Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is seriously considering scrapping some or all of the August recess this year, according to senators and aides.
The GOP leader told Republican chairmen on Wednesday that he would speak to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) about whether Democrats are willing to cooperate at all on spending bills and President Donald Trump’s nominations in order to avoid scuttling this year’s four-week break. McConnell also said he needed to speak with Trump about the matter; the president said last week the Senate should “not go home” until it completes its work on spending bills and funding the border wall.
A group of more junior senators are publicly urging McConnell to cancel recess to get the Senate’s work done — and to keep 10 vulnerable Democratic senators off the campaign trail. A group of 16 senators sent McConnell a letter this month urging him cancel the regular summer break, and several of them held a press conference pressing McConnell on the issue.
“Sen. McConnell will make an announcement about that at some point. I think he wants to consult with Sen. Schumer and the president,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas). “He’s seriously considering what to do.”
A spokesman for McConnell said he did not have any announcements to make. Last year, the GOP leader announced he would cancel two weeks of recess, though ultimately the Senate was in for just one extra week.
One key factor in the majority leader’s decision this time is Trump: If McConnell can successfully negotiate with Schumer on a large-scale spending deal and confirming Trump’s nominees, Republicans would hope that the president would stop attacking the Senate and its summer break. If the president is intent on attacking the Senate regardless, there would be little utility to a spending and nominations deal with Schumer.
“The leader and the president are real serious about this, about staying,” said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the Appropriations chairman. “We’re trying to cooperate, it’s a two-way street. I hope [Democrats] will.”
Oftentimes, Schumer and McConnell quietly work out confirmation deals for large numbers of nominees at the end of each Senate work period. Yet most of that occurs under the radar, leading to widespread perceptions that the Senate isn’t doing anything to confirm Trump’s selections to fill his administration.
If McConnell were to cancel much or all of the August recess, Republicans could find themselves short of votes to pass nominations or bills. With Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) out of work battling cancer, Republicans currently only control 50 votes, so any absences could be decisive. Vulnerable Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) will also want to be at home campaigning.
Still, the Senate election map is so tilted against Democrats that merely threatening to cancel the recess could prod them to cooperate, lest they lose critical days on the stump. The endangered lawmakers would face a no-win choice of staying in Washington while their opponents attack them, or head home and get dinged for missing votes.
Already, Democrats are weighing whether to allow a quick vote on Gina Haspel to become CIA director this week despite opposition from most of the party.
“There’s every incentive for Democrats to cooperate,” Cornyn said.
Washington’s heat is intolerable in August, and senators are often desperate for a breather from the daily partisan battles. At the same time, senators rarely work Fridays, exposing them to attacks from Trump and his aides.
Still, traveling hundreds of miles between home and D.C. every week is taxing for lawmakers, their spouses and their children. Privately, some Republicans admit that while canceling August recess sounds good, not everyone in the caucus would be enthused about missing precious time back home.
“The one reason not to do it, frankly, would be families,” said one Republican senator.