Senate’s August Recess Cut, Keeping Democrats Off Campaign Trail
Posted June 5, 2018 8:15 p.m. EDT
WASHINGTON — Sen. Mitch McConnell announced Tuesday that he is canceling most of the Senate’s monthlong August recess, a move that could keep vulnerable Democrats tethered to Washington as the midterm elections approach.
McConnell, R-Ky., the majority leader, presented the schedule change as an opportunity for lawmakers to pass spending legislation and to approve more of President Donald Trump’s nominees.
But with 10 Democratic senators up for re-election in states won by Trump in the 2016 presidential election, the campaign implications were hard to overlook. If McConnell goes through with a full August schedule, vulnerable Democratic senators would most likely face the prospects of skipping some votes in Washington to campaign at home — and risk being accused of shirking official duties.
Only one Republican incumbent, Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, faces a similar dilemma. He is the lone Republican running for re-election in a state won by Hillary Clinton, Trump’s Democratic rival in 2016, and he too might be prevented from campaigning.
“I think we have enough work to do for the American people that we should be here during these weeks,” McConnell said, blaming Democrats for being obstructionist. Some Republican senators had agitated that the leader make just such a move, and they cheered the decision Tuesday.
“Thank God for Leader McConnell’s decision to cancel August recess so that the senate can finally get to work,” Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the Judiciary Committee chairman, wrote on Twitter.
Instead of having a four-week break in August, the Senate will now have a weeklong recess early that month and then will return for the remaining three weeks. The House, where every seat will be on the ballot in November, is scheduled to have a five-week recess beginning in late July, and a Republican leadership aide in that chamber said no scheduling changes were planned.
McConnell and his fellow Republican leaders in the Senate do not appear to have any particularly grand plans for what to do in August. He said the Senate would use the time to continue to approve nominees, which it has been doing all year, and to pass spending bills, an annual task for lawmakers.
And it is not clear how much damage three weeks in Washington would do to Democratic senators, who would still have long weekends to campaign. The dog days of August are typically not when voters are tuned in to midterm elections.
Lawmakers face a Sept. 30 deadline to pass spending legislation to avoid a government shutdown Oct. 1, when the 2019 fiscal year begins. This year, it took lawmakers until March to pass a broad spending bill for fiscal 2018, which was already almost halfway over. At the time, Trump expressed dissatisfaction and said he would never again sign a similar measure. For fiscal 2019, lawmakers are trying to pass spending legislation in pieces, and in a more timely fashion.
On Tuesday, Democrats, trying to make the most of a scheduling decision that leaves them at a disadvantage, emerged from their weekly policy luncheon and tried to pressure their Republican colleagues to dedicate the reclaimed time in August to addressing rising health care and prescription drug costs.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the minority leader, told reporters that working through August gave the Senate a “perfect opportunity” to expand Medicare access, increase tax credits for families purchasing health insurance and create a national reinsurance program aimed at lowering insurance premiums. He said he expected Trump to skip his August vacation, as well, and to remain in Washington.
Senators most affected by the schedule change simply shrugged — at least publicly.
“Frankly, the best thing I can do for the people of Wisconsin is fight to lower health care costs, fight to lower prescription drug costs — and we would look forward to the opportunity to deliver results on health care policy during the August recess,” said Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., when asked if the schedule change would hurt her campaign.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, another vulnerable Democrat, said: “We were sent here to vote, we were sent here to do our job. I’m perfectly fine with it.”
Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., a moderate running for re-election in a state in which Trump won roughly two-thirds of the vote, said he would like to see Senate leaders go further.
“We ought to start working on Mondays and Fridays, too,” he said. “I always thought you had a workweek Monday to Friday. I never did get a four-week vacation, so I never did understand that here.”