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We Now Know Why Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Really Cancelled the Senate's August Recess

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) canceled most of the Senate's August recess on Tuesday, cutting into what traditionally is an opportunity for lawmakers to return to their districts. His decision also keeps Democrats in Washington during crucial campaigning time ahead of the November midterms.


August recess allows members of the Senate to go home and hold events with constituents, particularly in an election year. “I think we have enough work to do for the American people that we should be here during these weeks,” McConnell said. In total, 35 Senate seats are up for grabs in November, and 24 of them are held by Democrats.

“He’s taking summer vacation as a hostage,” Democratic strategist Brian Fallon tweeted.

Ten Senate Democrats who represent states which voted for President Donald Trump in 2016 are facing tough reelection battles this fall. So is Republican Senator Dean Heller of Nevada, who remains the only incumbent Republican in a state carried by Democrat Hillary Clinton.

By keeping the Senate in Washington, McConnell may force Democrats to choose between staying in Washington or campaigning for their political lives and potentially missing votes. McConnell said the extra time will be used for confirming judicial nominees and passing spending bills, though no formal agenda has been laid out, at least publicly.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) sent a letter to McConnell on Wednesday asking him to set aside time in August to vote on Democratic health care proposals. In the letter, which was obtained by Politico, Schumer blasted Republicans on their lack of action on health care.

"We believe this previously unscheduled session time can be put to good use to finally help Americans secure the affordable health care the President and Congressional Republicans have thus far failed to deliver," Schumer wrote.

Schumer also took aim at Republicans' repeal of Obamcare's individual mandate, which was part of the tax cut package passed last year. "This sabotage also has those with pre-existing conditions once again facing the prospect of denied coverage, increased costs, and medical bankruptcy," he Schumer added.

Despite this, McConnell appears to be focused on confirming Trump's judicial nominees.

The Republican-led Senate has confirmed a historic number of federal judgeships, and with the summer recess now significantly reduced, it's clear that continuing this trend is McConnell's priority in the event Democrats retake one or both chambers of Congress this fall.

McConnell shortened what is usually a four-week break into just the first week of August, a move which was hailed by some of his fellow Republicans. “Thank God for Leader McConnell’s decision to cancel August recess so that the Senate can finally get to work,” Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) tweeted Tuesday afternoon.

John Cornyn (R-TX), the number two Republican in the Senate, didn't deny the political motivation behind the schedule change. “I think now they’re desperate because now they realize they’re more exposed politically because they’ve got so many people up running for re-election in red states," he told reporters on Tuesday.

Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) told Fox News that Democrats were guilty of "historic obstruction."

Trump also praised McConnell's decision, tweeting on Tuesday that "maybe the Democrats will finally get something done other than their acceptance of High Crime and High Taxes."

Several Democrats scoffed at the schedule change, including Wisconsin's Tammy Baldwin, whose 10 electoral college votes were narrowly won by Trump in 2016.

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.

“We were sent here to vote, we were sent here to do our job," said North Dakota's Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp. "I’m perfectly fine with it.”

There will still be opportunities for Senators to travel to their home districts, such as on long weekends, however, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WVA) said, “we ought to start working on Mondays and Fridays, too. 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.”

Montana's Jon Tester also supported the decision. "I will work with anyone who is willing to keep stacking more important bills on President Trump’s desk this summer," he said.

One senior Democratic said Republicans are nervous about the midterms. “The fact that the Republicans have resorted to keeping Democrats off the campaign trail in August shows you just how nervous they are about November,” he said.