Senate GOP moving toward deal to break defense bill stalemate

Senate Republicans said Wednesday that they are moving toward an agreement to break a stalemate on a defense policy bill that has been stuck in limbo since Monday. 

GOP senators, leaving a closed-door caucus lunch, characterized negotiations as moving in the right direction and suggested votes on amendments to the massive National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) could start later Wednesday, though that timeline wasn't yet locked in. 

"I think we're getting close to an agreement on amendments tonight and tomorrow that would allow us to finish the NDAA tomorrow," said Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), a member of GOP leadership. 

Sen. James Inhofe (Okla.), the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, added he believed amendment votes could start on Wednesday and would carry over into Thursday.  

Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) added that Republicans were told that votes on more than 20 amendments could start "later this afternoon or early this evening."  

"Just a couple, three holds still left, which are probably going to be released if the amendments are granted. And that's a lot closer than we were," Braun added.  

Late Wednesday afternoon Senate leadership started a hotline - where they check with all 100 senators for potential objections - for a deal to vote on 25 amendments and to set up a vote on final passage of the defense bill, according to a Senate source. 

The apparent progress is the latest twist for the defense bill, which has been stuck in limbo since Monday, when Republicans blocked it from getting the 60 votes needed to move forward. 

Republicans argued that Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) hadn't given them an adequate number of amendment votes and accused him of trying to rush the debate. Leadership had tried to clear 18 amendments before the Thanksgiving recess but several GOP senators whose proposals weren't included blocked that from happening. 

Leadership then tried to clear a deal on Tuesday night that would have allowed for 21 amendment votes, including Nord Stream 2 sanctions, despite pushback from the Biden administration. The original 18 amendment package didn't include that, sparking major frustration from Republicans who view the vote as a must-have.  

But Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) sent a warning shot against hopes of a quick deal on Wednesday morning, saying that at least three Republicans were blocking quick votes on the deal and that more were expected to do so. Aides and GOP senators said around noon that there were five GOP objections to the deal. 

"We've still got a few little things to work out," Kennedy said after the GOP lunch, adding that it was "very possible" that votes could start on Wednesday. 

"They haven't said definitely, but we're making some progress," he added. 

Updated at 5:36 p.m.