Temper Erupts On Senate Floor Over Impasse In COVID-19 Response

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The Senate floor became the site of shouting and angry tirades Monday afternoon, as an impasse over a COVID-19 package frayed the nerves in the “cooling saucer of democracy,” as the Senate has been called.

“We don’t have time for this,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) yelled on the floor, while interrupting a Democrat’s floor remarks.

Things first started going off the rails Sunday evening, when Democrats blocked a procedural move to advance the economic response package, known colloquially as
“Phase III,” because they had not resolved with Republicans several sticking points in the measure.

McConnell excoriated Democrats for the move Sunday night, and that tone carried over into his floor speech at the opening of Monday’s session, as he announced the Senate would be voting on the procedural move again.

“Suddenly, the Senate’s serious bipartisan process turned into this left-wing episode of ‘Supermarket Sweep’,” McConnell said, as he blamed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-NY) for intervening and disrupting the Senate negotiations with requests not related to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer shot back in his own floor remarks.

“Every time we hear the majority leader come out, it’s a partisan screed, while I am in my office with, the President’s secretary of Treasury, the President’s congressional liaison, getting things done,” Schumer said. “We Democrats are trying to get things done, not making partisan speech after partisan speech.”

The fireworks didn’t end with the leader’s prepared floor remarks, where it’s not uncommon for such a theatrics to be employed.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) sought to take the floor to make a speech of her own, but Schumer objected to letting her speak.

The objection prompted a skirmish between Schumer and Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE)  who was presiding over the floor at the time. With frustration in his voice, Sasse shot down the arcane procedural tactics Schumer was trying to use to interrupt Collins.

“This is unbelievable,” Collins complained.

Schumer demanded that McConnell clarify the schedule for the day, and McConnell laid out that after an hour of floor remarks, the Senate would again take the procedural vote that failed Sunday night. Collins then decried Democrats’ “delay” and lack of “urgency”

“Unbelievably, the Democratic leader objected to my even being able to speak,” Collins, who sometimes votes with Democrats, said. “Is that what we’ve come to?”

The next lawmaker up to speak was a Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), whom, like Collins, sometimes breaks with his party. This time, however, Manchin was sticking with the Democrats, as he signaled he would vote “no” again in Monday’s procedural vote.

Manchin said he was concerned that if they voted to advance the measure — a procedural vote with a 60-vote threshold — then Republicans could pass the final vote (a 51-vote threshold) with their majority alone, without addressing Democrats’ concerns with the package.

“That seems to be the reason everyone is saying, ‘Wait a minute, let’s have an agreement so we can move through,'” Manchin said, while calling for more health care spending in the measure.

The claim prompted McConnell to interrupt Manchin to pick apart his arguments about the procedural dynamics.

“We don’t have time for this, we don’t have time,” McConnell said, later adding that he was going to “explain” to Manchin how it all works. McConnell said there would be another 60-vote threshold vote before final passage.

“We should be able to get a deal and we can move forward,” Manchin said, as he pivoted back to his substantive qualms with the measure.

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