Senators spar over Trump’s Muslim ban

Greg Nash

Presidential politics are starting to roil the Senate floor despite Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellSanders, Merkley back McConnell decision to skip TPP vote John McCain: No longer a profile in courage McConnell: Senate won't take up TPP this year MORE’s (R-Ky.) efforts to keep campaign theatrics off the agenda.

Senate Democrats on Wednesday failed to secure a vote on Republican presidential frontrunner Donald TrumpDonald TrumpSanders, Merkley back McConnell decision to skip TPP vote Poll: Clinton up 5 over Trump nationally Dolly Parton: Clinton and Trump ‘both nuts’ MORE’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States

They also fell short on their attempt to get a vote on an amendment prohibiting people with suspected terrorist ties on the no-fly list from purchasing firearms, explosives or radiological material.

Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynThe Hill's 12:30 Report Top Republican questions Lynch on Clinton Foundation probe Baby dies of Zika in Texas MORE (Texas) dismissed the proposed Democratic amendment as “show votes.”

“We’re not afraid of having an open amendment process but this whole idea of having a bunch of show votes to bring the presidential campaign here on the floor of the Senate doesn’t strike me as very constructive,” Cornyn said. 

The dispute over amendments derailed a House-passed bill aimed at freezing the Obama administration’s Syrian refugee resettlement program. The bill fell on a mostly party-line procedural vote Wednesday afternoon.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry ReidHarry Reid10 most expensive House races McConnell: Senate won't take up TPP this year Politicians can’t afford to ignore Latinos MORE (Nev.) earlier in the day offered to allow a motion to proceed to the House-passed Syrian refugee bill if Republicans promised votes on several politically charged proposals.

Republicans dismissed Reid’s proposed quid pro quo.

“That’s ridiculous,” Cornyn said. “Let’s have a serious discussion about national security and the refugee vetting program. To try to trivialize it by bringing the circus to town on the floor of the Senate strikes me as counterproductive.” 

McConnell told reporters Wednesday afternoon that he would allow an open amendment process if Democrats voted to allow the debate on the House-passed Syrian refugee bill to begin.

“The Democratic leader has indicated he would like to have an agreement to have four amendments of his choosing as a condition for getting on the bill,” he said.

“I think a better way to go forward would be to go to the bill, have an open amendment process, alternate from side to side, which is the best way to handle a bill in the regular order, which I would like for us to do,” he added.

A Senate Democratic leadership aide said Democrats voted against proceeding to the bill because McConnell never guaranteed them votes on the amendments they wanted.

“Democrats are committed to opposing the hateful views of Trump and his Republican neighbors. That's why Democrats provide an alternative vote on real policies that would make America safer,” Reid said at an afternoon press conference.

A Senate GOP leadership aide, however, disputed that Republicans blocked a vote on the Muslim ban, noting that Reid didn’t formally ask for a unanimous consent agreement to consider it.

Reid also asked for votes on two more amendments, one increasing funding for airport security and local police anti-terrorism programs and another on a Democratic security bill aimed at defending against the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. 

The Syrian refugee bill, which passed the House in November, would require the secretary of Homeland Security, the FBI director and the director of national intelligence to certify to Congress that each Syrian or Iraqi refugee admitted to the country does not pose a threat.

President Obama has threatened to veto the legislation.

McConnell told reporters at a joint Senate-House GOP retreat in Baltimore last week that he is not interested in politically charged topics that come up in the presidential campaign.

“As a general rule, what I’ve asked the Senate to do is let the presidential candidates run their race and let’s try to do the people’s business,” he told reporters.

This story was updated at 5:05 p.m.

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