Senate votes to advance China bill after Schumer strikes deal

The Senate on Thursday advanced legislation aimed at combating China’s competitiveness after Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) cut a deal, breaking an hours-long stalemate. 

The vote caps off a dramatic 24 hours as Schumer and Republicans scrambled to try to save the bill, restyled the Innovation and Competition Act, after some Republicans threatened to make it their first successful filibuster of the 117th Congress.  

The bill initially looked doomed Thursday as dozens of Republicans voted against ending debate, before being held in limbo.

But there appeared to be signs of movement early Thursday afternoon when Republicans said Schumer and Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) had struck an agreement to allow for a vote on a trade amendment, putting the bill on a glide path to passage. 

The legislation still faces additional procedural votes and potentially dozens of hours of debate, with Republicans able to use the Senate’s rulebook to slow walk the bill. But the vote sets up the Senate to pass the bill as soon as Thursday. 

“We’ve got some people who are not going to let it go quietly, but there are after a certain point a limited number of obstacles that can be thrown out,” said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican. 

It’s a boon for Schumer, who has pointed to the bill as an example that the Senate can still work in a Capitol increasingly driven by partisan fights. Democrats have spent days allowing for votes on roughly a dozen amendments as they’ve tried to shore up GOP support.  

“The process was important here. For years senators have been clamoring for an open process and more amendment votes. … Well this competition bill ought to be the answer to my colleagues’ prayers,” Schumer said. 

The bill builds off a Schumer proposal with Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) to provide $120 billion for activities at the National Science Foundation, Department of Commerce, the Department of Energy and NASA. It would also create a new directorate of technology and innovation at the National Science Foundation.  

In addition to the Young-Schumer bill at its core, the legislation provides $52 billion for semiconductor provisions, folds in a separate China-specific bill that passed out of the Foreign Relations Committee in a 21-1 vote and provisions cracking down on the reliance of Chinese companies and technology. 

But it hasn’t been totally smooth sailing. Schumer tried to close debate on the bill without knowing if he had the Republican votes locked down, injecting last-minute chaos into Thursday’s floor drama. 

He made a final pitch to Republicans ahead of the vote. 

“I hope my colleagues have seen our commitment in drafting and developing legislation in total concert with the other side of the aisle. With cooperation with our Republican colleagues, we can finish the bill today and I hope we do,” Schumer said.  

But Republicans appeared ready to hold together after Crapo railed to his colleagues during a close-door lunch about his inability to get a vote on his amendment to extend trade preferences and tariff relief.

“There were some very important pieces that were in there,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.). “We had assumed once the deal was made it would be honored.” 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warned that Republicans would block the bill Thursday but also made it clear what an off-ramp would be: More amendment votes. 

“So there’s no excuse for shutting off debate prematurely before the Senate’s been able to have its say, he said. “Republicans don’t want some big fight. We want an outcome. A bipartisan outcome. Even now, discussions are continuing behind the scenes.” 

And some Republicans railed against the bill, arguing it was poorly negotiated on their side. 

“I think we have given away all of our leverage to Senator Schumer,” said Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.). “Whoever was negotiating for us I wouldn’t take them to buy a car with me because they would offer the car salesman a bonus.” 

Tags China bill Chuck Schumer Filibuster Innovation and Competition Act John Kennedy John Thune Mike Crapo Mike Rounds Mitch McConnell Todd Young

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