Rubio blocks quick votes on stalemated defense bill

Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) leave the Capitol following a nomination vote on Wednesday, November 17, 2021.
Greg Nash

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on Wednesday night blocked a quick deal for votes on amendments to a sweeping defense policy bill, the latest setback for hopes of passing the legislation this week. 

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed (D-R.I.) tried to get consent to set up votes on 24 amendments to the National Defense Authorization (NDAA), which sets the Pentagon’s budget and policy, starting on Thursday morning.

After the amendment votes, the Senate would have then been on a path to vote on passing the defense bill as part of the agreement worked out by leadership.

But Rubio blocked the amendment deal after he failed to get his amendment included in the package that would get votes before a final vote in the Senate. Rubio’s proposal would ban imports from China’s Xinjiang region, where administration officials have accused the government of carrying out genocide against the Uyghur ethnic minority.

Rubio’s amendment was included in a list, sent out to Senate offices earlier Wednesday, of the amendments that would get voted on as part of the agreement. 

But Rubio faced a procedural snag because of the how amendment deal was structured, so that even if senators voted for his amendment it would have been stripped out before a final vote on the defense bill. 

And when Reed came to the floor to ask for consent to set up the amendment votes, Rubio’s proposal wasn’t among the amendments being set up for a vote. 

Democrats warned that Rubio’s amendment would kill the legislation in the House because it violates Article 1, Section 7, Clause 1 of the Constitution, which stipulates that bills that raise revenue have to originate in the lower chamber. 

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) called Rubio’s objection to setting up the amendment votes “sad, tragic and almost absurd.” 

“If his amendment were on the bill it would automatically kill the bill,” Schumer said, adding that Rubio’s amendment is a “poison pill.” 

Reed added that because of the so-called blue-slip objection — when a House member flags that a Senate bill would raise revenue — including Rubio’s proposal “would put at risk the entire National Defense Authorization Act.” 

Rubio, however, accused the House of using the procedural roadblock because they don’t support his proposal, which previously passed the Senate but has stalled in the House. 

“They can basically use it on virtually anything. They can just apply it to anything they don’t like,” Rubio said, referring to the blue-slip objection. 

“This is really not about revenue generating. … This is about the fact that they don’t want this to pass over in the House,” Rubio added, adding that corporations were lobbying against his bill. 

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) also tried to get a vote on his amendment related to a memo from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin requiring that all National Guard and Reserve service members be vaccinated against COVID-19 or face loss of pay. But he didn’t formally object to the amendment deal after Reed shot down his request to include his amendment among the package that would be allowed to get votes.

The roadblock on Wednesday night is the latest setback for the mammoth defense bill. 

Leadership tried to set up votes on 18 amendments before the Thanksgiving Day recess, but several GOP senators objected because their amendments weren’t included. 

Republicans then blocked the defense bill from advancing on Monday night, arguing that Schumer hadn’t given them adequate time or enough amendment votes. 

Leadership then floated a deal on Tuesday night that would have set up votes on 21 amendments, but Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) told reporters on Wednesday morning that there were at least three Republicans objecting to that deal and likely more. 

Republicans appeared to think things were headed in the right direction by early Wednesday afternoon, predicting that votes could start on Wednesday evening. Underscoring that talks were making progress, leadership then floated another deal to set up 25 amendments as well as final procedural steps and final passage of the defense bill. 

Under Senate rules, any senator can block votes on amendments unless Schumer wants to eat up limited floor time to force a vote. Congress also needs to fund the government by the end of Friday in order to prevent a shutdown.

Schumer urged GOP senators to try to convince Rubio to back down, though he characterized the chances of a deal by Thursday morning as “slim.” 

“It makes no sense. No sense whatsoever. I would ask Marco Rubio to sleep on this overnight,” Schumer said.

“How does it help Sen. Rubio’s goal with the Uyghurs by preventing anything from moving forward unless his proposal gets in the bill, which would destroy the bill? That’s the absurd place we are in tonight. It is regrettable. It is sad … and it speaks to the need to restore the Senate and change the rules,” Schumer added.

Tags Charles Schumer Jack Reed James Lankford John Kennedy Lloyd Austin Marco Rubio National Defense Authorization Act

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