Democrats Play Hardball and Pledge to Paralyze the Senate

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Democrats in the U.S. Senate are planning to stop the consideration of all non-shutdown legislation on the floor of the Senate until Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans allow a vote on spending bills passed by the House last week.

The new tough tactic is intended to place increasing pressure on McConnell as the partial federal government shutdown is now in its third week. McConnell has said that he will not allow a vote on the House-passed appropriations bills because they would not be signed into law by the president.

Trump is demanding that Democrats agree to fund construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border but they refuse to do that, creating an impasse in Washington.

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Washington insiders believe that if the Senate were to also pass the same bills previously passed by the House that Trump might be pressured into signing them, and end the shutdown.

Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland represents a state with a very large number of federal employees affected by the shutdown. He has been speaking to other Senate Democrats to adopt the strategy that he has proposed. He tweeted over the weekend:

Senate Democrats should block consideration of any bills unrelated to opening the government until Sen. Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans allow a vote on the bipartisan bills the House passed to open the government. Mitch, don’t delay. Let’s vote!”

Van Hollen will need at least 41 Senate Democrats on board to block legislation and to prevent Republicans from reaching the 60-vote number they need to bring bills to the floor.

The first test for Van Hollen’s strategy will come Tuesday, when the Senate is scheduled to vote on a motion to proceed to open debate on a Republican Middle East policy package.  That legislation will include Syria sanctions and a measure that aims to block boycotts of Israel. The latter has been endorsed by some Democrats, but critics say it violates the First Amendment right to free speech.

A senior Senate Democratic aide said Monday that Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) would join the opposition to taking up the foreign policy legislation, known as S.1, before the Senate votes on the House-passed spending bills.

“Senate Republicans should instead bring to the floor the House-passed bills to reopen the government,” Schumer’s aide said on Monday.

It’s not clear that Senate Democrats will stay united in blocking all legislation from coming to the Senate floor. A public lands bill that was held over from the last Congress is expected to get a vote next week, for example ― and it has support from a number of Western Democratic senators.

For now, though, Van Hollen’s strategy is the only one that might actually work to try to force McConnell’s hand and get a Senate vote on the spending bills passed by the House.

As on Senate Democrat said, Brian Schatz of Hawaii:

“Senate Republicans should not treat this legislative work period like it’s a time to catch up on miscellaneous items. People are suffering, let’s vote to fix it.”