Senate

Schumer insists Democrats unified after chaotic coronavirus debate

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N Y.) insisted that Democrats are united after a chaotic 24-hour stretch put a spotlight on the pitfalls of a 50-50 majority.

Schumer appeared jubilant as he took a victory lap after the Senate passed the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill along party lines on Saturday. Democrats advanced the bill in a 50-49 vote, with all Republicans voting against it.

"I am so proud of my caucus. I love each one of them. They are just so great," Schumer said.

"You know what unites our caucus? Everyone knows, especially with 50 votes, we all have to pull together," he added.

The coronavirus bill gave Democrats their first big legislative victory since taking over the majority in January. But it also underscored that in a 50-50 Senate, they have no room for error and need every vote in their caucus when deciding to go it alone on legislation opposed by the GOP.

The COVID-19 bill was held in limbo for hours on Friday after Democrats said they had a deal on jobless benefits - only for it quickly to become clear that their proposal did not have enough votes because Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the caucus's most conservative member, was not on board.

Manchin told reporters on Saturday that he didn't see the details of the initial agreement until 10 a.m. on Friday, around the same time Democrats said they had reached a deal.

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

Schumer then kept a vote on the minimum wage open for nearly 12 hours as Senate Democrats and President Biden scrambled behind the scenes to get Manchin on board. Democrats ended up agreeing to provide a $300 weekly unemployment payment through Sept. 6. The initial Democratic agreement went into early October.

Schumer, asked why they didn't have Manchin on board at the outset, downplayed the divisions.

"People have new differences all the time. But you know what's the overwhelming point here? That everyone in our caucus realizes we have to pull together and get it done and we're a team. And sometimes it takes some discussion, and sometimes it takes some work. But we don't let our differences stop us from achieving success," he said.

The Democratic leader declared the hours-long delay Friday was "meaningless compared to the relief the American people are going to get. And if it helped us get to that, great. Unity, unity, unity - that's how we get this done."

When Schumer reiterated that he loves every member of the Democratic caucus, a reporter asked if that included Manchin, who is a member of the Democratic leadership team. 

"Yes. Absolutely. Everyone. Everyone. I love Bernie. You have to ... look for the good in people," he said, referring to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). "I have nothing bad to say ... about any single member of my caucus."

Democrats were able to fend off most GOP amendments to the relief bill as Republicans kept the Senate in session past midnight and well into Saturday trying to change the bill.

While Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) was able to get a Republican unemployment plan into the bill, which would have provided the $300 payments through mid-July, Manchin joined with all other 49 Democrats to subsequently strip it out of the bill and replace it with the caucus's agreement.

Schumer's optimism was shared by members of his caucus who cheered and clapped as the vote closed and the coronavirus bill passed the chamber, giving Democrats their first big victory after roughly six years in the minority.

"The delay means nothing in the scheme of things. ... This is the best day of my Senate life," said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

Asked about the hang-up with Manchin, Brown added, "It really is at this point 'So what?'"

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) added that among Democrats on the floor, "it was almost like tears in their eyes. I mean, I felt it."

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