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Schumer warns Democrats can't let GOP block expansive agenda
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) unveiled an expansive agenda on Tuesday, stressing that while he hoped to pick up GOP support, Democrats could not let Republicans stonewall them.
Schumer, during the first in-person lunch for Senate Democrats in roughly a year, outlined his short-term and long-term agenda and stressed that the caucus can't let Republicans block the party's big priorities.
Schumer told members that it was his "desire to try to work with Republicans" to accomplish Democrats' legislative goals, according to a Senate Democratic source who attended the meeting.
"But Schumer also cautioned that Senate Dems do not have the luxury of time and if Republicans are intransigent, then Senate Dems will need to discuss a path forward because failure is not an option," the source added.
Schumer echoed that during a press conference after the lunch, telling reporters that it was Democrats' "credo" to try to be bipartisan. But, he added, the party had pledged to go "bold" and Democrats would need to figure out a way forward if they couldn't get the 10 GOP votes needed to pass most legislation.
"We will put some bills on the floor that we hope will have bipartisanship. Our credo is this: We always want to try to work in a bipartisan way. And I've instructed all of our members and particularly our chairs ... to reach out to Republicans and see if we can get things done. But we must have a big, bold agenda," Schumer told reporters.
He added that if they couldn't win over GOP support, Democrats will have to "assemble, get together, and figure out how to move forward."
Schumer's comments came as he briefed the caucus during the closed-door meeting on their next legislative steps.
His focus for the spring and summer will be working on Biden's infrastructure and forthcoming families plans, including committee markups; a sweeping election reform bill known as H.R. 1 and confirming more of Biden's nominees.
"There are many other issues that we're gonna look at as well where we hope to move forward, whether it be ... the Equality Act, gun safety, immigration reform, VAWA [Violence Against Women Act] reauthorization, apprenticeships and workforce, criminal justice and police reform, and postal reform," Schumer told reporters.
The focus of this month, he said, would be trying to see if there is bipartisan support for a sweeping infrastructure and spending package.
Biden has unveiled a roughly $2.3 trillion proposal that includes money for things like roads and bridges but also expands to include manufacturing, bolstering the nation's water supply and broadband.
Republicans have largely panned the plan as going well beyond the traditional boundaries of infrastructure. They also oppose paying for the bill in part by hiking the corporate tax rate from 21 percent, the level set by the 2017 tax bill, to 28 percent.
Democrats say they want the bill to be bipartisan. But Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) told reporters after the closed-door caucus meeting that Democrats would likely use a budget process that lets them bypass the filibuster, known as reconciliation, to pass most of it.
"I do think it is likely that we will end up passing a lot of the president's American Jobs Plan through reconciliation, but I think we should first do everything we reasonably can to negotiate bipartisan bills with our colleagues on the other side," Coons said.
Democrats also got a win earlier this month when the Senate parliamentarian signaled that they could revise the fiscal 2021, and eventual fiscal 2022, budget resolutions, giving them more opportunities to pass bills under reconciliation. Democrats had been expected to be limited to two attempts, one of which they've already used on the coronavirus relief plan.
Schumer said a decision hadn't yet been made about next steps on the reconciliation package.
"How that happens, in what way that happens we have to have discussions with the parliamentarian of course. And we have to decide how to use it. It's a new quiver in our, in our, whatever your quiver goes in," Schumer said.
The Senate's current work period runs through the end of the month.
Democrats are focusing this week on confirming nominees and trying to pass a bill addressing rising anti-Asian hate crimes, which Republicans signed on Tuesday that they wouldn't filibuster debate on.
After that, Schumer told Democrats that he is aiming to move a bipartisan clean water bill and an effort to roll back a Trump-era rule that weakened regulations on methane as soon as next week.
He also wants to bring up a jobs bill targeting China by the end of the month that he is hoping will be bipartisan, according to the source in the meeting.
Schumer also outlined a sweeping, but not exhaustive, laundry list of the bills he would bring to the floor this year including LGBTQ rights, gun safety, immigration reform, criminal justice and a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.
Democrats are currently holding bipartisan behind-the-scenes talks on some of those issues.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat and Judiciary Committee chairman, is leading a bipartisan group on potential protections for so-called Dreamers, undocumented immigrants brought into the country as children.
Senators are also having discussions about expanding gun background checks or "red flag" laws.
"On all of these issues that I mentioned, our Democratic chairs are talking to Republicans to see if we can get something bipartisan. We prefer things bipartisan but at the same time not to have a bill that just sacrifices the core and the substance and what's needed," Schumer said, asked about a vote on expanding background checks.
"So that's one of them where there's discussions going on right now," he added.