Finger-pointing, gridlock spark frustration in Senate

Election-year gridlock is gripping the Senate and sparking deep frustration amongst lawmakers.

Senators have watched as recent legislative priorities like police reform have unraveled, negotiations on funding the government hit a wall and pleas to move quickly on coronavirus relief went unanswered.

With the November election increasingly looming over the Capitol, chances are drying up.

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The parties disagree over who is to blame for the impasse. 

Republicans blame Democrats, saying the party is more focused on election-year messaging than legislating.

Democrats blame the GOP, which it says is more focused on confirming nominees for President TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger says Trump 'winning' because so many Republicans 'have remained silent' Our remote warfare counterterrorism strategy is more risk than reward Far-right rally draws small crowd, large police presence at Capitol MORE while it maintains a Senate majority.

They fumed when the Senate returned to Washington in May but did not turn to coronavirus legislation and failed to jump-start bipartisan negotiations on police reform.

“It’s all about judges. That’s all that McConnell really cares about. ... How many weeks did we spend here without any efforts on COVID-19?” said Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinManchin keeps Washington guessing on what he wants Democrats hope Biden can flip Manchin and Sinema US gymnasts offer scathing assessment of FBI MORE (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat.

Durbin’s reference was to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnell'Justice for J6' rally puts GOP in awkward spot Republicans keep distance from 'Justice for J6' rally House to act on debt ceiling next week MORE (R-Ky.), who has sought to contrast the GOP-controlled Senate with the Democratic-controlled House.

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McConnell argues the Senate has spent the months of the COVID-19 pandemic working, while the House has not.

“The House has been largely out of session since March. They’ve come back a couple of times even though the Senate has been in continuously since May,” he said during an event in Kentucky on Wednesday. 

Durbin scoffed at that argument, while Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Emissions heading toward pre-pandemic levels The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - What do Manchin and Sinema want? Warren, Daines introduce bill honoring 13 killed in Kabul attack MORE (D-Va.) said he was “disturbed” by the Senate’s inaction on a coronavirus measure.

“I thought we were going to do one because the need is intense, and the fact that the GOP has not been interested … is a huge disappointment in the last few weeks,” Kaine said. 

Democrats, before the Senate left for a two-week recess, tried to pass several coronavirus-related bills. Only one, an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), passed the Senate unanimously in a surprise move.

Republicans argue the Senate has had plenty of accomplishments since May.

McConnell’s office blasted out a release, titled “A Tale of Two Chambers,” touting the GOP-controlled Senate’s work on the PPP, confirming circuit court nominations — including Trump’s 200th judicial nominee — and passing a lands package spearheaded by Sens. Cory GardnerCory GardnerProtecting the outdoors: Three cheers for America's best idea Ex-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm Biden administration reverses Trump changes it says 'undermined' conservation program MORE (R-Colo) and Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesWarren, Daines introduce bill honoring 13 killed in Kabul attack Daines to introduce bill awarding Congressional Gold Medal to troops killed in Afghanistan Powell reappointment to Fed chair backed by Yellen: report MORE (R-Mont.), who both face tough reelection bids. 

Republicans also say Democrats and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden discusses agenda with Schumer, Pelosi ahead of pivotal week CEOs urge Congress to raise debt limit or risk 'avoidable crisis' If .5 trillion 'infrastructure' bill fails, it's bye-bye for an increasingly unpopular Biden MORE (D-N.Y.) have rejected potential deals to deprive Republicans of legislative wins before the election. 

“I think they have sort of locked down on their side with the belief that they could potentially be in the majority,” said Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneManchin keeps Washington guessing on what he wants Manchin-McConnell meet amid new voting rights push Republican leaders misjudged Jan. 6 committee MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican. “On a couple of these major pieces of legislation that we’ve been working on that he’s been very involved in trying to keep his guys together and block anything that Republicans might do.” 

“I hope that’s not the case … but it’s pretty clear that that’s the vibe that’s coming from their side,” he added.

Republicans lashed out at Democrats for blocking the police reform measure spearheaded by Sen. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottDOJ announces agencywide limits on chokeholds and no-knock entries Lobbying world As Biden falters, a two-man race for the 2024 GOP nomination begins to take shape MORE (S.C.), the only Black Republican senator. Scott on Wednesday said he was talking with House Democrats but stopped short of saying the issue was revived, adding that “we may have a Lazarus moment, we may not.”

Democrats denied that they were blocking the police reform bill because of the election, arguing that McConnell should negotiate instead of insisting that Democrats first vote to advance the measure.

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Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyGrassley calls for federal prosecutor to probe botched FBI Nassar investigation Woman allegedly abused by Nassar after he was reported to FBI: 'I should not be here' Democrat rips Justice for not appearing at US gymnastics hearing MORE (R-Iowa) has accused Schumer of pulling Democrats away from supporting a prescription drug bill.

“When we had to reintroduce the bill that was a little bit updated the Democrats decided not to go along. They got word from Schumer that we couldn’t let Republicans … even get credit for a bipartisan bill that the president maybe wanted,” he told reporters during a press conference this week.

Amid the feuding over individual bills, the Senate has also hit a wall on negotiations over how to fund the government amid an entrenched stalemate about whether to use the funding bills to try to enact police reforms. Congress is all but guaranteed to need to approve a continuing resolution, which continues fiscal 2020 spending levels, to keep the government open past Sept. 30, when the current funding runs out.

Asked how his talks with Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyPhotos of the Week: Renewable energy, gymnast testimonies and a Met Gala dress Senators denounce protest staged outside home of Justice Kavanaugh Al Franken on another Senate run: 'I'm keeping my options open' MORE (Vt.), the top Democrat on the panel, were going, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyCrypto debate set to return in force Press: Why is Mo Brooks still in the House? Eshoo urges Pelosi to amend infrastructure bill's 'problematic' crypto regulation language MORE (R-Ala.), said “slowly.” 

“Leahy and I talk. ... We can move if we can reach an agreement. Now will we reach it? It’s a lot of politics,” Shelby said. 

The House is moving forward with its own government funding bills, but the proposals are filled with provisions viewed as “poison pills” by Republicans, making it likely that they go nowhere in the GOP-controlled Senate.

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That gridlock could bleed into the upcoming negotiations on the next coronavirus bill, though both McConnell and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiRepublicans caught in California's recall trap Raise the debt limit while starting to fix the budget   'Justice for J6' organizer calls on demonstrators to respect law enforcement MORE (D-Calif.) have predicted they will ultimately be able to get a deal.

Durbin, however, questioned if Republicans would be willing to take up another coronavirus measure in July.

McConnell on Wednesday once again dismissed the roughly $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill passed by the House in May, calling it “unserious.”

He also brought up Democrats blocking the GOP police bill as he predicted the effort to pass a coronavirus relief measure would be complicated. 

“I predict the next effort will be more contentious than the last one. We’re four months closer to the election. There’s a lot more elbowing going on,” McConnell said in remarks in Kentucky. “To give you an example of that, I tried to call up two weeks ago a police reform bill … and our Democratic colleagues wouldn’t even let us take the bill up.”

“I would call that a much more political environment,” McConnell added. “So we will be as we try to work our way through this, confronting more headwinds because of the proximity to the election.”