' Overnight Energy: Controversial Trump adviser reportedly returning to EPA | Delta aims to be first carbon neutral airline | Dem senator gives EPA D-minus on 'forever chemicals' 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 MurphyLawmakers raise alarms over Trump coronavirus response Schumer: Trump coronavirus response marked by 'towering and dangerous incompetence' The Hill's Morning Report - Sanders steamrolls to South Carolina primary, Super Tuesday 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.”