Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had a warning for his colleagues: You may have to work between Christmas and the New Year to accomplish all of our goals.
Those targets include spending measures to avoid a partial government shutdown. The Kentucky Republican's to-do list also contains clear nods to President Donald Trump's priorities.
"We need to confirm more of the president's nominees for the judiciary and for the executive branch," McConnell said Tuesday. He also surprised some by announcing that "at the request of the president and following improvements to the legislation," the Senate would take up bipartisan criminal justice reform this month.
Shortly after McConnell's remarks, Trump met with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the likely next House speaker when Democrats take a majority in three weeks. Unlike McConnell, they showed no desire to help Trump as he seeks money for his proposed border wall in a year-end spending bill. Schumer and Pelosi flatly denied Trump's request for funding in a heated on-camera discussion that ended with the president saying he would be "proud" to shut down the government over the border barrier.
In the nearly two years since Trump took office, the president and McConnell have forged an at times uneasy partnership as they sought joint goals such as reshaping the federal courts and overhauling the U.S. tax code. As Tuesday's events showed, the prospects for tension and stalemate over the next two years of divided government make the president's relationship with McConnell all the more important for Trump's policy goals — and potential political survival.
Democrats picked up 40 House seats in November's midterm elections, and will have at least 235 members in their House majority next month. The gains make it impossible for Trump to push any of his goals — on health care, immigration or taxes — through the House without Democratic support. But in the Senate, where the GOP will hold 53 of 100 seats next year, the president can still get a lot done, with an assist from McConnell.