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McConnell Shows He’s the Boss

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The honeymoon may be over for Mitch McConnell.  

The Kentucky Republican’s open-process experiment took a turn Thursday night when the newly minted majority leader showed his patience has its limits, as he forced a series of votes to table Democratic amendments and refused to allow their sponsors a minute to explain them.  

Democrats had praised McConnell’s openness earlier in the week, but by Thursday night, they soured. They scheduled a conference call with reporters to kvetch on Friday.  

“The bottom line is, this leader said he was going to be different and have an open-amendment process and regular order, which we started out with, with the two managers, and then for whatever reason, he changed his mind and went right back to the old Mitch,” Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow said of the new majority leader Friday. “Right back to a process of shutting everything down, even stopping people from having 60 seconds to speak about their amendments, which … we were just shocked by.”  

On the Senate floor and in social media, Republicans were bragging about a new record for openness.  

“We’ve actually reached a milestone here that I think’s noteworthy for the Senate. We just cast our 15th roll call vote on an amendment on this bill, which is more roll call votes on amendments than the entire United States Senate in all of 2014,” McConnell said. “This is the way the Senate ought to work.”  

While ailing Minority Leader Harry Reid was not present for the votes, the Nevada Democrat weighed in earlier in the day on the boasting by Senate Republicans about their opening up the floor on the Keystone XL bill, and McConnell’s recurring pledges to run the Senate differently.  

“Let’s understand this: The success of a Congress is not determined on how many amendments people vote on. The success of this Congress will be determined on what happens to the middle class. The Republicans were very cynical during the six years — first six years of the Obama administration — very cynical,” Reid said. “They opposed everything we did. And the middle class has been hurt, hurt, hurt.”  

Reid’s comments came during his first news conference with Capitol Hill reporters since his New Year’s Day exercise injury caused significant damage to his ribs and face. He’s scheduled to have eye surgery on Monday, and he will be working from home as the Keystone XL debate nears conclusion.  

McConnell also moved to break a potential filibuster, likely further limiting amendments and potentially setting up passage by the end of the week.
As to the substance of Thursday evening’s procedural mess, which featured more than one of the generally rare live-quorum calls, and generated obvious confusion among senators, many of whom are new, Democrats blasted McConnell for not giving them enough time to review a half-dozen Republican amendments before he tried to set up a vote sequence. They complained they were not being given enough time to craft side-by-side alternatives before moving to table the Democratic offerings in the queue. But McConnell’s blocking of unanimous consent for one-minute explanations of their amendments really set the Democrats off.  

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse was among the Democrats to see an amendment nuked by a tabling motion.  

“My amendment would have required them and others who stand to benefit from the Keystone XL pipeline and tar sands development to disclose their spending. It would have laid bare who the special interests driving this debate are,” the Rhode Island Democrat said in a statement. “But not only did Senate Republicans say no to transparency, they did so as they were on their way out the door to meet those very special interests in Palm Springs. Even if this is all a coincidence, it certainly is not the open process Majority Leader McConnell promised.”  

Whitehouse was referencing a widely-reported private event Sunday hosted by the Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, a Koch-affiliated group. Aides to two senators planning to attend that event said they could have been available for debate and votes Friday. Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., floated that idea on the floor, and Democratic aides seized on the fact that Republicans have yet to hold Friday votes as McConnell has indicated he would.  

Still, the votes themselves are more than the GOP minority frequently got a year ago, when Reid would routinely block the offering of amendments. At times, Republican senators were culpable for the lack of amendments, as they would object to considering amendments, too.  

On the call with Stabenow, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the No. 3 Democratic leader, stressed that on some major legislation open for amendment under the Democratic majority, such as the farm bill and the immigration overhaul, Democrats often resisted the urge to table amendments.  

“There are lots of major, controversial bills, bigger than the pipeline, where we did not table amendments,” Schumer said.  

The 114th: CQ Roll Call’s Guide to the New Congress

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