Given McConnell's insistence on blocking many Democratic initiatives, some lawmakers are skeptical that this Congress will have much to show by the end of 2020.
"Certainly, at the beginning of a new Congress, there's presumably a lot of time to do what you want to get done," said McConnell's Kentucky colleague, Rep. John Yarmuth, a Democrat and the chair of the House Budget Committee. Yet McConnell "doesn't seem to want to do anything, regardless, and that's frustrating," he said.
"I'm always hesitant to judge a Congress this early in its two-year calendar: Getting off to a slow start doesn't preclude Congress catching up later in the year (or next)," said Sarah Binder, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.
"So while their record this year looks pretty slim," she said, "that doesn't necessarily mean it'll be a do-nothing Congress when it's all over." Binder said she remains skeptical that this particular Congress will pick up the pace. "Although House Democrats seem to have a steady agenda of issues to pursue, Senate Republicans seem to have little on their plate besides confirming presidential appointees, particularly judges," she said.
On the agenda in the Senate this week are votes on three federal judges and a State Department nominee, and lawmakers from both sides are trying to iron out a disaster aid bill.
Republicans insist the emphasis on approving judges is a vitally important way of assuring that conservative values and limited government endure.
By sticking to their talking points, Hamilton said, members of Congress boost their own stature. "There are some things Congress does very well," he said, such as reflecting constituents' views and engaging in constituent service. As a result, he said, it's a political plus "to make themselves look good and make the institution look bad."
Republican senators said they're not yet frustrated with the languid legislative pace, and that careful deliberation is important.
"We know the difficulty we're going to have in passing anything and I think all of us are working on things to develop bipartisan agreement so you might actually have a chance of passing something, and that just takes a little more time," said Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican.
Congress has passed, and Trump has signed, 17 bills into law this year, none of them controversial and few of them hugely significant, but included was legislation to keep the federal government running after a 35-day shutdown.