A bipartisan group of senators, leadership aides and Biden administration officials met late into the night Wednesday, inching closer to a potential agreement on new border and immigration restrictions that could unlock aid for Ukraine, according to sources familiar with the talks.
At the same time, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer took procedural steps that would allow him to force senators to remain in Washington just as the GOP-run House looks ready to leave.
The behind-the-scenes progress ups the pressure on Schumer to decide whether to keep senators in town past today, the last scheduled day in session for the year. In order for that to happen, negotiators will need to show over the next 12 hours or so that the trajectory of the talks remains positive.
In the meantime, Schumer filed cloture on a judicial nominee and a Justice Department nominee Wednesday night, setting up possible votes on Friday. This gives him the option to force floor votes to keep senators here for at least an extra day if needed.
But the Senate has plenty of other issues it needs to address before the end of the year that could also serve as pressure points for the border talks, including legislation to reauthorize the FAA until March. This is set to expire Dec. 31.
On top of that, Schumer wants to confirm the dozen or so four-star general promotions that Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) is continuing to block. And there’s likely to be a package of nominations — mostly for ambassadorships and other diplomatic posts — that’ll need to be cleared.
All it takes is one senator to grind the chamber to a halt over any of these. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) has already threatened to object to the speedy passage of legislation this week to prevent senators from leaving.
Realistically, Senate leaders will need to determine by mid-day whether the border negotiations are progressing well enough to warrant keeping the chamber in session past this week. That’s a big hurdle to clear. And it means today will be a critical test for the negotiators.
One option for Schumer is to keep the Senate in session and voting throughout the weekend. Schumer could dangle the two nominations he teed up Wednesday night or some of the military promotions that senators want to approve before the year’s end.
Schumer could also break for the weekend and bring the chamber back into session on Monday if he gets indications that a bipartisan deal would be in place by next week. Again, this would be extremely optimistic. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has publicly cast doubt on the prospects for voting on a potential immigration-border security-Ukraine deal before January.
There’s more: The Senate ran a hotline Wednesday night on legislation from Sens. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) that would provide back-pay to military officers impacted by Tuberville’s blockade. We’re told the bill now has 37 co-sponsors, including Tuberville. It’s possible this clears the Senate before the holidays.
— Andrew Desiderio