Schumer Prepares for Summer of Confrontation With Republicans
(Bloomberg) -- Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is preparing a summer agenda that’s set to bring more confrontation than deals with Republicans even as President Joe Biden continues his quest to bring the GOP on board for his infrastructure plans.
Senators return to work next week expected to deliver a bipartisan victory with passage of a bill designed to bolster the U.S. competitive posture toward China.
But that barely will cover the sour note from their departure from Washington last Friday: The first use of the filibuster this year by Republicans blocked legislation to establish a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. It won’t be the last time GOP deploys the filibuster with Schumer muscling ahead with votes on issues that most sharply split the two political parties, including measures on voting rights and paycheck equality.
The rough path ahead may trigger some intra-party Democratic turmoil. The filibuster of the Jan. 6 commission renewed calls within the party to change Senate rules to get rid of the tactic, which gives the minority party power over the agenda through the 60-vote threshold to advance legislation.
“I used to be a believer in that rule, needing for more consensus, empowering the minority, but it’s reached a point now where you have tyranny of the minority where the minority is controlling the agenda,” Democratic Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania said Saturday on MSNBC’s “PoliticsNation” program.
Schumer last week hinted that more pressure will be applied on two Democratic moderates, Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, to drop their opposition to limiting the filibuster’s reach. Both also have expressed reluctance to bypassing the GOP to get some major portions of Biden’s agenda through the Senate using a legislative shortcut called budget reconciliation.
“I think the events of the last few days probably made every member of our caucus realize that a lot of our Republican colleagues are not willing to work with us on a whole lot of issues, even on issues where we try to be bipartisan,” Schumer said.
The New York Democrat outlined an agenda for June beginning with a vote to take up the Democrat-backed Paycheck Fairness Act, which requires employers to prove that pay disparities between men and women are job-related. It is broadly opposed by Republicans.
Other items on the Democrats’ list could include legislation requiring background checks for private gun sales, LGBTQ equality legislation and then a vote on a Democrat-drafted bill to overhaul voting rights, which all Republicans and Manchin oppose.
Schumer also promises a July debate on Biden’s infrastructure and economic proposals, though the White House and Republicans remain far apart in their talks. The president is set to meet Wednesday afternoon with Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, the lead GOP negotiator.
So far, the only infrastructure measure with broad support in the chamber is a $303.5 billion highway bill approved unanimously this month by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, though some Biden ideas, like subsidies to expand broadband access, have broad bipartisan backing.
There is one set of talks that shows real potential of reaching an agreement in coming weeks: a comprehensive package of policing reforms in the wake of last year’s death of George Floyd, the Black Minneapolis man killed by a White police officer. Senator Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican, Senator Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, and Democratic Representative Karen Bass of California are leading talks that could yield legislation improving officer training, setting federal standards for no-knock warrants, limiting use of chokeholds and other long-sought changes.
Still, they have yet to resolve how best to hold officers accountable in cases of police brutality, including the question of whether individual officers should continue to have a shield against liability in civil lawsuits filed by victims or their families. Speaking Tuesday in his home state of Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reiterated his opposition to ending the legal doctrine of “qualified immunity.”
“Without qualified immunity, how do you get people to do law enforcement work?” McConnell said at a news event in Owensboro, Kentucky.
The coming weeks will be key in checking off some items on Democrats’ to-do list, because a debate over averting a government shutdown and boosting the nation’s debt limit threaten to consume the late summer and early fall.
Up until last week, the Senate has largely been immersed in confirming Biden’s cabinet and other appointees as well as approving some bipartisan measures including a water resources bill. The China competitiveness bill, which was supposed to send senators home for Memorial Day after notching another consensus win, hit some snags that showed the power of just a few minority-party senators to hold things up -- hinting at the bigger challenges ahead for Biden’s agenda.
Most Democrats and most Republicans agree on the legislation to pump more than $150 billion into research and development and aid for domestic semiconductor manufacturing.
“This has been the most extended, most inclusive regular-order process that I’ve been party to since I’ve been a member of the United States Senate,” said GOP Senator Todd Young of Indiana, who was elected in 2016 and co-sponsored the measure with Schumer.
Despite broad, bipartisan support for the bill to bolster the U.S. in its economic rivalry with China, a cluster of GOP senators including Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky threatened to keep the Senate in session through the weekend. In a chamber where unanimous consent is often needed to keep the process moving, leaders of both parties pushed to scotch the debate until after a week-long Memorial Day recess.
That dashed plans for the Senate to leave Washington on a harmonious note, as the chamber turned immediately to a vote on advancing the bill to set up an independent inquiry into the Jan. 6 riot by a mob of Donald Trump’s supporters.
Republicans led by McConnell used the filibuster rule to throttle an outside inquiry over fears Democrats would be able to use it as a cudgel against their party in the 2022 midterms. With two Democrats absent and just six Republicans crossing party lines, the 54-35 vote fell six short of the 60 votes needed to advance.
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