Senate

GOP votes in unison against COVID-19 relief bill

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) on Saturday voted against President Biden's $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package, preventing Democrats from claiming any patina of bipartisanship on a popular package that most Republicans attacked as a waste of money.

Murkowski, who put forward an amendment to the bill that was ultimately adopted, was seen as a potential swing vote for Democrats. However, in the end, not a single Republican in either chamber supported the legislation, which Biden made his first major priority in office.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) slammed the relief bill for breaking the streak of five COVID-19 packages Congress passed in the past year that have garnered bipartisan support.

"The voters picked a president who promised bipartisanship. The Democrats' response is to ram through what they call, quote, the most progressive domestic legislation in a generation on a razor-thin majority in both chambers," he said on the floor.

The party-line Senate vote Saturday came after no Republican voted for the $1.9 trillion package in the House, where two Democrats, Reps. Kurt Schrader (Ore.) and Jared Golden (Maine), also voted no.

Republicans argued that Biden broke his promise to try to bring Republicans and Democrats together in Washington.

"They have been able to take the power they obtained" in the 2020 election "and they're not using it consistent with the rhetoric of President Biden," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said Murkowski's "no" vote bolsters the GOP message that Democrats have ignored Biden's promise to bring more bipartisanship to Washington. 

"We don't pressure people, but I'm glad she found her way to be with the team because I think it's a very strong message that this was - as we suggested all along - a very partisan process and a product that reflects a rushed, hurried attempt to get $2 trillion out the door," he said.

"She was having discussions with [Democrats] on some things that are important to her state, but I kind of always believed in the end that she would end up where she did," he said.

Thune said Murkowski alerted Republican leaders ahead of time about how she would vote. 

Republicans were angered Friday after Biden intervened to ask centrist Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) not to support a Republican amendment that would have ended weekly $300 federal unemployment payments on July 18 and would not have provided tax forgiveness for benefits collected last year.

Murkowski voted against the legislation moments after the Senate adopted by voice vote an amendment she sponsored with Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) to provide $800 million to provide places to sleep and "wrap-around services" for homeless children.

The adoption of that amendment raised some hopes that Murkowski might be a surprise yes.

"This is the amendment we're waiting for. This is so bipartisan we've already agreed to a voice vote," she said of the amendment.

But almost all of the changes to the bill proposed by Republicans during a marathon vote-a-rama session that spanned more than 24 hours were rejected on party-line or near party-line votes.

Senators approved only three Republican amendments, and one of them - a provision sponsored by Portman on unemployment benefits - was later replaced by a Democratic modification.

The Senate also accepted a bipartisan amendment sponsored by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) to provide stability to the federal contractor workforce during the pandemic.

Murkowski, one of 10 Republican senators who met with Biden at the White House last month in hopes of modifying the Democratic rescue legislation, had stressed her desire for more bipartisanship during negotiations over the bill.

Moderate Senate Republicans complained that Democrats largely shut them out of the process after they met with Biden on Feb. 1, even though he appeared at the meeting to be open to working with them.

Murkowski signaled her likely opposition earlier in the week when she voted Thursday against a motion to proceed to the relief package.

She told reporters after the procedural vote that she would keep an open mind on how to vote on final passage.

"I've said I'm going to look and see what's in it," she said, noting that she was concerned about provisions of the bill not directly related to pandemic relief.

She raised concern about the funding formula for state and local governments in the House-passed bill.

"I'm looking at some of the things that will provide a level of relief for the state of Alaska and seeing, where is it?" she said, adding that the formula for state and local governments in the House-passed bill "was not beneficial to a state like Alaska that has high revenue loss and low population."

She argued that Alaska doesn't have the unemployment numbers of other states because of its small population but still has taken a serious fiscal hit because of a drop in tourism related to the pandemic.

Murkowski was also the only Republican to vote earlier Saturday morning against an amendment sponsored by Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) to block funding to schools that allow transgender athletes to participate in women's sports. That amendment drew a rebuke from Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who scolded her Republican colleagues to "have a little bit of heart."

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters after the final vote Saturday that he hoped some Republicans would join Democrats on the next legislative item.

"I have a very good relationship with Lisa Murkowski," he said.

- Jordain Carney contributed. 

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