Senate chaos: Johnson delays exit as votes pushed to Friday

Senate hopes of votes on a China competitiveness bill and legislation to form a commission to probe the Jan. 6 mob attack on the Capitol were dashed Thursday night after Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and other conservatives raised objections to the China bill, delaying the Senate’s planned exit for the Memorial Day recess.

Instead of completing its work late Thursday or early Friday, the Senate will now be back in session at 9 a.m. after adjourning at 3 a.m. to try to move forward again. 

Johnson, backed by a group of fellow conservative senators, threw the China bill back into limbo, refusing to let it move forward over frustration that he didn’t get some of his amendments in the package.

“Everybody else seems to have gotten something in this manager’s package,” he said, adding that reporters should expect to be in the Capitol for a “long time.”

He also told reporters that senators needed “time” to “read and consider” what’s been added to the bill.

“How can anybody comprehend that?” Johnson said. “We’re going to try and take as much time as we possibly can so we can fully consider this bill.”

It was thought the Senate would vote on a procedural motion related to the Jan. 6 legislation approved by the House after the China legislation. That vote is also in limbo.

Ten Republican votes would be needed to end debate on the Jan. 6 legislation, a threshold unlikely to be reached.

On the China bill, Democrats tried to move forward late Thursday, arguing that it had been the product of several committees. 

“Our colleagues, our leadership on both sides of the aisle have worked through a process of regular order with our colleagues on a host of 36 different amendments. Where I’m looking at this list, many of them are bipartisan. And I think those members deserve to have a vote,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the chairwoman of the Senate Commerce Committee.  

But the group of GOP senators objected. 

“So now here we are at 11 [p.m.], we’ve come to the chamber, for the first time I’ve seen what the amendments are in the managers’ package. I’m sorry. I don’t know what these amendments are. … So you can claim this is regular order. You can claim this is a deliberative process, but it’s far from it,” Johnson said. 

Johnson asked to delay the package for three hours. And Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) tried to delay the package until after the one-week Memorial Day recess. Cantwell objected to both requests. 

“It is time for us to honor the request of our colleagues to move forward on a managers’ package worked out by the leaders and the relevant chair and ranking member,” she said.

Instead, the group of GOP senators was able to delay the China package until at least mid-morning Friday, if not until late morning or early afternoon. 

As Johnson started speaking, senators had largely left the Capitol to get a few hours of sleep. Leadership was telling lawmakers to keep their phones close amid a scatter of predictions about when the next vote would be. 

“People are just going to go home, rest, sleep,” said Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) as he left the Capitol.  

Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Republican senator, predicted that the bill was largely in limbo until Friday morning.  

“These guys said they are going to use eight hours. I’ll believe it when I see it, but I think it’s going to be awhile,” Thune said.  

Once senators return to the Capitol, they’ll still have several procedural votes. And the same group of GOP senators, Thune warned, could want to use up more time later Friday morning. 

In addition to Johnson and Scott, they were joined by Sens. John Kennedy (R-La.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.). 

The vote on the China bill was thought to possibly be a rare moment of bipartisan compromise in the Senate.

But even before the objections by Johnson and his allies, it had been the subject of delays on Wednesday and Thursday.

The bill was held in limbo for hours earlier Thursday as Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) cut a deal with Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) on his trade and tariff amendment.

That was ultimately resolved when senators voted overwhelmingly to add Crapo’s proposal into the bill, which was expected to be the last stumbling block before the bill could pass the Senate.

Leadership had been expected to be debating a final package of amendments that could be resolved Thursday night, paving the way for the vote on a Jan. 6 commission.

But it became apparent around 8 p.m. that the bill had run into another snag.  

Thune, returning to the Capitol, told reporters that “we have an objection now to doing anything.”

“I’m not sure how we resolve this one,” Thune said, adding that “it’s pretty unsolvable.” 

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) confirmed that there was a GOP senator holding up the bill, but declined to discuss it, saying he didn’t want to “give it oxygen.”

“Our members are concerned they didn’t get amendments,” he said. 

Senators were then instructed to come back to the Capitol shortly after 10 p.m., where they huddled on the floor but failed to reach an agreement on a quick path forward. 

“I think if you just pick 10 senators at random and ask them off the record, do you know what’s in this bill,” Kennedy said. “Not every word, but do you have a general … idea of everything in this bill? Nine out of 10 will tell you that they don’t and the 10th is probably lying.”

Updated at 6:28 a.m.

Tags Charles Schumer China January 6 commission John Kennedy John Thune Maria Cantwell Mike Crapo Mike Lee Rand Paul Rob Portman Ron Johnson Senate Steve Daines

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