U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday unexpectedly backed a request spearheaded by Georgia U.S. Sen. David Perdue to delay the annual five-week August recess.
The surprise move came about an hour after the freshman Republican said lawmakers should use the extra workdays to advance must-pass bills to fund the government, suspend the country’s debt ceiling and clear the way for the GOP’s ultimate legislative goal: overhauling the tax code.
“This is much bigger than just health care,” Perdue said at a press conference Tuesday. “We’re very close to what people back home are telling us, and that is they expect results up here.”
McConnell, R-Ky., said he would truncate the break by two weeks, which would clear the way for action on health care, the annual defense policy bill and confirming a host of Trump administration nominees.
“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 statement.
McConnell also said Tuesday that he plans to release a revised health care bill by Thursday morning with hopes the Congressional Budget Office can complete its analysis of the legislation by early next week. A vote could come shortly after that.
The request that Congress cancel or delay its August district work period is a near-perennial one on Capitol Hill — and is something party leaders have ignored since the mid-1990s.
But there’s been fear among Republicans about returning home for the summer without any major legislative victories to hold up on key campaign promises such as health care, infrastructure or immigration.
Many representatives, including most Georgia Republicans, have been under fire from some constituents for refusing to hold town hall events in the months since President Donald Trump was sworn into office. Left-leaning opponents have been holding weekly protests outside of Perdue’s Atlanta office.
Early Tuesday, Perdue insisted that his calls to delay recess should not be seen as a way to avoid town halls, which many lawmakers tend to hold in August, and angry constituents.
“Only in Washington would you ask a question ‘Is there a negative motive to this, of trying to hide away from the questions back home?’ ” Perdue told reporters. “Believe me, everybody on this stage goes home every weekend. We’re talking to our constituents every day here in Washington, every day when we’re back home. That’s not the purpose of this at all.”
“There’s only one purpose,” Perdue added, “and that’s to get the results that people back home, who we are talking to, are asking us to get.”
Only one of Georgia’s 12 GOP lawmakers, U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter of Pooler, has held an in-person town hall since January. Some have opted for telephone town halls, which offer a more carefully controlled format, while others have avoided the spotlight outright.
Perdue launched his effort two weeks ago with an op-ed in the right-leaning blog The Daily Signal, shortly after the Freedom Caucus fired off a similar request in the House. He penned a letter to McConnell several days later, which won the support of nine other GOP colleagues. Within days, Trump and the head of the Republican National Committee were trumpeting the cause.
“I cannot imagine that Congress would dare to leave Washington without a beautiful new HealthCare bill fully approved and ready to go!” Trump tweeted Monday.
It’s unclear whether House GOP leaders will match the Senate’s schedule change. A spokesman for Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who manages the House floor, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Chuck Schumer of New York, the Senate’s top Democrat, said two more weeks in Washington will do little to solve the GOP’s legislative woes.
“They’ve had six months on this (health care) bill, since Jan. 4. They haven’t been able to make any progress,” Schumer said. “Two weeks is not going to solve their problem.”
Schumer continued: “I have sympathy for the Republicans. If I were them, I wouldn’t want to go home and face the voters either.”