Several senior Democrats may defy party leaders on an important defense vote — and the behind-the-scenes arm-twisting is dividing the party’s Senate majority.
President Obama personally vowed to veto any defense bill containing additional funds for the F-22 fighter jet program.
But several senior Democrats are from states that will see gains from building more F-22s.
Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who represents the state where Pratt & Whitney builds the F-22 engine, told The Hill he was working with his Democratic colleagues to convince them to support the purchase of more jets despite the president’s opposition. Dodd also faces a tough reelection campaign next year.
Sen. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerPriebus: I believe the government will stay open So what if banks push fancy cards? Give consumers the steak they want Ted Cruz: Warren could beat Trump in 2020 MORE (N.Y.), the vice chairman of the Senate Democratic Conference, will be a key vote to watch. The watchdog group Project on Government Oversight, which supports removing the F-22 funds, lists Schumer as poised to vote against stripping the money.
Schumer declined to say how he was voting, telling The Hill he is still studying the issue, and advised: “Watch the vote.”
Sen. Carl LevinCarl LevinFor the sake of American taxpayers, companies must pay their fair share What the Iran-Contra investigation can teach us about Russia probe Senate about to enter 'nuclear option' death spiral MORE (D-Mich.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is co-sponsoring an amendment with Sen. John McCainJohn McCainKasich: 'I think political parties are on their way out' Five fights for Trump’s first year Trump wall faces skepticism on border MORE (R-Ariz.), the panel’s ranking member, to remove the funds.
The vote on that amendment was originally scheduled for Tuesday afternoon but was moved to Wednesday morning.
Congressional sources said there is much coaxing taking place behind the scenes to convince as many senators as possible to vote in favor of the Levin-McCain amendment.
But a spokesman for Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinTop Trump officials push border wall as government shutdown looms Top Dem: Shutdown over border wall would be 'height of irresponsibility' Sunday shows preview: Trump stares down 100-day mark MORE (D-Ill.), an Obama ally opposed to more funding, said the party is not whipping the vote on the amendment and there is no leadership position on the funding.
“Senators are aware that the president has stated that he intends to veto the bill if the F-22 language is included, but the majority leader has told senators they should vote their conscience on this amendment,” Durbin spokesman Joe Shoemaker said in a statement. “While [Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidWarren builds her brand with 2020 down the road 'Tuesday Group' turncoats must use recess to regroup on ObamaCare Dem senator says his party will restore 60-vote Supreme Court filibuster MORE (D-Nev.)] and Durbin, along with the chair of [the] Armed Services Committee, Sen. Levin, support the amendment, we are not whipping the vote.”
Kerry has been quoted in reports as supporting the additional funds. Earlier this year, Murray and Cantwell wrote letters in support of the funds, since Boeing, based in Washington state, builds a large part of the plane.
Murray took to the Senate floor late Tuesday to voice her support for the funds. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) voted for the funds in committee and told The Hill he will vote against their removal.
The Obama administration wants to cap the F-22 fleet at 187 aircraft and did not request funds for additional jets in 2010. But Sen. Saxby ChamblissSaxby ChamblissGOP hopefuls crowd Georgia special race Democrats go for broke in race for Tom Price's seat Spicer: Trump will 'help the team' if needed in Georgia special election MORE (R-Ga.), who represents the state where Lockheed-Martin builds the plane, narrowly won approval for seven more planes when the committee marked up the bill behind closed doors.
Chambliss has been leading the charge to scuttle the Levin-McCain amendment and told The Hill that he has been lobbying both Republican and Democratic colleagues to vote against removing the funding.
Democrats could also feel pressure from labor unions, several of which have come out in favor of buying more F-22s. The United Steelworkers, which has 850,000 members, urged senators on Monday to support the building of more jets.
Some Republicans smell an opportunity to force the president to veto the bill, particularly if, as expected, it contains social issues, such as hate-crimes legislation, which are paramount to the Democrats.
Republicans have opposed the hate-crimes legislation in the past and are also poised to oppose a potential amendment by Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Gillibrand Dems urge Trump to include Northeast Corridor tunnel project in infrastructure bill Dems petition FDA to ban potentially toxic chemical from shampoos, body wash Trump’s Army pick faces tough confirmation fight MORE (D-N.Y.) that would challenge the ban on openly gay people serving in the military.
A spokeswoman for Reid said in a statement that the F-22 issue divides “the Senate on both sides of the aisle.”
“It’s critical for our troops to get a defense authorization bill done,” said Regan Lachapelle, Reid’s spokeswoman. She also stressed that there is no avoiding the hate-crimes legislation.
“Sen. Reid intends to get this bill done in the fastest way possible. We have more senators and a supportive White House. This is the right time and the right vehicle to get this passed,” she said.
Meanwhile, supporters of the F-22 could lose two important votes: those of Kennedy and Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), who have been struggling with their health. Both voted in favor of more money during the committee markup through proxies, but a vote on the Senate floor must be made in person.