WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate bolted for the exits Wednesday as the chamber abandoned work on cybersecurity legislation and headed home for an almost five-week vacation, leaving the bulk of this year's business for a tumultuous session this fall.
Senate leaders reached a deal to expedite a debate next month on legislation to disapprove President Barack Obama's nuclear weapons deal with Iran, with the main question being whether there will be enough Democratic votes to sustain an expected veto. With that, the cybersecurity measure was shelved, for now, leaving a failed attempt to bring up a measure to "defund" Planned Parenthood as the only roll call vote of the week.
"There will be no further roll call votes this week," said Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., before a mostly empty Senate. Democratic counterpart Harry Reid of Nevada blessed the plan, and expressed hope that the hotly-politicized Iran debate in September will be "dignified, befitting the gravity of the issue."
As the Senate's gas tank approached empty for the summer, the day's chief achievements included approval of ambassadors to Nicaragua, Norway and the Kyrgyz Republic and anointed Sept. 25 as National Lobster Day.
The Senate also approved the nominations of the next members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — Gen. Mark A. Milley to be Chief of Staff of the Army, Adm. John M. Richardson to be Chief of Naval Operations, and Lt. Gen. Robert B. Neller to be general and Commandant of the Marine Corps.
The cybersecurity legislation is likely to be revived but other matters are likely to dominate the fall. They include keeping the government running past an Oct. 1 deadline, welcoming Pope Francis for an address before a joint meeting of Congress and the Cabinet, and finding a way to free must-do spending bills and pass legislation increasing the government's debt limit.
The Senate left on the eve of the first debate for the GOP presidential nomination and the looming campaign promises to hang over the fall session. Republican leaders promise to avoid stumbles like a government shutdown or default on U.S. obligations, but the resulting compromises with Obama are likely to roil core GOP voters.
First will come a debate on the Iran measure, which must be completed by Sept. 17 for Congress to meet a deadline to try to stop Obama's multi-nation agreement that lifts sanctions on Iran in exchange for shelving its ambitions to build a nuclear weapon for at least 10 years.
While legislation rejecting the deal is expected to pass with the votes of many Democrats friendly to Israel, a staunch opponent of the agreement, the administration is confident it can sustain a veto.
The pope's speech will be the first ever before Congress and is expected to blend liberal teachings on social justice and the environment with the church's traditional staunch opposition to abortion.
Also required in September is a stopgap spending bill to avoid a government shutdown at the Oct. 1 start of fiscal 2016. GOP leaders have vowed to avoid a shutdown like the one two years ago that was prompted by a last-ditch effort to block implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
And there's not much time in September. With a late Labor Day and the traditional time off for the Jewish holidays, there are only 10 days in the month scheduled for legislative business.
Conservative revulsion over secretly recorded videotapes of Planned Parenthood officials discussing shipments of fetal tissue and organs has prompted some Republicans to promise to try to "defund" the organization as part of any temporary funding bill.