The Senate on Tuesday quickly passed a resolution honoring former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher despite a fight over its wording between Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).
The Senate approved it with no debate and by unanimous consent — just in time for Thatcher’s funeral on Wednesday.
Much of the fight between McConnell and Menendez appeared to be around what the resolution would say about Great Britain’s 1982 war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands, which McConnell alluded to in a brief floor speech.
“Margaret Thatcher was one of the most influential and revolutionary figures of the 20th Century, and failing to name her achievements would do her memory and her legacy a great disservice,” McConnell said.
“It would be unheard of to commemorate [Winston] Churchill, for example, and ignore his heroism in steering his countrymen through the battle of Britain. Nor would we think about honoring Lincoln without mentioning the Civil War.”
A Democratic aide responded by complaining that McConnell was unnecessarily politicizing what should have been a simple resolution that passed last week.
Earlier in the day, it was unclear whether the Senate would be able to pass a resolution at all, as McConnell and Menendez had stopped working together and were offering their own versions.
According to Senate aides, the two senators were working together on language late last week, when Menendez made suggestions to McConnell’s proposal. Democratic aides say the Democrat was looking to remove language that could have been seen as “swipes” against other countries.
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.
Among other things, a GOP aide said 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.
Menendez’s version also took out language noting that Thatcher once said that “all attempts to destroy democracy by terrorism will fail.”
Late last week, there were reports that the feud led Menendez to block McConnell’s resolution from going to the floor.
Specifically, GOP aides said an attempt was made to “hotline” the bill, the process by which each Senate office is asked if they have an objection to quickly moving a bill.
According to one aide, Senate Republicans hotlined the bill, and another said that is when Menendez blocked it.
But Democratic aides said they were 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 suddenly 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,” said a Menendez spokesman.
On Tuesday, Menendez proposed his own resolution that did not mention the Falkland Islands dispute, nuclear weapons in Europe or Thatcher’s reference to terrorism. It did say that Thatcher “stood shoulder to shoulder with United States leaders against the Soviet Union and the threats posed by communism.”
While the resolution has passed, the issue is not completely over — allegations that Menendez formally blocked McConnell’s language has led to a complaint from Sen. Chuck 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.”