Senate at war over Thatcher resolution

Senate Republicans and Democrats are in an intense battle over the contents of a resolution to honor former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who died last week and will be laid to rest on Wednesday.

The fight has prompted Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to stop working together on a resolution, at least for now. As of Tuesday, both senators were offering different alternatives for language to honor Thatcher.

The fight marks a departure from how such resolutions are normally written and approved, and as of Tuesday left open the question of whether the Senate would be able to approve language from Menendez, McConnell, or some other alternative.

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According to Democratic aides, the two senators were working together on language late last week, when Menendez made suggestions about a proposal from McConnell. These aides say Menendez was looking to remove language that could have been seen as "swipes" against other countries, and proposed those changes to McConnell.

A Republican aide said Menendez appeared to be trying to whittle down the resolution to "name, rank, serial number" — in other words, a bare-bones description of Thatcher's tenure as prime minister. A GOP aide said that among other things, Menendez was looking to eliminate references to the Falkland Islands dispute, and her support for the U.S. deployment of nuclear weapons in Europe.

"The Democratic resolution attempts to black out history," the GOP aide said.

By late last week, there were reports that Menendez was "blocking" McConnell's resolution. Specifically, GOP aides said an attempt was made to "hotline" the resolution, which is the process by which each Senate office is asked if they have an objection to quickly move a measure.

According to GOP aides, Senate Republicans hotlined the resolution, and one aide said Democrats hotlined it as well when Menendez objected.

But Democratic aides say they are not aware of any formal attempt to bring McConnell's language to the Senate floor, and that they thought they were still engaged in an effort to negotiate a final resolution. They also said they never heard back from McConnell's office about their suggested changes, and were "surprised" to read accounts that Menendez was blocking the resolution formally.

"Our SFRC [Senate Foreign Relations Committee] staff believed we had been working in cooperation since last week with Sen. McConnell's staff on final language of a resolution to commemorate Ms. Thatcher's life and leadership and were surprised to see press accounts to the contrary," a Menendez spokesperson said.

As a result of the dispute, Democratic aides said that at least for now, Menendez is no longer working with McConnell on a resolution. Instead, Menendez introduced his own proposal on Tuesday, one that is longer than a resolution the House approved last week.

While it does not mention the Falkland Islands dispute or nuclear weapons in Europe, Menendez's resolution does say that Thatcher "stood shoulder to shoulder with United States leaders against the Soviet Union and the threats posed by communism."

It also "recognizes that Baroness Margaret Thatcher, working with President Ronald Reagan, helped bring a peaceful end to the Cold War" and "expresses admiration for Baroness Margaret Thatcher and her legacy as an inspirational and transformative leader in the United Kingdom and the world."

GOP aides said that as of Tuesday, McConnell was expected to continue pressing for a vote on his proposal. That proposal does mention the Falklands Islands and U.S. weapons in Europe, while Menendez's resolution is silent on those issues.

As of Tuesday, it was unclear which proposal, if any, would get a vote, or whether Senate leaders would look to find some compromise. The Menendez spokesperson said Menendez would not block McConnell's resolution if it came up now.

In the meantime, the accusation that Menendez formally blocked McConnell's resolution has led to a complaint from Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). Grassley has argued that senators should not be allowed to put secret holds on legislation or nominations, and said Menendez has violated this.

"A resolution honoring former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was hotlined last Wednesday by the Senate cloakrooms," Grassley said Tuesday. "The resolution has not been brought up because a senator has objected.

"Yet, no senator has filed the required holds disclosure in the Senate Calendar, disclosure that is required within two business days of a hold's being placed. As a result, the no-secret-holds reform has been violated."