Vulnerable senators broke in favor of bailout package

Two days after most of their House counterparts chose political survival over a $700 billion bailout package, Senate incumbents fighting for their political lives broke in favor of their chamber’s version of the bill Wednesday night.

And, with few exceptions, their opponents moved to capitalize almost instantly, jamming an anti-Washington and anti-Wall Street wedge between incumbent and challenger in many top races around the country.

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Oregon state House Speaker Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleySenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Hillicon Valley: NSA warns of new security threats | Teen accused of Twitter hack pleads not guilty | Experts warn of mail-in voting misinformation Merkley, Sanders introduce bill limiting corporate facial recognition MORE (D) denounced the package and Sen. Gordon Smith’s (R-Ore.) vote in favor of it within minutes of the vote.

In a charge echoed by several other challengers, Merkley said: “This is what they do in Washington: They take a bad proposal and add $150 billion of sweeteners to satisfy enough people.

“The crisis on Wall Street and the need for a bailout is an indictment of the failed economic policies of Gordon Smith and George Bush.”

Smith shot back pre-emptively, issuing a statement through his campaign committee before the vote saying Merkley “has shamefully placed his partisan ambitions ahead of the retirement, financial and economic security of the people he seeks to serve and once again has demonstrated his willingness to leave Oregon’s rural communities behind.”

On Wednesday, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) moved to flip the issue on its head by launching an ad likening Merkley’s tenure as Oregon state House Speaker to Washington’s borrow-happy ways.

Merkley had previously used his ads to hit Smith on the bailout.

Sens. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), John Sununu (R-N.H.), Saxby ChamblissClarence (Saxby) Saxby ChamblissLobbying world GOP lobbyist tapped for White House legislative affairs The Hill's Morning Report - Gillibrand drops out as number of debaters shrinks MORE (R-Ga.), John CornynJohn CornynCOVID-19 bill limiting liability would strike the wrong balance From a Republican donor to Senate GOP: Remove marriage penalty or risk alienating voters Skepticism grows over Friday deadline for coronavirus deal MORE (R-Texas) and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) also voted for the measure, only to see their opponents oppose it and turn it into a campaign issue a month before Election Day.

Those five and Smith were joined by Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCoronavirus deal key to Republicans protecting Senate majority From a Republican donor to Senate GOP: Remove marriage penalty or risk alienating voters The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump's visit to battleground Ohio overshadowed by coronavirus MORE (R-Maine), Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump signs executive orders after coronavirus relief talks falter Coronavirus deal key to Republicans protecting Senate majority Coronavirus talks collapse as negotiators fail to reach deal MORE (R-Ky.) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) in voting for the package.

Collins’s opponent, Rep. Tom Allen (D), also voted for the bailout in the House on Monday.

Voting against the package were Sens. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeSenate GOP divided over whether they'd fill Supreme Court vacancy  Controversial Trump nominee placed in senior role after nomination hearing canceled Chamber of Commerce endorses Ernst for reelection MORE (R-Okla.), Tim JohnsonTimothy (Tim) Peter JohnsonCornell to launch new bipartisan publication led by former Rep. Steve Israel Trump faces tough path to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac overhaul Several hurt when truck runs into minimum wage protesters in Michigan MORE (D-S.D.), Mary LandrieuMary Loretta LandrieuBottom line A decade of making a difference: Senate Caucus on Foster Youth Congress needs to work to combat the poverty, abuse and neglect issues that children face MORE (D-La.), Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsMcConnell goes hands-off on coronavirus relief bill The Hill's Campaign Report: COVID-19 puts conventions in flux  The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Virus bill unlikely to pass this week MORE (R-Kan.) and Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: INOVIO R&D Chief Kate Broderick 'completely confident' world will develop a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine; GOP boxed in on virus negotiations Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers zero in on Twitter after massive hack | US, UK, Canada allege Russian hackers targeted COVID-19 vaccine researchers | Top EU court rules data transfer deal with the US is illegal Lawmakers zero in on Twitter following massive hack MORE (R-Miss.).

All of their opponents except Johnsons’s have said they would have voted no, as well. Dole, Landrieu and Wicker face the strongest challenges in that group.

On Monday, only about one in four of the most vulnerable members of the House voted for the measure.

While in that chamber both sides were feverishly whipping before the package failed by 12 votes, senators seeking political cover Wednesday had plenty of wiggle room to vote with their reelection hopes, with the final tally at 74-25.

On Thursday, senators milling around the chamber expressed significant surprise at the fact that so many votes in favor of the bill came from senators who are up for reelection.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who is not up, said mail from his constituents — like those of many other senators — was running heavily against the bill.

{mospagebreak}“It was a courageous vote for those who are running, and maybe for all of us,” Nelson said. “But it was also so important to be right, and that had to trump taking the safe way out.”

Regardless of how politically safe their yes votes were, Smith wasn’t the only senator looking to head off the attacks at their source.

Coleman’s campaign noted early Thursday that Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharSenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Senate Democrats push to include free phone calls for incarcerated people in next relief package Lobbying world MORE and Democratic presidential nominee Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaWhy payroll tax cut opponents may want to reconsider Michelle Obama, Sanders, Kasich to be featured on first night of Democratic convention: report Graham says he appreciates Trump orders, but 'would much prefer a congressional agreement' MORE both voted for the bill that his Democratic opponent, Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenCNN publishes first Al Franken op-ed since resignation Political world mourns loss of comedian Jerry Stiller Maher to Tara Reade on timing of sexual assault allegation: 'Why wait until Biden is our only hope?' MORE, was denouncing.

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Franken’s campaign noted that he wasn’t begrudging those who supported the bill, but instead stating what he would have fought for in the bill.

Cornyn sent his supporters a long letter in the hours before he was to cast his vote, seeking to commiserate with them. In the letter, he said the Bush administration “mishandled early communications on this plan.”

“I know many of you are extremely upset about the idea of the government doing any type of bailout for Wall Street, and I completely agree with you,” Cornyn assured, before detailing his case for the yes vote.

Wicker also sent out a statement in anticipation of his difficult “no” vote. In a hallway interview beforehand, he said his mind was made up.

“I don’t think the sky is falling to the extent where we can skip hearings, amendments, regular order and due consideration,” he said.

But other senators who voted against the bailout bill kept their opinions to themselves, even as they were going into the chamber.

Sen. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowACLU calls on Congress to approve COVID-19 testing for immigrants Senators press IRS chief on stimulus check pitfalls Democrats warn Biden against releasing SCOTUS list MORE, who is not up for reelection this year, split with her Michigan Democratic colleague, Carl LevinCarl Milton LevinInspector general independence must be a bipartisan priority in 2020 Democrats: A moment in history, use it wisely America's divide widens: Ignore it no longer MORE, to oppose the bill at the last minute.

“You’ll find out in a minute,” Stabenow told a reporter who asked about her stance as she was on her way onto the Senate floor.

Among those who are running for a Senate seat this year, the two House members running for New Mexico’s open seat both voted against their version of the bailout Monday, as did Colorado open-seat hopeful Rep. Mark UdallMark Emery UdallThe 10 Senate seats most likely to flip Democratic presidential race comes into sharp focus Democrats will win back the Senate majority in 2020, all thanks to President Trump MORE (D-Colo.).