The Senate voted on Saturday night to approve a $1.1 trillion deal and avert a government shutdown, sending the legislation to President Barack Obama for his signature after an unusual weekend session and days of drama in the House.
Senate conservatives had tried to make a point about Obama’s immigration policy this weekend, but the result was Senate Democrats getting everything they wanted out of their last days of power.
Story Continued Below
In the end the Senate passed the $1.1 trillion spending bill, 56-40, but not before Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was able to begin moving forward on 24 of the president’s nominations, including controversial figures like Vivek Murthy to be the new surgeon general, White House adviser Tony Blinken to be the deputy secretary of State and Sarah Saldana to head Immigration and Customs enforcement and a dozen federal judges to lifetime appointments.
Republicans fought Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for months to block these nominees from moving forward and many believed as late as Friday that they’d won as the holidays approached. But when Sens. Ted Cruz and Mike Lee took to the floor on Friday night to call for a vote on the president’s executive action on immigration and demand their colleagues stay through the weekend to do so rather than adjourn until Monday, they allowed Reid to exploit a procedural quirk and get the nominations rolling.
Cruz and Lee eventually got a vote that raised concerns over the constitutionality over Obama’s executive action, though it was defeated badly by bipartisan opposition, 22-74. Twenty Republicans, including Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), voted against Cruz and Lee, a sharp rebuke to their tactics.
The conservative senators’ demands resulted in a highly unusual Saturday session that featured an entire day of senators holding court on the floor as Reid set up nomination votes next week and was forced by Republican opposition to hold cumbersome procedure votes hour-after-hour. Senators tried to munch food off of the floor to satiate themselves during the bizarre session, and Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) both lost themselves in their reading for long periods of time on the Senate floor.
Now that Reid was able to get these nominations moving forward, there’s little Republicans can do to stop him — though Cruz’s allies argue that Reid was likely to keep the Senate in session to move on these nominations no matter what.
When McConnell was asked if he was frustrated with his conservative members on Saturday, he responded to a pair of reporters with a wink and a smile. And as McConnell came into the Senate just before noon Saturday he said he was surprised that the deal to vote Monday had been scuttled Friday night after he’d left the Senate, but said he was confident the government’s lights would stay on.
“We’ll finish up with everything, it’s pretty much an automatic pilot. We’ll get to the end of the trail whenever that may be,” he said.
Nearly every senator mentioned as a future presidential candidate voted against the omnibus: GOP Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Rubio and Cruz as well as liberal Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts (D) and Bernie Sanders of Vermont (I).
Now the chamber’s attention shifts to nominations, which may take days of procedural votes next week and a lot of energy but are likely to be a boon to the president’s hopes of winning approval of as many nominees as possible before his party loses the Senate. The Senate is expected to come in on Monday to begin processing the 24 nominations.
“A lot of these people have been sitting in the calendar for a long time. So if this prompts my leadership to stay a little longer to get a lot of nominations done, then I’m happy about that,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) of the unusual Saturday session.
Reid and McConnell labored on Friday to complete a year-end deal to move the House-passed $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill, a terrorism risk insurance package and a series of tax breaks for businesses and individuals. But Republicans are sick of Democrats exploiting last year’s Senate rules change to unilaterally push through key executive and judicial nominations and refused to acquiesce to Democratic confirmation desires as the GOP prepares to take control of the Senate in January.
As approval of Obama’s team became the sticking point of wrapping up the Senate session, McConnell and Reid decided the best course of action was to send Obama a bill funding the government through Wednesday, shutter the Senate for the weekend and pass the omnibus on Monday. This would have spared a chamber filled with lame duck senators and exhausted aides from a trying weekend session and preserve Republicans’ leverage over nominees (GOP leaders believed the longer the session dragged on, the less likely ousted Democratic lawmakers would be willing to stick around as the holiday approaches simply to work through time-draining nomination votes).
But conservatives had none of it. After McConnell and many of his colleagues had left the Senate thinking a voting deal was sealed, Cruz of Texas and Lee of Utah took the Senate floor late on Friday to demand a vote defunding the president’s signature executive action shielding millions of undocumented immigrants from deportations as a condition to kick the battle to Monday. Reid refused.
And Lee denied senators a two-day break from the bitter partisanship of the chamber.
“The American people have grave concerns with the president’s decision to take action unilaterally with regard to executive amnesty,” Lee said. “I don’t see any reason to do this. I don’t see any reason why the United States Senate should suspend its operations while the American people are waiting for us to act. I don’t see any reason why we should wait until Monday.”
The decision irked Republican leaders because it allowed Reid to begin setting up votes on a controversial surgeon general nominee that has linked gun violence and public health, the elevation of a White House adviser to the State department, a politically charged ICE director and lifetime court appointments that the GOP has fought tooth and nail. McConnell had sought to have no confirmation work this weekend, preserving the GOP’s leverage next week as the Christmas holiday approached and Democrats’ patience ran thin.
Informed that confirmation of nominations was now rolling on Saturday much earlier than expected by Republicans, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) replied: “I wish you hadn’t pointed that out.”
Though Republicans fought Democrats all day Saturday by requiring dozens of time-wasting procedural votes as Reid set up confirmation votes for next week, there was nothing the GOP could do to stop him. And as long as there are more Democrats than Republicans in Washington, Obama’s nominees can be confirmed by Reid’s caucus.
Had Cruz and Lee agreed to Reid and McConnell’s deal, the conservatives could have received the same constitutional point of order vote on Monday, though they attracted extra attention from both their colleagues and political watchers by forcing the Saturday session. But the point of order was defeated, so the result was the same: The omnibus was sent to the president without defunding the immigration order — and Obama appears set to win quicker approval of his nominations.
This entry passed through the Full-Text RSS service – if this is your content and you’re reading it on someone else’s site, please read the FAQ at fivefilters.org/content-only/faq.php#publishers.
Want something else to read? How about ‘Grievous Censorship’ By The Guardian: Israel, Gaza And The Termination Of Nafeez Ahmed’s Blog