Senate advances public lands bill in late-night vote

The Senate voted 65-19 early Friday morning to advance a bipartisan conservation bill after lawmakers couldn’t reach a deal to skip the procedural vote. 

The vote, conducted after 1:00 a.m., was required to advance the Great American Outdoors Act, which would provide $900 million annually in oil and gas revenues for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

The LWCF funds conservation projects like acquiring land for national parks, and the legislation would separately put $6.5 billion towards addressing a maintenance backlog in the National Park system. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The Senate will take three additional votes on Monday on the bill. Absent an 11th-hour snag, it is expected to pass early next week. 

Sleepy-eyed senators returned to the Capitol in the middle of the night after some members refused to give unanimous approval to move up the vote. 

A private stalemate over the bill spilled into public view on Thursday afternoon when GOP senators warned that they expected to have to return to the Capitol for the rare 1 a.m. vote Friday. 

Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPublic awareness campaigns will protect the public during COVID-19 Democrats: A moment in history, use it wisely 'Comrade' Trump gets 'endorsement' from Putin in new mock ad by Lincoln Project MORE (R-Ky.) moved to end debate on the lands bill Wednesday, meaning under Senate rules the earliest he could have the first vote was as soon as 1 a.m. on Friday absent an agreement. 

Senators routinely agree to move up votes, or delay it until Monday, so that they can leave Washington mid-Thursday. But GOP senators said there was no sign that a deal would be worked out amid a stalemate over allowing amendment votes, none of which are expected to be held. 

ADVERTISEMENT

"We would have to have consent, and we don't have that," Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntThe Hill's Morning Report - Republicans shift, urge people to wear masks Hillicon Valley: Facebook takes down 'boogaloo' network after pressure | Election security measure pulled from Senate bill | FCC officially designating Huawei, ZTE as threats Senate GOP starting to draft next coronavirus proposal MORE (R-Mo.), a member of GOP leadership, said about trying to get an earlier vote. "I think that's primarily over the amendment process."  

Sen. Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsRepublicans fear backlash over Trump's threatened veto on Confederate names Republican rift opens up over qualified immunity for police GOP divided in fight over renaming bases MORE (R-S.D.) added that some senators want votes on amendments to the bill and "this is their way of sending a message." 

Any sign that the stalemate might thaw out and let the Senate avoid a middle-of-the-night session appeared unlikely earlier Thursday evening, when Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerThe Hill's Campaign Report: Colorado, Utah primary results bring upsets, intrigue The Hill's Morning Report - Republicans shift, urge people to wear masks Hickenlooper beats back progressive challenge in Colorado primary MORE (R-Colo.) warned that they were "tracking" for a 1 a.m. vote. 

The Senate bill is currently on track to be wrapped up without any amendment votes, something that has frustrated senators who want changes to the bill. 

"This legislation was written as if on stone tablets, there is no more to be written, this book is sealed, you can't have anymore to say ... That's how one would treat a subordinate. And I think it's insulting not to me but to those I represent,” Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenate panel votes 21-1 to back Justice IG measure over Graham objections Senators offer bill to expand charitable giving tax break Overnight Energy: Senate passes major lands conservation bill | Mnuchin ordered to give Native American tribes full stimulus funding | Key Republican jeopardizes Trump consumer safety nominee MORE (R-Utah) said. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Lee added that the bill is "perpetuating and worsening our already highly problematic federal public lands policy." 

Lee on Thursday tried to get votes on five amendments — two from himself, one from Sen. Mike BraunMichael BraunGridlock mires chances of police reform deal Pelosi says GOP 'trying to get away with murder' on police reform bill GOP senator introducing bill to scale back qualified immunity for police MORE (R-Ind.), one from Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTrump administration grants funding extension for Texas testing sites Hillicon Valley: Democrats introduce bill banning federal government use of facial recognition tech | House lawmakers roll out legislation to establish national cyber director | Top federal IT official to step down GOP lawmakers join social media app billed as alternative to Big Tech MORE (R-Texas) and one from Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) — but Gardner objected.

Sen. Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyWhy drug costs for older Americans should be capped in pandemic's wake Ready Responders CEO Justin Dangel stresses importance of Medicaid population; Fauci says he won't attend Trump rally this weekend Senate advances public lands bill in late-night vote MORE (R-La.) also made a pitch to get an amendment on offshore revenue sharing, which has not gotten a a vote, included in the bill, saying that it would pass. 
 
"It deserves a vote, it would pass. It protects so many lives," Cassidy said.  

Although some Republicans have expressed opposition to the legislation, it is also supported by members of both parties. 

President TrumpDonald John Trump Trump responds to calls to tear down monuments with creation of 'National Garden' of statues Trump: Children are taught in school to 'hate their own country' Trump accuses those tearing down statues of wanting to 'overthrow the American Revolution' MORE also announced support for funding the LWCF this year, though this was a turnaround from a previous proposal to slash the fund by about 97 percent. 

When he proclaimed his support, the president particularly named Gardner and Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesPolitical establishment takes a hit as chaos reigns supreme Lincoln Project releases new pro-Biden ad in swing states The Hill's Campaign Report: Progressives feel momentum after primary night MORE (R-Mont.), major backers of the bill, both of whom are up for reelection.

Some view the legislation as an attempt to boost the vulnerable incumbents, but McConnell pushed back on that idea this week, saying “It’s in proximity to the election but nobody said you ought to quit doing things just because there’s an election.”

--Updated at 10:15 a.m.