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Senate leader cancels most of August recess, forcing campaign schedule scramble

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell’s move will complicate campaiging for senators holding onto vulnerable seats.
Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images/File 2018
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell’s move will complicate campaiging for senators holding onto vulnerable seats.

WASHINGTON — The Senate will cancel most of its annual August recess, majority leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, told senators on Tuesday, an election-year move that will force vulnerable Democratic senators to shuffle their campaign schedules.

The Senate will now recess for one week in August instead of four, McConnell said. He made the announcement in a closed-door lunch with Republican senators, according to several people familiar with his comments.

His decision has been widely anticipated in the Senate Republican Conference. Some GOP senators sent a letter to McConnell last month urging him to keep the chamber in session to vote on nominations and legislation, and Senate leaders have said the appetite to stay in town has grown in their ranks.

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‘‘Senators should expect to remain in session in August to pass legislation, including appropriations bills, and to make additional progress on the president’s nominees,’’ McConnell said in a statement.

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The additional workweeks in August mean that endangered Democratic senators on the ballot this year will face a dilemma: stay in Washington, attend to Senate business during time they could otherwise use to campaign back home, or remain in their states and face criticism that they are shirking their responsibilities.

The new schedule could also enable their Republican challengers — many of whom hail from the private sector or state government — to have the states to themselves during the late summer stretch.

The House still plans to be out of session for the month of August.

Democrats are defending 26 Senate seats this year, including two represented by independents in Vermont and Maine, and 10 in states President Trump won in 2016. Republicans have nine on the ballot.

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The new August schedule is problematic for one vulnerable Republican: Nevada Senator Dean Heller, who is facing reelection in a state Hillary Clinton won in 2016.

After a roller-coaster 2017 for the Republican-controlled Senate, which failed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act but later passed a sweeping tax bill that became law, GOP leaders have set a more modest agenda for the months leading up to the midterm elections. The Senate has mostly been focused on confirming executive branch nominees and judges.

Senate Republicans’s biggest priority in the midterms is trying to keep control of the chamber.