Senate inches toward COVID-19 vote after marathon session

Senators worked throughout the night Friday into Saturday as the chamber considered various amendments to the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, with a final vote expected later in the day.

The chamber is holding a marathon voting session known as a vote-a-rama, where any senator can force a vote on potential changes to the mammoth relief package. Democrats have rejected a series of proposed GOP changes to the bill.

The Senate voted on more than 30 amendments or motions to alter the bill as of 11:15 a.m. on Saturday as the grueling session appeared to be taking its toll and stretched beyond 24 hours.


Tempers started to fray on the floor as sleep-deprived senators slogged their way through Republican-sponsored amendments, many of them intended to be used for political attacks at a later date.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden's policies are playing into Trump's hands Hillicon Valley: Amazon wins union election — says 'our employees made the choice' On The Money: Biden .5T budget proposes major hike in social programs | GOP bashes border, policing provisions MORE (I-Vt.) vented his frustration after Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) offered an amendment that would block lawmakers’ pay when Congress fails to pass an annual budget.

“My colleague from Florida may not know it, but this is a budget. It’s a $1.9 trillion reconciliation budget, which in fact turns out to be the most significant piece of legislation for working people that has been passed in decades,” Sanders fumed.

“Unfortunately, my friends on the other side have used delaying tactics after delaying tactics. Obstruction, obstruction, obstruction,” he said.

At one point, Senate Health Committee Chairwoman Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurraySchumer kicks into reelection mode Democrats target Trump methane rule with Congressional Review Act Senators eye rollback of Trump methane rule with Congressional Review Act MORE (D-Wash.) ripped Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordRubio and bipartisan group of senators push to make daylight saving time permanent Senate inches toward COVID-19 vote after marathon session Ron Johnson grinds Senate to halt, irritating many MORE’s (R-Okla.) amendment to ensure restrictions on publicly funded abortions as a shallow political attack.

“It is frustrating but not at all surprising that in the middle of a pandemic, as we are working to get urgently needed relief to our families, to our small businesses and our communities across the country, some Republicans would rather spend time launching political attacks,” she said.


Murray later slammed an amendment sponsored by Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) to block funding to schools that allow transgender athletes to participate in women’s sports.  

“Can’t we just have a little bit of heart and compassion in this world for someone who doesn’t look or live exactly like you?” Murray said with exasperation.

She called Tuberville’s proposal “simply an attempt to discriminate against transgender students.”

Democrats defeated the amendments sponsored by Scott, Lankford and Tuberville.

The floor debate grew heated again when Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzBoehner: Trump 'stepped all over their loyalty' by lying to followers The Memo: Biden's five biggest foreign policy challenges Boehner finally calls it as he sees it MORE (R-Texas), a potential candidate for president in 2024, offered an amendment that he said would block $1,400 stimulus checks from going to undocumented immigrants.

Senate Majority Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinLawmakers say fixing border crisis is Biden's job Number of migrants detained at southern border reaches 15-year high: reports Grassley, Cornyn push for Senate border hearing MORE (D-Ill.) stood up to accuse Cruz of deliberately distorting payments the legislation would provide to families that have members who are undocumented immigrants.

“The statement of the senator from Texas is just plain false. False! Let me be clear: Undocumented immigrants do not have Social Security numbers, and they do not qualify for stimulus relief checks,” he said.

Durbin accused Cruz of attempting to “rile people up over something that is not true” because Republicans “want to be able to give speeches that say checks go to undocumented immigrants.”

The amendment was defeated by a party-line vote of 49 to 50.

Senators weighed the series of amendments after debate was held up on Friday for nearly 12 hours as Democratic leaders scrambled to save the massive relief proposal, the first major piece of legislation pushed by President BidenJoe BidenFederal Reserve chair: Economy would have been 'so much worse' without COVID-19 relief bills Biden to meet Monday with bipartisan lawmakers about infrastructure Jill Biden gives shout out to Champ, Major on National Pet Day MORE since he took office.


Senators worked deep into the night proposing changes to the relief bill. At around 3:45 a.m., some senators were already discussing breakfast, with Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerNY Times beclowns itself by normalizing court-packing 'to balance the conservative majority' The first Southern state legalizes marijuana — what it means nationally H.R. 1/S. 1: Democrats defend their majorities, not honest elections MORE (D-N.Y.) seen walking up to Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerA bold fix for US international taxation of corporations Democrats offer competing tax ideas on Biden infrastructure Five ways an obscure Senate ruling could change Washington MORE (D-Va.) to ask him what food he planned to order.

Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstTrump faces test of power with early endorsements GOP looks to squeeze Biden, Democrats on border Blackburn introduces bill to require migrant DNA testing at border MORE (R-Iowa) was spotted covered in a blanket and resting on a couch in the Senate cloakroom, and Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Dakota Access pipeline to remain in operation despite calls for shutdown | Biden hopes to boost climate spending by B | White House budget proposes .4B for environmental justice Biden .5T budget proposes major hike in social programs Biden hopes to boost climate spending by billion MORE (D-Vt.) appeared to doze for a few minutes in his chair on the floor as senators tried to get some rest during the nightlong session.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden to meet Monday with bipartisan lawmakers about infrastructure 100 business executives discuss how to combat new voting rules: report Arkansas governor says 'divisive' Trump attacks on GOP officials are 'unhelpful' MORE (R-Ky.) made an unsuccessful push before midnight to adjourn the Senate until Saturday, punting debate on the bill after it sat in limbo for hours as Democrats tried to put together a proposal on unemployment benefits that all 50 Democrats could back.

“They want to begin the vote-a-rama that could have been done in daylight because of their own confusion and the challenges of getting together 50 people to agree on something when they could have doing it quicker on a bipartisan basis,” McConnell said. “So rather than start the voting at five minutes to 11, I move to adjourn until 10 a.m.”

Democrats, who hold a slim majority in the chamber, voted down the effort.


"I don’t care how long it takes or if it’s inconvenient. We are about to pass one of the most popular and important pieces of federal legislation in decades. I’m a happy warrior," Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzGeorgia law makes it a crime to give food, water to people waiting to vote Senate Democrats reintroduce bill to create financial transaction tax GOP lawmaker introduces bill targeting tech liability protections MORE (D-Hawaii) tweeted shortly before 2 a.m.

Schumer pushed to negotiate a deal with Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinBiden to meet Monday with bipartisan lawmakers about infrastructure Biden is thinking about building that wall — and that's a good thing Buttigieg on exaggerated infrastructure jobs estimate: 'I should have been more precise' MORE (D-W.Va.) over the unemployment benefits, with Senate Democrats announcing an agreement Friday night after the hours-long delay.

Biden also got involved in talks to help break the impasse, with senators saying he called Manchin directly to help get him to back the proposal supported by the rest of the Democratic caucus.

The agreement reached by Democrats would provide a $300 per week unemployment payment through Sept. 6 and make the first $10,200 of benefits nontaxable for households that have an income below $150,000.

That amendment, from Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenThe first Southern state legalizes marijuana — what it means nationally A bold fix for US international taxation of corporations Democrats offer competing tax ideas on Biden infrastructure MORE (D-Ore.), was adopted in a party-line vote of 50 to 49 early Saturday morning.

The chamber had previously held just one vote on whether to add a minimum wage hike to the COVID-19 relief package. That proposal from Sanders, raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, was rejected.

In keeping open the vote on the minimum wage proposal for almost 12 hours, Democrats set a new record for the longest vote in modern Senate history.

Updated: 11:20 a.m.