Senate negotiators near deal to overhaul Hill harassment rules

Bipartisan Senate negotiators on Tuesday briefed colleagues on an emerging deal to overhaul Capitol Hill workplace harassment rules, a long-awaited step that comes more than three months after the House approved its own bill.

Senate Rules Chairman Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and the committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), told their respective party caucuses about the agreement during lunch on Tuesday, senators said. A vote on the deal to remodel the Hill’s workplace misconduct system — which had been lambasted by both parties as inadequate amid a wave of sexual harassment scandals last year — is expected to come within weeks or even days.

The Senate is “getting very close to an agreement that everybody ought to be able to sign off on,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters Tuesday.

The House-passed harassment bill would eliminate mandatory counseling and mediation for victims alleging workplace harassment on Continue reading “Senate negotiators near deal to overhaul Hill harassment rules”

GOP senators expect McConnell to scrap or scale back August break

Time to reschedule those vacation plans: The Senate’s traditional August recess is likely to be trimmed or possibly scrapped entirely, according to four Republican senators.

Senate Republicans expect that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will soon announce plans to gut the four-week recess as his caucus and President Donald Trump clamor for more action in Washington. McConnell discussed the matter privately with his leadership team on Monday evening in a members-only meeting, according to two GOP senators.

No final decision has been made, senators said, and the caucus is still debating how many weeks of the recess to slash. But McConnell, the president and GOP senators are so frustrated with the pace of spending bills and Trump’s nominations that McConnell appears ready to pull the plug on the traditional getaway from Washington ahead of the mid-term elections this fall.

McConnell has “talked to Sen. Schumer and the president. And my impression Continue reading “GOP senators expect McConnell to scrap or scale back August break”

Trump to hold rally for Blackburn in Tennessee

President Donald Trump will hold a rally and fundraiser for Tennessee Republican Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn on May 29, according to a Republican source familiar with the event.

Blackburn, a conservative House member, is locked in a close race with former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, who remains popular in the state and has some support from centrist Republicans. The race to replace the retiring Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) is critical in the battle for the Senate, and Republicans hope Trump‘s role will draw GOP voters away from Bredesen, who built coalitions of GOP support in his gubernatorial campaigns.

A Vanderbilt University poll released on Thursday showed Trump has a 53 percent approval rating in the state. Bredesen was viewed favorably by 67 percent of respondents, and Blackburn had a 49 percent favorability rating. Both have similar name recognition in the state.

Other polls have shown Bredesen with a slight Continue reading “Trump to hold rally for Blackburn in Tennessee”

How Haspel beat the resistance

Liberals had a real chance to defeat President Donald Trump’s CIA director nominee Gina Haspel over her ties to torture.

Instead, she skated to confirmation on Thursday — her nomination greased by a divided Senate Democratic caucus, leaders of the minority who opted not to twist arms, and advocacy groups that couldn’t mount an effective attack strategy despite what they saw as Haspel’s checkered record on human rights.

When she did prevail, winning six Democrats’ support despite three Republican opponents, the outcome did more than disappoint progressives. It shined a bright light on the political limitations of a Democratic minority that has also failed to unite members against Mike Pompeo’s bid for secretary of state and a banking deregulation bill.

“It’s more complicated” than it looks for Democratic leaders to keep the caucus together, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said in an interview. “We don’t have a parliamentary system … Continue reading “How Haspel beat the resistance”

How Haspel beat the resistance

Liberals had a real chance to defeat President Donald Trump’s CIA director nominee Gina Haspel over her ties to torture.

Instead, she skated to confirmation on Thursday — her nomination greased by a divided Senate Democratic caucus, leaders of the minority who opted not to twist arms, and advocacy groups that couldn’t mount an effective attack strategy despite what they saw as Haspel’s checkered record on human rights.

When she did prevail, winning six Democrats’ support despite three Republican opponents, the outcome did more than disappoint progressives. It shined a bright light on the political limitations of a Democratic minority that has also failed to unite members against Mike Pompeo’s bid for secretary of state and a banking deregulation bill.

“It’s more complicated” than it looks for Democratic leaders to keep the caucus together, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said in an interview. “We don’t have a parliamentary system … Continue reading “How Haspel beat the resistance”

Sen. Heller to Trump: Don’t shut the government down before the midterms

Senate Republicans didn’t put too many questions to President Donald Trump when he joined them for lunch on Tuesday, but the party’s most vulnerable incumbent did make one big ask: Please, Nevada Sen. Dean Heller pleaded, don’t shut down the government over funding for a border wall before the midterm elections.

Picking that fight during an election season would hurt Republicans at the ballot box, Heller told Trump, according to an attendee and two people briefed on the meeting. Though Heller prefaced his request by heaping praise on the president, Trump was noncommittal. “We’ll see what happens,” he told the group.

Heller, who confirmed he asked Trump not to shut down the government, was speaking for Republican lawmakers who fear that the president’s desire to follow through on one of his signature campaign promises could undermine their attempt to maintain control of the upper chamber. While Trump held campaign rallies Continue reading “Sen. Heller to Trump: Don’t shut the government down before the midterms”

Say it ain’t so: McConnell threatens to kill August recess

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 Continue reading “Say it ain’t so: McConnell threatens to kill August recess”

Say it ain’t so: McConnell threatens to kill August recess

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 Continue reading “Say it ain’t so: McConnell threatens to kill August recess”

Senate panel votes in favor of Haspel’s nomination for CIA director

The Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday voted 10 to 5 in favor of the nomination of Gina Haspel to be CIA director, committee leaders said.

Haspel could be confirmed as soon as this week if senators agree to hold a speedy vote. Haspel has already garnered enough Democratic support to be confirmed on the Senate floor despite opposition from GOP Sen. Rand Paul.

Just two Democrats on the committee, ranking member Mark Warner of Virginia and vulnerable incumbent Joe Manchin of West Virginia, supported Haspel in the panel vote. All Republicans supported her. Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said she was the "most qualified" candidate for the job.

"I believe she is someone who can and will stand up to the President if ordered to do something illegal or immoral — like a return to torture," Warner said.

Haspel picked up several key votes this week that Continue reading “Senate panel votes in favor of Haspel’s nomination for CIA director”

Senate expected to vote on Paul’s balanced budget plan

The Senate is expected to vote this week on a budget proposal from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) that would severely curtail federal spending, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The measure would balance the budget within five years. But its spending cuts are so steep that the plan is highly unlikely to pass. The budget needs 50 votes to move forward, but Republicans only control 51 seats and several center-right members are unlikely to support such strict spending cuts.

Still, holding such a vote is a key priority for Paul, who has railed against Republicans for months for increasing spending once they came to power. He also spoke privately to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) about the budget in March, when he threatened to shut down the government for a second time this year over spending increases.

Paul’s budget would cut federal spending by more Continue reading “Senate expected to vote on Paul’s balanced budget plan”

Rand’s rep as Senate rebel on the line

Rand Paul is once again the talk of the Senate. The question on everyone’s mind: Will he cave again?

No other senator has more of a knack for becoming the center of attention seemingly every time there’s a controversial close vote — in the past year alone, he commanded the spotlight on Obamacare repeal, the budget, and now confirming Donald Trump’s Cabinet picks.

And with the Senate preparing for a nail-biter on Trump’s CIA nominee Gina Haspel, the chamber is abuzz over the latest will-he-or-won’t-he Rand guessing game. The libertarian-leaning Kentucky senator says he’s a hard “no,” but Democrats and Republicans believe he may yet fold under pressure from Trump, as he did with Mike Pompeo for secretary of state.

Aside from the palace intrigue, Paul’s vote will provide more clues about his relationship with Trump, his onetime rival for the Republican presidential nomination, and might even determine whether Haspel Continue reading “Rand’s rep as Senate rebel on the line”

Trump to huddle with Senate Republicans next week

President Donald Trump will address Senate Republicans at a private party lunch next Tuesday, GOP leaders said Friday.

The president will head to the Capitol to discuss ongoing negotiations with North Korea as well as the economy, said Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, who chairs the GOP’s policy committee.

“Our conference looks forward to discussing the key accomplishments of tax cuts and historic economic growth here at home, and the opportunity for peace on the Korean Peninsula that lies ahead,” Barrasso said.

Grassley reignites SCOTUS war

Chuck Grassley infuriated Democrats in 2016 by refusing to take up Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court. Now they’re growing even madder at the Senate Judiciary chairman for advising any high court justice contemplating retirement to get on with it.

“There is no principled stand. They will use whatever rationale they find expedient. There’s no conviction or principle to this. There’s no method to the madness,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

In the future when Republicans lose the Senate, he warned: “There will be a price to pay.”

Democrats think they have a shot a taking the majority back this fall and are aghast that Grassley and other Republicans are publicly nudging Justice Anthony Kennedy or other justices who are eyeing the exits to hang it up so they can confirm a new justice before the election. A Democratic majority would likely force President Donald Trump to nominate Continue reading “Grassley reignites SCOTUS war”

Graham after McCain visit: ‘He’s stabilizing’

After spending two days with John McCain this week, his closest friend in the Senate wants the public to know this about the Arizona senator’s health: "Don’t believe what you read in the paper."

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said that he was "pleasantly surprised" during his visit with McCain on Monday and Tuesday in Arizona, where the ailing GOP senator is recovering from treatment from brain surgery. Graham said that McCain’s mindset is: "Lindsey boy, one foot in front of the other."

"Don’t believe what you read in the paper. I was concerned when I went, I’m thinking now about my next trip. No talking about funerals, we’re not at 2022 yet," Graham said, referring to the year that McCain’s term ends. "He’s got a healthy appetite, healthy sense of humor, he’s stabilizing. Great visit. We laughed, cried, we watched movies."

In private talks this Continue reading “Graham after McCain visit: ‘He’s stabilizing’”

GOP braces for more brutal Senate primaries

This much we can say: Mitch McConnell is less toxic than a criminally convicted coal baron who was blamed for the death of 29 people in a mining disaster.

But the Senate majority leader’s headaches in 2018 are far from over.

Less than a day after triumphing over Don Blankenship in West Virginia, the Republican leader is bracing for a flurry of anti-McConnell barrages in two critical primaries in Arizona and Mississippi that will test whether McConnell can effectively be used as a foil by conservative candidates. Candidates there are already attacking him and using his name generously to raise money, signaling that McConnell will face another round of insults from conservatives in his bid to keep the Senate in Republican hands.

McConnell and his allies are expected to deploy the same strategy in those two races as they did in West Virginia: Quietly directing Republican voters toward the most Continue reading “GOP braces for more brutal Senate primaries”

McConnell takes West Virginia victory lap

An ebullient Mitch McConnell took a victory lap on Wednesday morning after the majority leader and his allies crushed former coal baron Don Blankenship in West Virginia‘s GOP primary, predicting that Senate Republicans will no longer be plagued by poor general election candidates in this year’s Senate races.

With a divisive primary still looming in Arizona and an anti-establishment candidate challenging an incumbent in Mississippi, the result in West Virginia has McConnell confident that his party has turned the corner on nominating potentially unelectable candidates like Roy Moore in Alabama. Attorney General Patrick Morrisey handily defeated Blankenship, brightening Republican hopes of beating Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) this fall.

"It worked out very well, we’ve got a nominee that can win in November and that’s what we hoped for," McConnell said in a rare hallway chat with a trio of reporters. "We’re certainly going to be competitive. We’ve got Continue reading “McConnell takes West Virginia victory lap”

McCain’s absence handcuffs Republicans

The Senate, more than ever, is missing John McCain.

The chamber is considering a CIA nominee where the primary determining factor is her stance on torture, which McCain himself experienced for years in Vietnam. The Senate Armed Services Committee that he chairs is now crafting the annual defense bill, McCain’s top legislative priority. Senate Democrats are about to exploit his absence to jam through a proposal reinstating net neutrality policies.

And as McCain reflects on his own mortality in a new book, documentary and in visits and telephone calls with friends, his longtime colleagues in the Senate say they already miss McCain’s dynamism, his eagerness to jump into every issue and his dark sense of humor.

“I ache for him. I think about him all the time,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who speaks to McCain regularly and wrote him a private note on Monday. “We Continue reading “McCain’s absence handcuffs Republicans”

Meet the GOP’s favorite Democrat

WILMINGTON, Del. — Chris Coons recognizes that his repeated dalliances with Republicans could aggravate his party’s left wing enough to put his job at risk. But he can’t help himself.

On issues from immigration to judicial nominations to Iran, the Delaware Democrat is cutting against his party’s leftward shift and building close relationships with Republicans that have heightened his influence in the clubby Senate. Coons is fashioning himself in the mold of the senator he succeeded — former Vice President Joe Biden — to the frustration of his party’s restive liberal base.

“It could happen to me,” Coons said of a primary challenge. “I’m just not worried about it.”

The 54-year-old’s most recent headline-making show of courtesy to the GOP came when he changed his vote from ‘no’ to ‘present’ to help an absent Republican colleague and speed up committee approval of Mike Pompeo’s secretary of state nomination. Coons’ Continue reading “Meet the GOP’s favorite Democrat”

Hatch to McCain: Invite Trump to your funeral

Sen. John McCain should reconsider his wish that President Donald Trump not attend McCain’s funeral, said Sen. Orrin Hatch, the most senior GOP senator.

McCain prefers instead that Vice President Mike Pence attend his funeral rather than Trump, who has mocked McCain for being tortured and attacked him for voting against Obamacare repeal. But Hatch said he thought keeping the president from his funeral was too much: "I think it’s ridiculous."

"Well, he’s the president of the United States and he’s a very good man. But it’s up to [McCain]. I think John should have his own wishes fulfilled with regard to who attends the funeral," said the Utah senator. Asked whether McCain should change his mind about Trump, Hatch said: "I would."

Hatch said he does not expect McCain, who is battling brain cancer, to return to the Senate. Hatch, 84, is retiring after this year.

"That’s Continue reading “Hatch to McCain: Invite Trump to your funeral”

Conservatives launch ad campaign to boost Trump’s judges

Conservatives are ratcheting up the Senate’s judicial wars, with a deep-pocketed group launching a new seven-figure ad campaign hitting Democrats for delaying confirmation of President Donald Trump’s judges.

The Judicial Crisis Network will launch a $1 million ad buy on Saturday, according to officials familiar with the effort. The ad will run on CNN, Fox News and airport channels that might be seen by traveling senators returning from recess next week.

The air support comes as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told radio host Hugh Hewitt in an interview that confirming conservative judges is his “top priority in the Senate.” The majority leader is set to confirm six more Circuit Court judges this month, which would add up to 21 of Trump’s Circuit Court nominees — part of McConnell’s longtime bid to reshape the courts.

Senate Democrats cannot block those judges, but they can delay each of Continue reading “Conservatives launch ad campaign to boost Trump’s judges”