Senate approves sweeping coronavirus measure in partisan vote

The Senate on Saturday approved a sweeping coronavirus relief bill on a strictly party-line vote after a marathon session, giving Democrats their first legislative victory since reclaiming the majority.

Democrats cheered the 50-49 vote as it was gaveled closed. Sen. Dan SullivanDaniel Scott SullivanSenate confirms Rahm Emanuel to be ambassador to Japan GOP resistance to Biden FCC nominee could endanger board's Democratic majority Man charged with threatening Alaska senators pleads not guilty MORE (R-Alaska) missed the vote due to a family funeral.

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Overnight Energy & Environment — Starting from 'scratch' on climate, spending bill Bipartisan lawmakers announce climate adaptation bill MORE (R-Alaska), seen as the only potential swing vote in the end, voted against the $1.9 trillion bill.


The package provides another round of stimulus checks, aid for state and local governments, and more help for small businesses and schools. The party-line vote is a significant break from the previous five coronavirus bills, each of which passed with bipartisan support.

The Senate was in session for more than 24 hours, including all night Friday and well into Saturday, ahead of the final vote as Democrats fended off attempts by GOP senators to make changes to the legislation, which now has to go back to the House before it can be sent to President Biden’s desk.

The House will take up the bill on Tuesday for a vote and plans to send it to Biden's desk for a signature early next week, House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerPelosi says she's open to stock trading ban for Congress Former Maryland rep announces bid for old House seat Fury over voting rights fight turns personal on Capitol Hill  MORE (D-Md.) said in a statement. 

The hours-long Senate debate wasn’t without a significant injection of chaos as Democrats tried to navigate their first big legislative battle with a narrow 50-50 majority that required all Democrats to stick together in order to pass the bill.

Democrats started their first amendment vote at 11:03 a.m. on Friday and held it open for nearly 12 hours as they tried to negotiate a deal on the unemployment language.

Republicans were even able to temporarily get in their amendment to lower the payments to $300 per week through mid-July, but in the end, Democrats agreed to provide a $300-per-week payment until Sept. 6, lining up with a deal the party announced on Friday night.


"Our goal has been to secure the strongest possible protections for jobless Americans that could pass the Senate," Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenBiden comments add momentum to spending bill's climate measures  These Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Democrats call on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans MORE (D-Ore.) said about the final deal on jobless benefits.

The hang-up happened after it quickly became apparent that a deal announced on Friday morning, which would have provided a $300 weekly payment into early October, didn’t have the support of all 50 Democratic senators, which it needed in the face of GOP opposition.

Democrats huddled with Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinVoting rights failed in the Senate — where do we go from here? Biden: A good coach knows when to change up the team The Memo: Biden looks for way to win back deflated Black voters MORE (D-W.Va.), the lone holdout, for hours before ultimately clinching the agreement for the payments into September. The deal also makes the first $10,200 in unemployment benefits tax-free for households with an income of up to $150,000.

“When we started negotiating it took longer than it should have. But we got it done, we got a better deal,” Manchin said on Saturday about the talks.

Manchin said that he wasn’t aware of the initial unemployment deal until 10:00 a.m.on Friday, around the same Democrats announced that they had a deal.

"I said, 'Wait a minute,'" Manchin added. "Something I had never heard about."

Though the Senate bill largely reflects the House legislation, the unemployment agreement was one of several significant changes.

The Senate bill also stripped out language that would have increased the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025. The move came after the parliamentarian advised that the inclusion of the minimum wage hike did not comply with arcane rules that govern what can be included in reconciliation, the process Democrats are using to avoid the 60-vote filibuster.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie SandersBernie SandersSunday shows - Russia standoff over Ukraine dominates Sanders says Biden can't count on him to support 'almost any' spending package compromise Sanders says Republicans are 'laughing all the way to Election Day' MORE (I-Vt.) forced a vote on the amendment, but it fell short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a procedural hurdle. Democrats could have tried to overrule the parliamentarian, an option favored by Sanders, but it didn’t have the support of the White House or some of Sanders's colleagues.

Democratic Sens. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterSmall ranchers say Biden letting them get squeezed Schumer opted for modest rules reform after pushback from moderates The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Connected Commerce Council - Biden faces reporters as his agenda teeters MORE (Mont.), Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsUS maintains pressure on Russia amid concerns of potential Ukraine invasion Sunday shows - Russia standoff over Ukraine dominates Sunday shows preview: US reaffirms support for Ukraine amid threat of Russian invasion MORE (Del.), Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperBiden comments add momentum to spending bill's climate measures  Democrats hope to salvage Biden's agenda on Manchin's terms  Democrats call on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans MORE (Del.), Angus KingAngus KingEffort to overhaul archaic election law wins new momentum Manchin, Collins leading talks on overhauling election law, protecting election officials For 2022, the Senate must work in a bipartisan manner to solve the American people's concerns MORE (I-Maine), Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenWicker: Biden comments on Ukraine caused 'distress' for both parties Senators introduce bill aimed at protecting Ukrainian civilians Biden huddles with group of senators on Ukraine-Russia tensions MORE (N.H.), Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanDemocrats torn over pushing stolen-election narrative These Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Kelly takes under-the-radar approach in Arizona Senate race MORE (N.H.) and Manchin voted against the amendment.

Sanders, who told reporters that he wasn’t surprised by the defections, vowed to try again.

“If any Senator believes this is the last time they will cast a vote on whether or not to give a raise to 32 million Americans, they are sorely mistaken,” he said.


Democrats also lowered the cutoff level to receive a stimulus check. The Senate bill, like the House bill, would give individuals who make up to $75,000 and couples who make up to $150,000 a full check. But the Senate bill reduces the income ceiling for receiving a partial check from $99,000 to $80,000 for individuals and from $200,000 to $160,000 for couples.

The agreements to pare down parts of the bill reflect the reality of the Democrats' fragile majority. Because no Republicans were expected to vote for the bill, Schumer needed every senator in his 50-member caucus to support the legislation in order to push it through the Senate.

That meant finding ways to appease centrist senators, who had gone public with their desire to “target” the House bill, without losing progressives, who want the party to go as large as possible amid a global health pandemic that has killed roughly 522,000 people in the U.S. and infected nearly 29 million since early last year.

"Well, there's a lot of talk. Biden has been helpful. ... He's taking it seriously," Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinThe Memo: Biden looks for way to win back deflated Black voters Effort to overhaul archaic election law wins new momentum Senate panel advances bill blocking tech giants from favoring own products MORE (D-Ill.) told reporters this week about trying to move their first big piece of legislation with no room for error.

Asked on Friday what was happening behind the scenes as they navigated the fight over unemployment benefits, Durbin added that Democrats were “trying to find some common ground.”

Republicans tried late Friday night to punt the Senate's debate until 10 a.m. on Saturday. But after Democrats blocked that effort, Republicans offered dozens of amendments to try to change the bill, which they argued was too big after Congress approved roughly $900 billion in new funding late last year. 


Republicans also relished in the hours-long setback that put Democrats' scramble under the spotlight. 

"The whole idea behind this, I gather from listening to them over the last few weeks, was to use the crisis to jam through what the White House chief of staff called 'the most progressive domestic legislation in a generation.' A little tougher than they thought it was going to be, isn't it? It turns out to be a little bit tougher," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden: A good coach knows when to change up the team McConnell says he made 'inadvertent omission' in voting remarks amid backlash These Senate seats are up for election in 2022 MORE (R-Ky.). 

Part of the struggle for Democrats was making sure any change they made would be palatable to the House, where progressives were keeping a wary eye on the Senate debate. 

Democrats also have a razor-thin margin in the House, where no Republicans are expected to vote for the bill, and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiHouse has the power to subpoena its members — but does it have the will? Man who threatened to kill Ocasio-Cortez, Pelosi pleads guilty to federal charges The Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems look to repackage BBB into salvageable bill MORE (D-Calif.) can't afford to alienate any faction in her caucus. 

Democrats had been concerned that including Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanWicker: Biden comments on Ukraine caused 'distress' for both parties These Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Biden calls Intel's B investment to build chip factories a tool for economic recovery MORE's (R-Ohio) amendment to end the unemployment payments in mid-July could cause House Democrats to refuse to take up the bill. Democrats want to get the relief bill signed into law before current jobless benefits expire March 14.

"This trend is outrageous: Eliminating $15/hr Reducing thresholds for payments. ...Cuts to weekly payments What are we doing here? I'm frankly disgusted with some of my colleagues and question whether I can support this bill," Rep. Bonnie Watson ColemanBonnie Watson ColemanSanders, 50 Democrats unveil bill to send N95 masks to all Americans Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman discusses decision to keep some people on home confinement out of prison Lawmakers split on next steps to secure transportation sectors against hackers MORE (D-N.J.) tweeted as the Senate talks played out.

Updated: 7:13 p.m.