McConnell gives two vulnerable senators a boost with vote on outdoor recreation bill

Two vulnerable GOP senators got a boost to their reelection bids Thursday when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) promised to bring a major outdoor recreation bill to the floor next month.

McConnell handed a win to Republican Sens. Cory Gardner (Colo.) and Steve Daines (Mont.) when he said the chamber would take up their Great American Outdoors Act next month.

The legislation would permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which provides money to protect and conserve habitats of endangered species, develop parks and outdoor recreation sites and protect sensitive forests. It’s a boon to hunters and fishers as it protects certain areas from development.

McConnell made the announcement after working out a deal with Gardner on Thursday afternoon to allow the Senate to recess for the week of Memorial Day — something Gardner threatened to object to because the Senate has failed to draft a new round of coronavirus relief legislation after reconvening in Washington on May 4.

The recreation bill is also a win for Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), whose legislation to address the nearly $12 billion deferred maintenance backlog at the National Park Service will be included in the Great American Outdoors Act, according to a Senate aide.

Portman has praised the bill as “landmark legislation that carries on Teddy Roosevelt’s legacy of protecting our public lands for future generations.”

Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Angus King (I-Maine) are co-sponsors of the bill to address the parks maintenance backlog.

Gardner on Thursday also pointed to progress on legislation to extend the lending window of the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a core component of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act that passed in late March.

“We’re very close to a number of things that are needed,” he said when asked about his decision not to stand in the way of the Senate going on a weeklong recess despite little progress toward new coronavirus legislation.

“So we’re close. PPP and some other things that will help Colorado. We’ve always got more work to do. I feel good about what we can hopefully accomplish here,” he added.

Gardner’s Democratic opponent, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, however, hit him for not getting more from the GOP leader.

“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. “Coloradans need help now.”

Tags Angus King Cory Gardner John Hickenlooper Lamar Alexander Mark Warner Mitch McConnell Rob Portman Steve Daines

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