Updated 8:31 p.m. | The Senate broke a logjam late Wednesday to advance a bipartisan highway bill despite several top Democrats voting to filibuster the package.
The vote caught many senators by surprise. Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore,. were warming up for the Washington Kastles Charity Classic when they got word of the vote. They dropped their racquets, got on their phones and prepared to pack it in and head back to the Capitol.
The once-united Democratic opposition had kept the bill off the floor — but the minority splintered later Wednesday, with Minority Leader Harry Reid; his heir apparent, Charles E. Schumer of New York and No. 4 Democrat Patty Murray of Washington voting to filibuster the bill and the No. 2 Democrat, Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, voting to advance it to the floor.
The final tally was 62-36 — narrowly above the 60-vote threshold to overcome a filibuster.
During the vote the two principal negotiators of the deal, liberal Sen. Barbara Boxer of California and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., were seen huddling.
Boxer told reporters she was “optimistic” progress has been made to get past the cloture hurdle on the vehicle for the Senate’s long-term highway bill. Boxer is the ranking member on the Environment and Public Works Committee.
Finance ranking member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., told reporters that it was his understanding there were changes in the agreement from an earlier draft, but he had not seen a finished product. He voted against bringing up the bill.
Six Republicans also voted against proceeding to the bill, which Heritage Action has key voted against: presidential candidates Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida, as well as Mike Lee of Utah, Richard C. Shelby of Alabama and Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania.
Sixteen lawmakers who caucus with the Democrats voted to advance the bill.
Back at the Kastles Classic, the PA announcer made light of the situation: “Some of our players are not here yet, because they are making our government run more effectively,” the announcer said.
The White House, meanwhile, has said it’s still studying the deal, including how it is paid for and the safety provisions. The White House also wants lawmakers to add a reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank.
Kellie Mejdrich, Niels Lesniewski and Jason Dick contributed to this report. See photos, follies, HOH Hits and Misses and more at Roll Call’s new video site. Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.