Senate

Democrats justified in filibustering GOP, says Schumer

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) says Democrats were justified in using the filibuster to block the Senate Republican agenda under President Trump because then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) refused to negotiate with Democrats.

Schumer on Thursday argued the situation is different now that Democrats control the Senate because he says his party is much more willing to negotiate with Republicans on legislation.

"The big difference is that we were always willing to negotiate in a bipartisan way. Mitch McConnell isn't. The bills he puts on the floor, even when he calls them bipartisan, aren't," Schumer said Thursday, citing the first version of the CARES Act that Republicans put on the floor last year to respond to the pandemic as well as legislation to respond to high-profile incidents of police brutality.

Schumer made his comments in response to a question about why Democrats thought it was OK to use the filibuster to block elements of Trump's agenda from 2017 to 2020 but now are discussing rules reform to take away Republicans' power to filibuster.

"There's no discussion, no discussion," Schumer said of what he says was the lack of outreach to Democrats when McConnell and Republicans controlled the Senate floor.

"We are sitting down, I am encouraging my colleagues to sit down with Republicans and move forward. There's a big difference in how we're conducting things and the way they're conducting things," the Democratic leader added.

Republicans on Thursday dismissed Schumer's claim as revisionist history.

They noted that McConnell convened bipartisan working groups to assemble the CARES Act and that Schumer himself appeared pleased with early talks.

But Democrats involved in those negotiations of a year ago said Republicans cut the talks off early before bringing a relief package to the floor on March 22, 2020, when it failed to advance on a motion to proceed.

Schumer has pointed to McConnell's unwillingness to hold votes on legislation to expand background checks and other bills to address gun violence.

"It's different now that we're in charge. We're not going to do what McConnell did and never let a vote occur, never let anything see the light of day," he said Tuesday when asked about short-lived Republican talks on gun violence after mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, in 2019.

Trump vowed to take action on gun violence in August of that year but later abandoned the effort after being counseled by political advisers that it could split his political base.

Schumer said he would prefer to pass bipartisan legislation but has warned that Democrats won't hold up their agenda just because Republicans won't sign on.

He declined to say Thursday whether he personally supports calls from many Democratic colleagues to eliminate the Senate filibuster to clear the way for President Biden's agenda, including campaign finance reform, voting rights legislation, expanded background checks and other priorities that will need 60 votes to pass the upper chamber.

"I believe big, bold action is an imperative. We must get that done. And we prefer our Republican colleagues to work with us on these things. Many of the things I mentioned are bipartisan in the sense that a majority of Republicans support them," he said.

He warned if Republicans use the filibuster to block the agenda he laid out for when the Senate returns to work after the April recess, Democrats will further discuss rules reform.

"If they don't" work with us, "our caucus will come together and we will discuss the best way to produce that big bold action and as I've said before everything, everything is on the table," he said.

Republicans on Thursday balked at Schumer's claim that they refused to negotiate with Democrats when the GOP controlled the majority.

"He's saying we didn't negotiate the COVID bill? He's saying we didn't negotiate the criminal justice bill? He's saying we didn't negotiate the Great American Outdoors Act?" said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), an adviser to McConnell's leadership team.

"Don't let that become fact because that's absolutely not true and in the end we got better policy," she said.

On March 22 of last year, Democrats blocked a motion to proceed to a nearly $2 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that they said was crafted almost entirely by Republicans with little Democratic input.

One Republican aide pointed out that Schumer praised bipartisan talks on the relief bill a day before Democrats voted to stop it from coming to the floor.

"We're having good, bipartisan agreements," Schumer told CNN's "Situation Room" on March 21, a day before the procedural vote.

"The initial bill Leader McConnell put in didn't have any Democratic input and we were worried they would just try to put it on the floor, not consult Speaker Pelosi because the House still needs to pass this. But actually, to my delight and surprise, there has been a great deal of bipartisan cooperation thus far," Schumer told CNN.

Democrats blocked the measure because it extended beefed-up unemployment benefits for three instead of four months and gave Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin broad discretion over allocating money from a $425 billion rescue fund.

After Democrats blocked that bill, they negotiated with the Trump White House and McConnell to produce the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, which included a number of concessions to Schumer, such as four months of $600-per-week federal unemployment benefits and more money for health care and direct assistance to state and local governments.

Sen. Ben Cardin (Md.), the ranking Democrat on the Small Business Committee, said Republicans were more willing to negotiate on some parts than on others.

"Was it complete? No. It was very interesting. The negotiations went up to a point and then we stopped completely and I assume it was a direction by Republicans and next thing we knew we had a partisan CARES Act on the floor of the Senate," he said.

Republican negotiators said they made overtures to Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) last year in an effort to reach a bipartisan deal on police reform. Booker and Harris told McConnell in a letter dated June 23 that the GOP plan was "not salvageable."

Republicans said they promised Booker and Harris the chance to vote on amendments to change the bill on the floor but Democrats blocked a motion to even begin debate on the legislation.

"I said, 'How about 20 amendments?' And they walked out. You see, this process is not broken because of the legislation. This is a broken process beyond that one piece of legislation," Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.), the lead Republican negotiator, said on the Senate floor at the time.

Three members of the Democratic caucus voted to proceed to the police reform bill: Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.) and Angus King (I-Maine).

McConnell on Tuesday criticized Democrats for using the filibuster repeatedly while in the minority.

"Senate Democrats used the filibuster to kill Sen. Tim Scott's police reform bill in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. We could have had federal legislation on the books since last summer putting more body cameras on police officers, requiring fuller incident reporting to the FBI, and finally making lynching a federal crime. Among other things. But Democrats stopped it," the GOP leader said.

McConnell also noted that in early 2018, Senate Democrats filibustered a government funding bill over immigration policy, forcing a short government shutdown.

"One of the Democratic leader's first major acts as the leader of his conference was to wield the filibuster to shut down the entire government," he said.

Updated: 5 p.m.

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