Senate reaches deal to get out of town after Jan. 6 commission vote
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and a group of Republican conservatives struck a deal to allow a Friday vote on a bill setting up a bipartisan Jan. 6 commission, which will let senators leave Washington for the Memorial Day recess early Friday afternoon.
The deal, which was approved by the entire Senate after being hotlined, will postpone the final procedural votes and the final up-or-down vote on a bill to improve U.S. competitiveness with China until next month.
But it means that Republicans won’t be able to delay consideration of the China bill into the holiday weekend, which may have forced Democrats to vote on the Jan. 6 commission bill in the middle of the night, when few people would be paying attention.
“It’s something we proposed. It assures a vote on the Jan. 6 commission in the next hour, it assures it occurs in the light of day, not at 3 a.m. in the morning,” Schumer announced on the Senate floor.
“It assures that the vote on the U.S. Competition Act will take place when we return in June,” he added, referring to the U.S.-China competitiveness bill.
Senators had expected to pass the China bill on Thursday, and it appeared to be on track after the Senate voted overwhelmingly to add an 852-page amendment to the legislation sponsored by Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) reauthorizing trade preferences and tariff relief.
But things ground to a stop Thursday evening when conservatives raised objections over not being able to get votes on their own amendments and having little time to review the complex legislation.
Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and other conservatives forced the Senate to use all the procedural time that is required by its rules between votes.
Simply by raising procedural objections, they could have delayed a final vote on the Innovation and Competition Act, as the China bill is now officially called, until sometime during the holiday weekend.
That would have in turn delayed a vote on a House-passed bill to set up a 10-member bipartisan commission to investigate the events leading up to the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6 and the security lapses of that violent day.
Schumer and the conservative rebels haggled over how to move forward until 2:52 a.m. Friday, when the Senate recessed for the rest of the night despite the lack of a way forward.
When lawmakers returned to the Capitol shortly before 9 a.m., they were ready to strike a deal.
Democrats were eager to avoid a vote on the Jan. 6 commission in the middle of the night when fewer people would be paying attention because they want to draw as much public scrutiny as possible to Republicans who oppose it.
“Nothing is more corrosive to our democracy than a view that elections are not on the level. Yet that has been propagated by Donald Trump and many of his allies. A commission can get to the bottom of this in a clear way,” Schumer said on the Senate floor Friday.
Friday’s deal ensures that lawmakers who had scheduled overseas trips and other business will not have to rearrange their schedules.
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), for example, has scheduled an official trip to South Korea during the recess.
Johnson, Paul and other Senate GOP conservatives complained that the China bill had grown to some 2,000 pages with the added amendments and that only a small group of senators actually know what’s in it.
The package grew substantially when Schumer filed a substitute amendment to the legislation that added measures from at least five other committees, including the Foreign Relations, Homeland Security, Health, Judiciary and Banking panels.
The package is estimated to now cost nearly $200 billion and is designed to make the United States more competitive with China and other rivals in various areas.
It provides $52 billion for U.S. semiconductor manufacturers to keep them from losing more market share to foreign markets; it is designed to hold China accountable for predatory trade practices; it invests in artificial intelligence and cybersecurity; it protects U.S. research and invests in science, technology, engineering and math; and it bolsters antitrust enforcement, among other priorities.
“I can announce there is a hotline on a deal to delay a vote on this package until we come back after recess and move forward with the Jan. 6 commission vote and some nominations. So if nobody objects to that, we’re not going to object,” Johnson told reporters Friday morning. “It will give us time and our constituents time to take a look at this.”
Johnson, Paul and other conservatives who held up the China bill won’t get votes on any additional amendments when the Senate takes the matter back up next month, but they will get more time to review what’s in the legislation and talk about it over the recess.
“Let us go home, let us talk to constituents so that we’re informed when we actually cast our vote. Do you not understand this process — how you just get dumped on you hundreds of pages of complex legislative text and you’re expected to say, ‘Yah or nay,’” Johnson said.
Paul said the extra time will give critics more time to highlight what he sees as wasteful spending in the bill.
“This is about a debate about a despicable waste of money, it’s a debate about the debt, whether anybody cares. No Democrats give a fig about the deficit. They’re honest, they believe in new monetary policy: Spend whatever it takes, borrow whatever it takes,” he said.
“Our side, most of them say they care but there’s only a few of us who are willing to say, no, we’re not going to vote for more wasteful spending,” he said. “This is about wasteful spending. … We’re going to tell people at home about it.”
Updated at 12:20 p.m.
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