Mitch McConnell announces the Senate August recess will be cut short

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. listens as Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo. speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 11, 2017, following a closed-door Republican strategy session. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced on Tuesday that he will be cutting the traditional five-week August recess short so the chamber can work through a packed legislative agenda and fill a number of vacancies across the government.

"In order to provide more time to complete action on important legislative items and process nominees that have been stalled by a lack of cooperation from our friends across the aisle, the Senate will delay the start of the August recess until the third week of August," McConnell said in a press release.

The recess was originally scheduled to begin on Friday, July 28 and end on Tuesday, September 5.

The Republican legislative agenda has been delayed as a result of a tougher than anticipated fight over repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Other items that President Trump and Republicans campaigned on, including tax reform, regulatory reform and infrastructure have hardly been touched.

Additionally, the Republican leadership acknowledged that they were up against a nearly impossible deadline to pass 12 appropriations bills, a budget and lift the federal debt limit before the October 1 start of the fiscal year.

McConnell told reporters on Tuesday that he plans to move ahead with a vote on the GOP health care bill by next week. A new draft will be released on Thursday morning.

After completing the work on health care, the Senate will turn to other issues including passing the National Defense Authorization Act, dealing with debt ceiling, and addressing the backlog of Trump administration nominations that "have been mindlessly stalled by Democrats," McConnell said.

In recent days, President Donald Trump has urged members of Congress to stay in session and put a health care bill on his desk before the August recess. He has also expressed frustration that Senate Democrats have been slow-walking the confirmation process.

Trump's nominees have seen unprecedented delays, which Republicans have blamed on Democratic obstruction. Democrats, in turn, blame Trump who has formally offered only 129 names for the more than 300 government positions that require Senate confirmation.

On Monday, White House legislative liaison Marc Short went so far as to suggest President Trump would consider canceling the recess and calling members back into session if the Senate was unable to make progress in confirming his nominees.

McConnell's decision to postpone the August recess came after a group of ten Republican senators formally requested the recess be canceled or truncated.

Sen. David Perdue of Georgia led the effort and was joined Sens. Steve Daines of Montana, Joni Ernst of Iowa, John Kennedy of Louisiana, Mike Lee of Utah, James Lankford of Oklahoma, Mike Rounds of South Dakota, Luther Strange of Alabama, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Dan Sullivan of Alaska.

Six of the ten senators held a press conference on Tuesday afternoon just before McConnell made his announcement.

The newest member of the Senate, Luther Strange perhaps put it best when he told reporters that the people of his state elected the president and members of Congress to change Washington. "We're not doing that when we're on vacation."

Congress is regularly criticized for having a light schedule, often arriving at the Capitol late on Monday or early Tuesday and ending the work week on Thursday.

In total the Senate scheduled only 182 legislative days in 2017. The House planned a slightly lighter schedule with 145 days in session.

"We have got to work longer and harder ... and show some results for the American people," freshman Louisiana Sen. Kennedy said, adding, "I don't know many working-class Americans who get to take a whole month off."

Sen. Dan Sullivan argued that lawmakers need to make the time to hash out a tax reform plan, an infrastructure spending bill and other priorities.

"If we're essentially working three days a week, which is what we do, we're not going to get it done," he said.

Sen. Lee suggested that members "need to begin looking at things like weekends" and "be prepared to work long hours."

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) made a similar suggestion in an interview on Fox News earlier in the day, arguing the five-week recess is "crazy" given the schedule and the current impasse on health care.

"Let’s work every day, let’s work weekends, let’s work until we get the job done," Cruz argued. "We have a job to do and a short window of time, and so we ought to stop taking recesses, stop taking time off and just keep going until we get it done."

McConnell announced the change in schedule to members during a weekly lunch meeting. Sen. Strange told Sinclair that during that meeting, they discussed extending the Senate's working hours from early in the morning to late at night and even over weekends.

Senate Democrats reacted to extended work period with deep skepticism.

The second-ranking Democrat, Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.) told Sinclair Broadcast Group that he thinks McConnell is trying to protect his members from having to confront angry constituents during the recess.

"The opposition to the Republican health care bill is so strong, he doesn't want his members to go home. They don't want to face it," he said.

Meanwhile, Democrats will use the extended work period to continue to mount their opposition to the health care plan. "We understand what's at stake here," Durbin said, referring to official estimates that as many as 22 million Americans could lose health insurance under the GOP plan. "This is high-stakes political poker."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) also suggested that the Republicans were postponing the recess to avoid having to face voters, who overwhelmingly disapprove of their health bill.

"The problem the Republicans are having with health care is not time, it's the substance of the bill," Schumer charged. "They've had six months on this bill ... They haven't been able to make any progress. Two weeks isn't going to solve their problem."

A number of Republicans denied allegations that they wanted to extend the legislative session because the health care bill was in trouble.

"This is bigger than health care," Sen. Perdue explained. "This is about getting ... the president's agenda done this year so that we can look back at the people back home and say, 'Okay, this is what you sent us up here to do.' And that is to break through the gridlock and actually get some things done."

In the next two weeks, McConnell will continue to face challenges within his conference. To pass the health care bill, he can only afford to lose two votes. After the original draft of the health care bill was released on June 26, at least ten Republican senators announced they would not be able to support it.

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