Sen. Cory Gardner abandoned plans to try to scuttle the Memorial Day recess for his colleagues in exchange for a promised vote on a public lands bill when the Senate returns in June.
“Thanks to the hard work of Sens. Gardner and [Steve] Daines, we’ll be able to take up their bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act in the next work period,” McConnell said on the Senate floor, minutes before sending the chamber on recess.
The bill would fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund and deal with the maintenance backlog at national parks. But Gardner had made his threat to upend travel plans for his colleagues because he wanted the chamber to work on coronavirus legislation, not necessarily his public lands bill.
In a release, Gardner painted his bill as one that would provide jobs in Colorado.
“Our mountain towns were hit hard by COVID-19. The ski season ended early, restaurants closed, and hotels emptied. Now is the time to pass this bill that will provide billions of dollars in funding for new jobs across Colorado and the country while protecting our public lands,” he said in the statement.
The bill got the backing of President Donald Trump in early March and was to be taken up by the Senate shortly thereafter. That was before the pandemic refocused the work of Congress.
Gardner surprised many Wednesday by threatening to stop the Senate recess. He tweeted that it’s “unfathomable” for the chamber to go on a 10-day recess before considering additional coronavirus aid measures. The Senate has been in session the past couple of weeks, but mainly voting on nominations and confirmations.
The Republican from Yuma faces a tough re-election this fall. His first campaign re-election ad has touted the steps he’s taken to help Colorado in this pandemic. And his threat was a rare public disagreement with GOP Senate leadership on how quickly to act on additional coronavirus legislation.
Former Gov. John Hickenlooper, who hopes to win the Democratic nomination to challenge Gardner in November, said Coloradans need help now, not next month.
"Cory Gardner made a big stink about keeping the Senate in Washington, but less than a day later, he's given up and seems happy to do whatever Mitch McConnell says," Hickenlooper said in a statement.
While Gardner and some other Republican senators have been pushing for more coronavirus aid, McConnell has said repeatedly that a “pause” is needed to see how the money Congress has already spent is or is not working.
Senators left Washington, D.C., without taking up any coronavirus legislation.
There was hope that a bipartisan agreement to fix the popular Payment Protection Program would pass before recess. Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who also faces a tough re-election fight this fall, introduced the bill on the Senate floor Thursday as talk swirled about a possible vote on the measure before Senators headed back home to face voters.
The bill would give businesses 16 weeks to use the loans, instead of eight, it would extend the deadline to apply for PPP loans until the end of the year, and would give businesses some flexibility in how to use that money, including purchasing PPE or making “adaptive investments” so businesses could re-open safely. It’s something many small business owners have been asking for.
But that hope proved fleeting. McConnell instead said when the Senate reconvenes in June it will “first continue to fill critical vacancies in the executive branch.” He added senators will “discuss ways to help the nation pivot toward re-opening and economic recovery.”
The House will be in session next week. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said they will vote on changes to PPP, including extending the timeline to use the funds.