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Vote-A-Rama: Democrats State Their Case, But Resolution Passes

Feinstein missing from votes; Sessions arrives at last minute

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, at top, rises to explain why he was voting against the budget resolution early Thursday morning. (C-SPAN)
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, at top, rises to explain why he was voting against the budget resolution early Thursday morning. (C-SPAN)



At 1:05 a.m., Republicans began the final vote of a seven-hour Vote-A-Rama — the budget resolution that would begin the process to repeal the Affordable Care Act, then departed the chamber as Democrats remained silently in their chairs.

But Senate Democrats didn’t go quietly into the night. At 1:11 a.m., Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer stood up and stated his opposition to adopting the resolution. Other Democrats followed in what appeared to be an unprecedented move of rising to explain their opposition before casting their votes. 

The budget resolution was agreed to, 51-48, with Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky the only Republican to vote against it. He objected to the budget document on the grounds it didn’t balance and would add trillions of dollars to the national debt. He hopes to have text of his Affordable Care Act replacement proposal back from legislative counsel on Thursday.

“The American people have called on Congress to act and finally bring relief from Obamacare,” Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement following the vote. “I am pleased that the Senate took this critical step towards keeping that commitment tonight, and I look forward to our House colleagues passing it soon.”

The House is expected to vote on the resolution on Friday.

So at the end of the night, what did the series of votes on non-binding budget amendments achieve for Democrats?

“It shows how strongly we feel and how united we are,” Schumer said as he walked off the Senate floor to his office. “I think it’s going to bode well for this fight,” he added.

But West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, one of the Democrats up for re-election in 2018 in a state that Trump won, was less than impressed with the whole exercise by the end of the evening. 

“We’re in the same place we were, the same place we knew we were going to be, too,” he said. “So I don’t know how we come to this vote-a-rama and think that something comes out of it. We do more just by giving your speeches, giving your testimony, enter them into the record and go on.”

Maryland Democratic Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin has seen his fair share of vote-a-ramas. “Have a good sense of humor, find interesting people to talk with and recognize that it has its purpose — there is a reason for this,” he said between votes.

“It’s about the big issue, it’s not about the amendments themselves,” he said. 

Traditionally, recorded votes on budget amendments are used in campaign ads to pigeonhole political opponents. But Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen, the new chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, downplayed that strategy.

“No, look, I see these amendments as an opportunity for our members to highlight to people throughout their states that the Affordable Care Act has brought benefits to people who may not realize that they’ve been benefiting from the Affordable Care Act, and that there will be a very rude awakening in many parts of the country if the Affordable Care Act were actually destroyed,” the freshman Democrat said.

As vote-a-rama lore would have suggested, Wednesday was expected to be a sleepless night. New Republican Sen. Todd Young of Indiana was the talk of the Senate Press Gallery when he delivered popcorn and Mountain Dew to reporters early in the evening. About an hour into the evening, senators broke for a catered Chipotle dinner.

[Take Five: Todd Young]

But it actually wasn’t as long a night as many around the Capitol expected. Some called it the most uneventful vote-a-rama in years.

Still, senators had seven hours to pass. When he wasn’t chatting with South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, Arizona Sen. John McCain was seen working on a crossword puzzle at his desk on the Senate floor.

Republican Sens. John Thune of South Dakota and John Cornyn of Texas compared Apple watches during the first vote.

“You got the waterproof one!” Cornyn told his colleague.

Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner was spotted by the Capitol’s Ohio Clock, just off the floor, FaceTiming with a child, presumably his son.

The Senate pages were popular conversation buddies. North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis pulled up a chair in front of them, while New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker later squatted on the ground with some.

Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman tweeted a photo of himself watching the Cavaliers-TrailBlazers NBA game, presumably in his hideaway in the Capitol.

And it wasn’t just senators who were up late. At 11:30 p.m., Michigan GOP Rep. Bill Huizenga was seen walking around the Capitol, giving a tour to 20 college students from his alma mater, Calvin College.

Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions, who hours earlier had finished his second day of confirmation hearings to be the next attorney general, showed up for the final vote. The only Democrat to miss the vote was California’s Dianne Feinstein, who had pacemaker surgery on Tuesday. 

Boarding the Senate subway after his first vote-a-rama experience, Louisiana freshman John Kennedy, a Republican, laughed. “It’s a lot easier than a campaign,” he said.

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— Bridget Bowman and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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