Uncertainty, Trump loom over packed year-end agenda 

Uncertainty is hanging over the congressional year-end agenda as Washington waits to see who will win the White House and Senate majority and tries to gauge President TrumpDonald John TrumpMinnesota certifies Biden victory Trump tells allies he plans to pardon Michael Flynn: report Republican John James concedes in Michigan Senate race MORE’s willingness to cut big deals if he loses. 

Doubt about who will hold power, and the appetite for year-end barn clearing, is colliding with a lengthy to-do list that includes a fight over Confederate-named bases and hopes of getting a fifth coronavirus relief deal. 

Lawmakers also need to pass a government funding bill by Dec. 11 to avoid an end-of-Congress shutdown just before the holidays and with only weeks to juggle the competing items. 


Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellImmigration, executive action top Biden preview of first 100 days Spending deal clears obstacle in shutdown fight McConnell pushed Trump to nominate Barrett on the night of Ginsburg's death: report MORE (R-Ky.) acknowledged the political volatility but argued that deals needed to be cut regardless of the eventual outcome. 

“We don't know for sure all the outcomes, but hopefully we will by next week when we go back in session and we need to sit down and talk to each other,” McConnell told reporters in Kentucky. “I'm confident we will no matter who ends up running the government.”

But what gets done likely rides on the election, with both sides looking for maximum political leverage in any negotiations, and how interested Trump is in making deals on his way out if he loses. 

Democrats are feeling increasingly good about the odds that their nominee, Joe BidenJoe BidenMinnesota certifies Biden victory Trump tells allies he plans to pardon Michael Flynn: report Biden says staff has spoken with Fauci: 'He's been very, very helpful' MORE, will ultimately prevail to win the White House race, even as the Trump campaign threatens a mountain of legal challenges. 

Republicans, meanwhile, appear increasingly likely to hold on to a narrow Senate majority after GOP Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTwo more parting shots from Trump aimed squarely at disabled workers Trump transition order follows chorus of GOP criticism The Memo: Trump election loss roils right MORE (Maine) completed a come-from-behind upset and with Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisTeam Trump offering 'fire hose' of conspiracy Kool-Aid for supporters Loeffler isolating after possible COVID-19 infection North Carolina's Mark Walker expected to announce Senate bid MORE (R-N.C.) holding a steady lead. If Tillis and Sen. Dan SullivanDaniel Scott SullivanTrump administration proposal takes aim at bank pledges to avoid fossil fuel financing McSally, staff asked to break up maskless photo op inside Capitol Capitol's COVID-19 spike could be bad Thanksgiving preview MORE (R-Alaska) win, and Democratic Sen. Gary PetersGary PetersRepublican John James concedes in Michigan Senate race Hillicon Valley: YouTube suspends OANN amid lawmaker pressure | Dems probe Facebook, Twitter over Georgia runoff | FCC reaffirms ZTE's national security risk Democrats urge YouTube to remove election misinformation, step up efforts ahead of Georgia runoff MORE holds on in Michigan, that puts the Senate at 50-48 Republicans. Democrats would need to win both Georgia seats in early January runoffs to get a 50-50 tie. 

The election, and a reluctance to predict what a lame-duck Trump would do, has made lawmakers wary of making bold predictions about what will happen. 


Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinWhitehouse says Democratic caucus will decide future of Judiciary Committee The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Trump OKs transition; Biden taps Treasury, State experience Durbin seeks to become top-ranking Democrat on Judiciary panel MORE (D-Ill.) said if Trump has clearly lost the White House, it is hard to guess if he will be willing to cut big deals on his way out the door. 

“Who can guess? Will he want to go out in a flame of glory ... or will he say if you don’t love me, I’m just going to go home? I can’t tell. ... He’s mercurial,” Durbin told The Hill in a recent interview. 

There are plenty of areas ripe for agreement, if both congressional leaders and Trump are in the mood to strike deals.

Both McConnell and House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSpending deal clears obstacle in shutdown fight Ocasio-Cortez, Cruz trade jabs over COVID-19 relief: People 'going hungry as you tweet from' vacation Rep. Rick Allen tests positive for COVID-19 MORE (D-Calif.) say they want to get a deal on a fifth coronavirus relief package before the end of the year. 

Pelosi, who has been in on-off talks with the administration for months, wants to clear the barn to free up a Biden administration for other long-sought priorities. 

Democrats were hoping the threat of a Democratic trifecta starting in January would give them maximum leverage, but McConnell is still facing the prospect of a slightly narrower Senate majority in 2021 and a flipped White House. 

Getting a coronavirus agreement won’t be easy, even if the outcome of the election is known. Trump has talked repeatedly about getting a big deal after Nov. 3, but those pledges seem to bake-in the premise that he won reelection. 

White House economic advisor Larry KudlowLarry KudlowMORE indicated during an interview with CNBC on Wednesday, while predicting Trump will win, that he expects negotiations with Congress on “key targets” including the Paycheck Protection Program and unemployment assistance. 

There are serious disagreements between Senate Republicans, the White House and Democrats on a price tag, liability protections and more help for state and local governments. McConnell indicated on Wednesday that Republicans still support a smaller bill but opened the door to include more help for hard-hit cities and states. 

Congress has smaller, but politically controversial, items that remain unresolved. The House and Senate still need to formally go to conference to negotiate a final National Defense Authorization Act. They must work out a fight over language currently in both bills that would change the name of Confederate-named military bases and other installations. 

Trump has threatened to veto the mammoth defense bill if either the House or Senate language survives intact. Some Republicans have floated that they could override Trump’s veto — a first that could be made easier if the president is on his way out the door. 

Congress also let a handful of surveillance programs under the USA Freedom Act lapse earlier this year about deep disagreements with, and within, the administration about how to reauthorize them. McConnell, tipping his hat to his top priority, also pledged to commit more floor time to confirming Trump’s judicial picks. 


And they’ll need to fund the government after kicking the can to Dec. 11. The Senate will return on Monday; the House on Nov. 16. The House has votes scheduled through Dec. 10; the Senate is hoping to leave town by Dec. 18. If Congress misses its self-imposed deadline, it would hardly be the first time a funding fight kept lawmakers in town up until, or through, the holidays. 

“That Dec. 11 date looms over us. We’ve got to do anything we’re going to do for spending for the rest of the year. And I’ll tell you I think it’s absolutely nowhere. ... It really is adrift,” said Durbin, about the upcoming work period. 

McConnell, speaking in Kentucky, said that he and Pelosi both agree they want an omnibus agreement, which would incorporate all 12 fiscal 2021 spending bills, instead of another continuing resolution that would kick the funding fight until early next year. 

A Pelosi aide said the speaker supports an omnibus but declined to comment further. 

Kudlow, during his CNBC interview, predicted that they would at least be able to get a deal on a continuing resolution, but stopped short of predicting if coronavirus relief would be dropped into that or negotiated separately. Linking the two together has support from influential Senate Republicans. 

“Well look, we’ll probably negotiate another continuing resolution. I don’t want to commit the president right now,” he said. “I’m certain we will have success in negotiating a continuing resolution.”

But it remains to be seen if Trump, known for personality swings and grudge matches, would be willing to get on board with a placeholder government funding bill, even if it’s clear he’s lost. 

Asked if he was concerned Trump wouldn’t sign a continuing resolution under those circumstances, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbySpending deal clears obstacle in shutdown fight Trump, Pelosi barrel toward final border wall showdown On The Money: Push for student loan forgiveness puts Biden in tight spot | Trump is wild card as shutdown fears grow | Mnuchin asks Fed to return 5 billion in unspent COVID emergency funds MORE (R-Ala.) paused for several seconds before replying with a laugh, “I hope the president would always do the right thing.”