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Vote-a-rama could fuel future campaign attacks

Republicans previewed attacks against vulnerable Senate Democrats

Republicans have attacked Georgia Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock for his votes on a wide range of amendments.
Republicans have attacked Georgia Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock for his votes on a wide range of amendments. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Thursday night’s marathon vote series in the Senate included a number of amendment votes designed to put vulnerable Democrats on the record on thorny political issues. And Republicans intend to use them. 

“We’re going to take each of these votes by the Democrats tonight and we’re going to make sure the citizens in those states know exactly how their senators are voting,” National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Rick Scott told Fox News on Thursday night. 

Democrats attempted to head off the political attacks by slamming Republicans for forcing the series of amendment votes as the Senate moved forward on an additional COVID-19 relief package. Thursday’s votes kicked off the budget reconciliation process, which allows legislation to move forward with support from a majority of senators, circumventing the typical Senate process that requires 60 votes to end debate on legislation.

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Stewart Boss said in a statement as the vote-a-rama began that Republicans were blocking pandemic relief and their actions demonstrate why the GOP recently lost control of the chamber. 

Mitch McConnell, Rick Scott and Senate Republicans are showing today they are still more focused on their own politics than providing people who are in need with the support to get through this public health and economic emergency,” Boss said.

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Under Senate rules for reconciliation, senators can offer an unlimited number of amendments to the budget resolution. But they are not binding, since budget resolutions are not sent to the president or signed into law. They only set a framework that other committees use to produce spending bills.

Boss said Friday that the GOP amendments also showed Republicans were not focused on the underlying $1.9 trillion relief package offered by President Joe Biden’s administration. Republicans generally support additional relief, but at a smaller price tag, and they argue that some aid passed in previous packages has not yet been spent. 

“This is a distraction to try to avoid the reality that Republicans are lining up to oppose a very popular relief bill, and that’s why you don’t see them talking about the substance of the rescue plan,” Boss said of the amendment votes. “The public’s top concern right now is COVID relief, and that’s what Democrats are working on.”

Preview of attacks?

Still, the amendment votes could come up in future campaign ads. The NRSC previewed potential attacks in a series of 10 press releases sent out over the course of 12 hours from Thursday night into Friday morning, targeting five Democrats up for reelection in competitive states. 

The releases specifically mentioned the four Senate Democrats up for reelection in states that Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates as battlegrounds: Nevada’s Catherine Cortez Masto, New Hampshire’s Maggie Hassan, Georgia’s Raphael Warnock and Arizona’s Mark Kelly. Warnock and Kelly both just won special elections and are running for full terms in 2022. 

The NRSC also targeted Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, although he could be less vulnerable thanks to his state’s shift to the left in recent election cycles. Bennet voted against an amendment to back the Keystone XL pipeline, a project whose permits were rescinded by Biden on Inauguration Day. Two moderate Democrats, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin III and Montana’s Jon Tester, provided votes that helped Republicans pass the amendment, but it was ultimately removed from the final text of the budget resolution in a later amendment that they also supported.

Republicans cast Bennet’s vote as “a massive flip,” noting that Bennet voted to support the pipeline in 2014. Bennet’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Keystone XL and other amendments.   

The messaging amendments and corresponding political attacks spanned a range of issues, which Democrats criticized as scattershot. The NRSC press releases highlighted Democrats’ votes on amendments relating to immigration, abortion, school reopening and tax policy. 

Warnock and Cortez-Masto were singled out for their votes against an amendment from Indiana GOP Sen. Todd Young, who is also up for reelection. Young’s amendment looked to prevent undocumented immigrants from receiving direct stimulus payments. Several Democrats, including Kelly and Hassan, supported the amendment, but it also was removed from the final text. 

The NRSC also highlighted Warnock’s vote against an amendment setting up a procedural roadblock on legislation to increase the number of justices on the Supreme Court. On the campaign trail, Warnock declined to take a position on expanding the court. Kelly, who does not support increasing the number of justices on the high court, also joined every Democrat in opposing the amendment. 

“These are political attempts to distract from getting Arizonans much-needed COVID-19 relief,” Kelly spokesman Jacob Peters said in a statement to CQ Roll Call. “Senator Kelly’s top priority is to deliver additional support to Arizona to improve vaccine distribution, keep small businesses afloat, provide direct relief to struggling families and get resources to schools to reopen safely.”

Tia Yang contributed to this report.

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