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Leave and Learn: Senate Heads Home to Regroup

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The Senate only had one working day left — and they made the most of it. After months of sandbagging President Trump’s nominees, Democrats finally agreed to cooperate on an up-or-down vote for dozens of appointees. “Democrats made it their goal in life to obstruct everything that we tried to do,” said a frustrated Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas). And they proved it, suddenly agreeing to move every appointee by voice vote — meaning they had no objections.

Their sudden spirit of cooperation was part of the deal Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) struck in exchange for turning out the lights on an unusually long summer session. The trade turned out to be a good one for Republicans, who cranked through more than 60 appointees — most for key administration posts that have sat empty for the better part of six months. Like other agencies, the State Department had been in a holding pattern while Democrats stalled on a number of important hires — including a full slate of ambassadors. Now, in a step forward, HR directors from the CIA to FCC will be busily adding new staff to the government directory.

For McConnell, who’d hoped to go home with a major legislative victory under his belt by repealing Obamacare, Thursday’s progress helped eased the sting. “The Senate has confirmed more Executive Branch nominees this week than all of the Executive Branch nominees confirmed this year combined,” he pointed out. “This was an important step towards filling critical roles throughout the administration, including the deputies at multiple cabinet offices who had been lacking these key positions. Moving forward, I hope this agreement represents the way forward on confirming nominees so our government can be fully staffed and working for the American people.”

While Republicans filled a number of jobs, they leave town wondering about their own. Back on their home turf, few will be eager to face voters and explain what happened on the repeal. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who voted to keep Obamacare, will have more than her share of explaining to do in a state where premiums are 203 percent higher since 2013. After she helped sink the bill that would have delivered on seven years of GOP promises, Murkowski desperately tried to turn the page on her role in July’s disappointment. “I think we can spend time thinking about what didn’t happen,” she told reporters. “[But] I don’t have enough hours in my day to do that. I’m just focused on what we’re going to be doing going forward.”

Georgia’s David Perdue (R) knew who to blame — but insists the debate is far from over. “We had three chairmen who went rogue on the Republican caucus and cost us this vote,” he said. “That’s a problem. We spent a lot of energy on that. And we’re not done yet.” Before members fanned out across the country, Senator Dean Heller (R-Nev.) — who was a longtime health care holdout — hinted at the growing support for a new replacement plan from Senators Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.). That effort will largely be on hold until September 5, when the Senate reconvenes.

Until then, Republicans will have a chance to clear their heads before an even crazier Fall of debt ceiling deadlines, budget debates, tax reform, fiscal year-end budgets, and the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). With so much on the line, McConnell knows his party has plenty of opportunities to redeem itself. As far as Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.) is concerned, it’s not a matter of the Senate dragging its feet. After all, Republicans just delivered on a fifth federal judge — officially putting Trump on a faster pace than Presidents Obama or George Bush. By a 66-31 vote (which included 16 Democrats’ support), Alabama’s Kevin Newsom was confirmed to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

That’s just one of the reasons Senator Scott believes the chamber “has had one of the busier legislative years. We just haven’t had a successful year as it relates to the large items.” Those “large items” will still be waiting when the Senate reconvenes after Labor Day. After a mixed report card, McConnell knows there’s plenty of time on the clock. “Last time I looked, Congress goes on for two years,” he said to critics who warned the GOP’s majority was in jeopardy. For their sake — and America’s — let’s hope they make the most of what’s left.



 

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