About two hours into Tuesday’s Senate Rules Committee hearing on the For The People Act, the soft spoken Sen. Angus King (I-ME) broke the long streak of members using their minutes for mini-monologues.
“I have a question of, I guess Senator Cruz — Senator Blunt has gone to vote,” King said to a nearly empty room. Most of the committee members, including ranking member Roy Blunt (R-MO), had left for a floor vote.
“I don’t like negotiating with myself, and my question is: if this amendment and others that you suggest are accepted, would you vote for the bill?” King asked Cruz.
“Do you see what I’m saying?” King prompted, looking intently at Cruz from beneath bushy eyebrows, a lobster-print mask pulled down to his chin.
“I do,” Cruz started slowly. “To be candid, it is difficult to imagine a set of amendments being adopted that would cause me to vote for this bill — it would have to be a fundamentally different bill.”
“That being said, each of these amendments is a designed to strike out egregious aspects of this bill, so if some of these amendments were adopted, it might conceivably convince some Republicans to support it, if it ceased being a partisan power grab,” he added, making it sound like some Republicans did not include him.
It was a moment of candor from a Republican most eager to make passing S1 as painful as possible for Democrats. At Tuesday’s hearing alone, Cruz touted that he’d personally introduced 46 amendments to the bill, many of them aimed at stripping it of its key provisions. Republican members proposed a total of 150 amendments, according to numbers provided to TPM by committee chair Amy Klobuchar’s (D-MN) office. Democrats offered 27.
The GOP stalling tactic caused some friction at the beginning of the proceedings, as Klobuchar and Blunt went back and forth on the rules for the committee proceedings.
Klobuchar said that she is “not gonna permit any dilatory tactics” and that she will “retain the prerogative to move to final passage of the bill.” She added that she’d allow “as many amendments as we think are appropriate.”
Blunt, seeming miffed, said he hoped that would be the “standard for the committee in the future when our side is in control as well.”
The Rules Committee is split nine to nine, a part of the Senate organizing resolution established at the beginning of term (well, near the beginning of term, as soon as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell stopped holding it hostage over the filibuster). The committee can’t adopt tied amendments, the fate of most of the amendments the committee has voted on so far Tuesday.
When an amendment finally passed during the hearing, it was cause for celebration. That came almost three hours in, by 13 to five, on Sen. Mark Warner’s (D-VA) proposal to create a study to examine the effect of vote by mail on active duty members of the military. “The amendment is adopted — congratulations, Senator Warner,” grinned Klobuchar before moving on to the next amendment.
Most of the action on S1 will happen on the Senate floor, where Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has promised to bring it for a vote. He and McConnell both spoke at the beginning of the hearing, showing how important the legislation is to both parties.