Senate advances Syria policy bill after shutdown ends
© Greg Nash

The Senate advanced a foreign policy bill over an initial hurdle on Monday evening, after Senate Democrats previously blocked the bill three times.

Senators voted 74-19 to end debate on whether or not to take up the legislation, which had been stuck in limbo for weeks because of the partial government shutdown. Sixty votes were needed to break the filibuster.

The foreign policy package was expected to be the first piece of legislation passed by the Senate in 2019. But Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis Schumer Sanders blasts Trump for picking 'completely unqualified' Pence for coronavirus response Trump passes Pence a dangerous buck Democratic mega-donor reaching out to Pelosi, Schumer in bid to stop Sanders: report MORE (D-N.Y.) pledged that Democrats would filibuster it in an effort keep the chamber focused on the partial government shutdown, which closed roughly a quarter of the government for 35 days.

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With the shutdown fight defused, for now, Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Energy: Murkowski, Manchin unveil major energy bill | Lawmakers grill EPA chief over push to slash agency's budget | GOP lawmaker accuses Trump officials of 'playing politics' over Yucca Mountain Lawmakers race to pass emergency coronavirus funding Trump upends controversial surveillance fight MORE (R-Ky.) moved to bring back up the foreign policy legislation, which includes sanctions on the Syrian government and increased support for Jordan and Israel.

"Due to the Democrats’ filibuster, Israel, Jordan, and the innocent people of Syria have already had to wait 24 days for the Senate to proceed to these uncontroversial and widely-supported bipartisan bills. So, I hope our colleagues across the aisle don’t keep them waiting much longer," McConnell said ahead of Monday's vote.

Though the legislation doesn't speak directly to the U.S. military's involvement in Syria, senators are likely to try offer amendments that would counter the president's decision to drawdown the U.S. footprint in Syria.

Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) filed an amendment on Monday that would authorize Trump to use the U.S. military to defend Kurds in Syria.

“There must always be a moral component to America’s foreign policy, and it’s our moral responsibility to be loyal to our allies," Kennedy said in a statement. "The Syrian Kurds were indispensable in our fight against ISIS in Syria, and we shouldn’t leave them high and dry. This amendment will ensure the protection of our Kurdish allies and demonstrate our appreciation for their help in the war against ISIS.”

Though the shutdown fight has been put on hold, 19 Democrats still voted against advancing the legislation on Monday. Several Democrats indicated they would oppose the measure because of a provision that seeks to counter the "Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions" movement by opposing boycotts or divestment from Israel.

"While I do not support the BDS movement, we must defend every American’s constitutional right to engage in political activity. It is clear to me that this bill would violate Americans’ First Amendment rights," Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBloomberg: 'I'm going to stay right to the bitter end' of Democratic primary race The Memo: Biden seeks revival in South Carolina Sanders makes the case against Biden ahead of SC primary MORE (I-Vt.) said in a statement.

Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDemocrats introduce bill to reverse Trump's shift of military money toward wall Overnight Energy: EPA to regulate 'forever chemicals' in drinking water | Trump budget calls for slashing funds for climate science centers | House Dems urge banks not to fund drilling in Arctic refuge Democratic senators criticize plan that could expand Arctic oil and gas development MORE (D-Ill.) told reporters before the vote that he would also oppose the bill.

"I oppose it because it limits the right of individuals to express themselves under the Constitution," Durbin said.