Sullivan gets his wish for canceled Senate recess while Murkowski fumes

WASHINGTON — Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan got his wish: no August recess for the Senate this year. But his colleague Sen. Lisa Murkowski is not as enthused about the plan.

On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell "canceled" the traditional August legislative break for the Senate. Instead, lawmakers can go home the first week of the month and are scheduled to return for the last three weeks.

Sullivan and some of his freshman Senate colleagues lobbied for the change with their #MakeCongressWorkAgain campaign, launched last month.

[Sullivan's 'work through recess' group prods Senate leadership for less time off] 

"Due to the historic obstruction by Senate Democrats of the president's nominees, and the goal of passing appropriations bills prior to the end of the fiscal year, the August recess has been canceled. 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, R-Ky., said in a statement released Tuesday.

Sullivan cheered the announcement. Canceling most of August recess "represents a determined effort by the Republican-led Senate to make the best use of the time we have left in order to fill critical vacancies within the government and give the Alaskan and American people the solutions and relief they have demanded," he said in a statement.

But Murkowski offered a different solution to getting more work done.


"Well, I'll tell you, I know how to make that happen. If anybody's interested, they can just ask me. It is: Stay here after 1:45 on Thursday afternoon, and come back before 5:30 (p.m.) on Monday," Murkowski said Wednesday when asked about McConnell's announcement.

Every Thursday, the last vote is early in the afternoon, "and it's not because we turn into pumpkins," but because some members want to head home early, Murkowski said.

The August recess is an opportunity for senators to travel throughout home states, which can be time-consuming, she said.

"This is when I am working my tail off getting to Nuiqsut, to Anchorage, to Kodiak, to Ketchikan. And I love it. And I am willing to put tracks down all throughout August. But this is when people expect to see me, because I can get outside of Anchorage, or I can get outside of Fairbanks.

"So if we were to stay here until Friday at 5, and start votes by, like, 10 o'clock on Monday, we would have two full days more each week, and we wouldn't need to be working in August," she said in a hallway interview in a Senate office building.

"We could do this through the month of June and the month of July. … I agree, we've got work to do. But maybe, just maybe, if we were to put in a full week, every week, we would be able to spend this time getting back in our home states to get around," Murkowski said.

Sullivan argued it is more important to stay in Washington. "While the August recess is vitally important to my duties as Alaska's senator — particularly given our size, unique geography and the fact that over 80 percent of our communities are off the road system — Alaskans understand the importance of staying in Washington, D.C., to continue the important progress being made on nominees, judges and fixing our broken budget process," he said.

The cancellation might be taken with a note of skepticism: Last year, Sullivan and friends pressured McConnell to cancel August recess. He met them halfway and canceled the first two weeks. But once Democrats agreed to confirm dozens of executive-branch nominees to federal agencies, the senators went home after only a few extra days in the chamber.

But this year, McConnell has his eye on completing appropriations bills too — something the Senate hasn't managed in years. In fact, Congress has passed all 12 appropriations bills only four times since 1974.

Erica Martinson

Erica Martinson is a former reporter for the Anchorage Daily News based in Washington, D.C.