Senate Democrats Block Their First Bill in New Strategy to End Shutdown

On Tuesday evening Democrats in the U.S. Senate succeeded in voting down a Middle East policy bill that had been put forth by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The move was a way for the Democrats to protest President Trump’s government shutdown. If the impasse over funding the government continues they may vote again to block McConnell‘s agenda in the near future.

The Senate’s rejection of the bill on a 56-44 vote may be the first of many attempts by Democrats to stop Senate business and disrupt McConnell’s efforts at passing legislation.

The Middle East policy bill was blocked even though Democratic senators will probably support the policy of sanctioning Syria contained in the bill. Democratic leaders have discussed behind closed doors how they plan to deal with votes on the floor as the shutdown continues. They want to send a message to Republicans while at the same time avoid being seen as obstructionist which may hurt them politically.

Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer wants to keep the focus of his colleagues on the government shutdown, however. He also wants to publicize and increase awareness of the role of McConnell in refusing to bring the House Democrats’ government funding bills up for a vote in the Senate.

McConnell has taken the position that he will bring up in the Senate only funding bills that the president says in advance that he’s willing to sign. The funding bills passed by the House do not provide the money Trump has requested for a border wall, and he has said he would refuse to sign them.

Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii explained the rationale that he and other Democrats have for voting against advancing the Middle East  bill:

“It is preposterous that we are going to treat this week like some kind of mellow catch-up week where we do miscellaneous items that haven’t been able to get floor time. The first thing we should do is reopen the government. I’m voting “no” tonight to make that point.”

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois said:

“We think the first order of business should be opening the government. McConnell’s position that he’s going to wait for a message from the president? I hope his caucus reminds him one of the branches of government has its own responsibility.”

Just four Democrats voted “yes” on the Middle East bill after an effort to defeat it was led by Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. Last weekend Van Hollen began a movement for Senate Democrats to block all other business in the upper chamber until the government shutdown was ended.

McConnell, who has obstructed all attempts by Congress to get funding bills passed, had the gall to blame Democrats for the lack of progress in resolving the shutdown impasse, which was totally caused by Trump.

McConnell criticized the consensus that has developed among Senate Democrats to reject all bills unrelated to government funding. The Majority Leader said he expect a “big bipartisan vote, not some partisan showdown” on the Middle East bill and slammed Democrats for not compromising with Trump on the border wall.

“Democratic intransigence has made sure a quarter of the federal government has been shut down for more than two weeks,” McConnell said in a floor speech. “Two weeks. Now they’re threatening to shut the Senate down too.”

Democrats of course expect McConnell to take at least half the blame for the shutdown that Trump has caused because of his irrational demands for wall funding. As a result, Democrats say they will block all unrelated legislation that otherwise might pass.

After the bill failed McConnell moved to bring it up again, indicating he plans to make Democrats vote it down multiple times so long as the partial shutdown continues.

As a minority party the Democrats have very little power to affect Senate procedures, but they are using what power they do have to send a message to Mitch McConnell that if he doesn’t play ball with them, then he will get no other Senate business done. This is a good move, although it is not certain to sway the Majority Leader given the strong opposition to the president of passing the funding bills already approved by the House.