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Senate ends its year with a whimper

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Senators cleared nearly a dozen long-stalled four-star military positions late on Tuesday evening as lawmakers left for the year without action on international aid or border security policy.

In addition, the chamber cleared a short-term extension of the Federal Aviation Administration’s authorization by voice vote after Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) dropped his hold, sending the bill to President Joe Biden’s desk.

“We have no more votes until we return in January,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the floor late Tuesday. “We are going to be in session [Wednesday] to do housekeeping business, but there are no more votes scheduled” until 2024.

What about those talks? Senators left without legislative text or a detailed framework for a deal that would pair border security policy changes with foreign aid, but Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a rare joint statement touting “encouraging progress” in the talks and vowing action “early in the new year.”

“Challenging issues remain, but we are committed to addressing needs at the southern border and to helping allies and partners confront serious threats in Israel, Ukraine and the Indo-Pacific,” the statement read. “The Senate will not let these national security challenges go unanswered.”

One of the lead negotiators, Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), told reporters on Tuesday evening he was “going to be here a while” and that lawmakers would keep talking via Zoom and video calls over the holiday period.

“We’ll keep working until we’re done,” he said.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), another lead negotiator on the border-Ukraine deal, indicated the group planned to meet at some point Wednesday and said “I’m talking to Chuck Schumer all the time these days” about the status of the talks.

As for this year’s business: The movement on the military nominations, long-held by Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), comes even as the senator from Alabama gained nothing in return.

In addition, the chamber confirmed former federal prosecutor John Russell to serve on the U.S. District Court for Northern Oklahoma by voice vote, Tuesday’s second confirmation to an Oklahoma judicial seat.

Jordain Carney contributed.