Senate leaders spar over what fall agenda should be
McConnell says nominees, Schumer says gun control
BY STEPHEN DINAN THE WASHINGTON TIMES
As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sees it, the fall agenda for Congress is more of the same — speeding President Trump’s nominees and working to keep the government open with a new round of spending bills.
Democrats are intent on changing that calculus, saying Thursday that any legislative session that doesn’t debate new gun controls or try to punish Russia for its 2016 election meddling would be a travesty.
Lawmakers return next week after a lengthy summer vacation that saw several horrific mass shootings elevate guns to a top-level issue, and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said in a letter to colleagues that they must quickly approve a background-check expansion bill that’s already cleared the House.
“There have been 289 mass shootings so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. That is not counting the thousands of other acts of gun violence, which are no less damaging to the victims, families, and communities in which they occur,” Mr. Schumer said.
Democrats are intent on having a freewheeling fight on the Senate floor, figuring that they’ll either prevail on the policy or at the very least force Republicans to cast votes that can be used against them in elections.
Mr. McConnell is trying to head off that sort of fight.
He’s said he will only put a bill on the floor if it’s clear the policy has enough support to become law — meaning it can pass the Senate and get President Trump’s signature. He said this week he’s waiting for word from the White House about what the president wants to see.
In a memo to reporters, Mr. McConnell’s office said his priorities in September will be approving the president’s nominees, with votes scheduled beginning Monday on an ambassadorial post.
Then the Senate will turn to the annual spending process, where Congress must approve 12 bills to fund government operations before a shutdown deadline of Sept. 30.
Mr. Schumer seemed less worried about preventing a shutdown and more interested in setting up thorny fights over the spending bills.
He said Democrats will try to insert money into the bills to pay for better election security.
But he, along with Mr.
McConnell, the top leaders in the House and Mr. Trump’s team all struck a deal earlier this summer to keep the spending process as painless as possible. One of the terms was no big new policy fights breaking out.
Democrats are determined to try to find some way to raise issues surrounding Russian meddling and Mr. Trump’s attitude toward it.
In the House, that means an ongoing inquiry Democrats say is the prelude to possible impeachment. Senate Democrats, in the minority in their chamber, don’t have investigative powers, but can make life troublesome for Mr. McConnell through use of the legislative filibuster.
“Leader McConnell has blocked efforts by Senate Democrats to pass commonsense election security legislation. We must continue our push to protect our elections at the federal, state, and local levels, especially in the upcoming Senate appropriations process,” Mr. Schumer said.
Mr. McConnell says there’s already strong action on election security going on behind the scenes that Americans don’t know about.
Other priorities for Mr. Schumer include legislation to punish China after its crackdown on protests in Hong Kong, and will dabble in health care legislation, attempting to turn back a Trump administration rule that would give states more power to approve affordable, though less robust health plans for sale under Obamacare.
Democrats say their support for Obamacare delivered victories in last year’s congressional elections, and are eager for a repeat in 2020.