As President Joe Biden urges Democrats to remain united against poison pill amendments that may come up in an hours-long, overnight vote-a-rama later this week, Republicans are preparing to make the final hours of the Democratic efforts to pass their relief bill politically painful and physically exhausting.
Republicans are aiming to put Democrats on the spot on not just making their bill more targeted — something some moderates have been calling for — but also pulling out specific and controversial provisions in the Covid relief bill. Multiple Republicans, for example, had been planning amendments to make Democrats take tough votes on two transit projects in New York and California that they — and some Democrats — had criticized as having nothing to do with Covid relief. Those projects were stripped out of the bill Tuesday evening.
Multiple GOP members and aides familiar with the planning tell CNN that the plan is two-fold: try to peel Democratic members off on a few key amendment votes to demonstrate differences within the Democratic ranks as well as create some ripe-for-campaign moments that can be made into political ads later on. It’s a similar strategy they already deployed in February during the initial vote-a-rama on the bill.
“It’s all about TV commercials,” said Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas. “Make people accountable for their votes. There is not much they can do if they are determined to hang together there is nothing we can do to change the outcome. If they really want to do this, they can probably get it done.”
Unlike the last vote-a-rama where amendment votes didn’t have the power of law, the vote-a-rama ahead will be a real opportunity to change the underlying bill. Any amendment only needs 51 votes to pass, but there is a catch. At the very end of the process, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer can introduce a final amendment that would strip any changes from the bill. That’s exactly what Schumer did the last time around to ensure the underlying bill was intact. Still, Schumer has urged Democrats privately to vote against Republican amendments that come up and not split the caucus.
“I would hope that we could get some amendments on the bill that make it better, but also at the end, I would hope we don’t see another substitute amendment that totally undoes what the Senate had agreed on,” Sen. Deb Fischer, a Republican from Nebraska, said.
In his private call with Senate Democrats Tuesday, Biden urged his caucus to stay in line. But, the amendments presented over the next 48 hours will put Democrats in a tough position to not just stay united, but also stay consistent. Last time around, several amendments passed with Democratic support including one that allowed for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to continue. Another amendment to block high-end earners from receiving stimulus payments passed with overwhelmingly bipartisan support. And a group of eight Democrats voted “yes” on an amendment that would have banned immigrants in the country illegally from receiving stimulus checks.
“The best campaign ads are the ones about how a politician was for something before they were against it,” one Republican senator told CNN about the planned strategy ahead.
Democrats are also facing internal divisions about how to handle an amendment planned from someone on their own side. Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, has said he plans to introduce an amendment that would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. While Schumer has privately encouraged Democrats to vote against every Republican amendment presented during the vote-a-rama, many Democrats believe Sanders’ amendment violates the spirit of unity among the caucus and it’s causing heartburn.
“Sanders has created the most difficult vote for Democrats,” one Democratic aide told CNN.
Adding the amendment to the bill runs afoul to the parliamentarian’s guidance and stripping it from the bill would put the onus on Schumer to remove it, a difficult political position for the majority leader.
Democrats are still working to finalize their relief bill in the next 24 hours with a series of outstanding issues from increasing funding for broadband to including money for rural hospitals through the provider relief fund still outstanding. Multiple aides familiar with the talks are still optimistic that the legislation would come to the floor for consideration Wednesday. Once that happens there will be 20 hours of debate before the vote-a-rama.