Politics

Senators Fight Over How to Use Canceled Recess Weeks

Republicans point to judicial nominations and appropriations, Democrats say health care

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., flanked from left by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Sen. John Thune, R-S. Dak., and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, speaks to reporters in the Ohio Clock Corridor after the Senate Republicans’ policy lunch on Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Democrats and Republicans are facing off for the best way to use their three extra weeks in the “swamp.”

After Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced the chamber would remain in session for three weeks in August, both parties put in their two cents on how to best use the extra time. Democrats say focus on health care, while Republicans want to approve more of President Donald Trump’s nominees.

Here’s where party members stand:

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks to the press after the Senate Democratic Policy luncheon in the Capitol. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks to the press after the Senate Democratic policy lunch in the Capitol on May 8. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Democrats

Some senators in the Democratic Conference such as Vermont independent Bernie Sanders say cutting the recess was a move to keep vulnerable members from campaigning in their home districts during a critical election season.

But others are taking advantage of the added time to push for more action on an issue they know caused Republicans a lot of grief in the past year: health care.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer

The New York Democrat started the call for the Senate to devote its added three weeks in session to health care.

He told McConnell to dedicate August to “considering legislation that would lower the cost of health care and prescription drugs” in an open letter Wednesday.

“This sabotage also has those with pre-existing conditions once again facing the prospect of denied coverage, increased costs and medical bankruptcy,” he said, reading the letter on the Senate floor.

The minority leader’s call defied expectations that Democrats would complain about the recess cut. Instead, he said the chamber needed to spend the extra time passing legislation important to Americans.

“President Trump has completely dropped the ball on health care,” Schumer said. “Instead of shoring up our health care system and driving down costs, President Trump and Republicans have sabotaged our healthcare system and driven up costs.”

Watch: McConnell Cancels Recess, Schumer Says Democrats “Welcome” Extended Schedule

Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed

Reed backed Schumer’s goal of acting on health care over the summer session. He publicly pushed his support Wednesday morning in a press conference, talking about the toll of “uncertainty” around the health care system following Republican’s failed attempt to repeal the 2010 health care law last year.

Rhode Islanders have struggled to decide plans for insurance and their future health care because they aren’t sure what changes are happening to the system, he said, leaving many people vulnerable.

“It’s going to get worse and worse and worse … unless we step up as the [Democratic] leader has suggested and have a positive proactive agenda in August to make health care more affordable for all Americans,” Reed said.

Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin

The Illinois Democrat said he was willing to start working on health care whenever Republicans were. Durbin said families and businesses want Congress to “undo the harm” created by the Trump administration on health insurance.”

“What the Republicans have done to damage [health care] can be undone tomorrow but if they want to keep us through August to do it, I’ll be on the job,” he told CNN on Wednesday.

Durbin isn’t just waiting on Republicans to let Congress discuss health care. He said he also wants to take action on an immigration overhaul and legislation to revise policies that separate children from their families, but taking direct action is out of his hands.

“We can take up the immigration any time the Republican leadership, which controls the business of the House and Senate, decides it’s a priority,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks to the media in the Ohio Clock Corridor in the Capitol. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks to the media in the Ohio Clock Corridor in the Capitol on April 24. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Republicans

McConnell already has plans for how to make use of August: confirming more of  Trump’s judicial and executive branch nominees, and approving spending bills for the coming fiscal year.

He said the move was to deal with a legislative backlog, which he blamed on Democratic obstruction. The Senate and House are both trying to pass the annual 12 spending bills ahead of the Sept. 30 fiscal year deadline.

Congress hasn’t passed all of their appropriations bills on time in more than 20 years.

Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander

Alexander said he agrees with McConnell on staying behind to work through the usual August recess, but said he was willing to take on the Democrats on health care. 

The Tennessee senator said he believes Republicans can face the heat on issue because of prior public discontent with the 2010 health care law.

“I think if people know the facts, that’s where Democrats ought to feel vulnerable,” he told Fox News on Wednesday. “But if they want to talk about health care, we can talk about that.”

Alexander has other plans for the summer session. He and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz are conducting a survey of the GOP conference on what senators want to get accomplished in the coming months while they still have a confirmed majority in all elected branches.

“There's one more thing we can do with 50 votes,” Alexander said. “Ted and I want to make sure we know what it is and recommend it to our caucus.”

Utah Sen. Orrin G. Hatch

Hatch said he wanted to focus on getting more of Trump’s judicial nominees into office.

He spoke on the Senate floor Wednesday about the need for staying in session through August to combat Democratic obstructionism.

“It seems my friends on the other side of the aisle want to have their obstruction cake and eat it too,” the Utah senator said.

Getting through the backlog of unconfirmed judges is his main goal, Hatch said, but Democrats are making the process much slower. Democrats forced 101 cloture votes on Trump’s nominees in the past 18 months, more than the past six president’s cloture votes combined, he said.

“Our responsibility is to keep the judicial branch up and running,” Hatch said. “I look forward to working through August to confirm more.”

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