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McConnell has been upping the ante himself. On Monday, he led Republicans in threatening to block a new Commerce secretary and any other trade-related nominees until President Barack Obama sends Congress all three pending trade agreements: South Korea, Panama and Colombia. The Obama administration wants to act on South Korea first.
The move irritated Reid, who noted the rules agreement in a conference call Monday. “They weren’t going to do all this stuff,” Reid said.
But asked directly Tuesday whether he thought McConnell had broken the agreement, Reid said simply, “No.”
Majority Whip Dick Durbin nonetheless acknowledged that the events of recent days are pressuring the agreement between Reid and McConnell.
“These agreements are great in the opening days of the session, but the strain of business around here sometimes test them,” the Illinois Democrat said. “I hope that we pass the test.”
But Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander disputed the notion that the Reid-McConnell agreement was threatened, saying it has “worked very well.”
“Sen. McConnell said, ‘I’ll bring most bills to the floor if you will help Senators to be able to offer most amendments,’ and he’s done that so far,” the Tennessee lawmaker said. “He never promised he’d get 100 percent of his caucus to do it because it doesn’t take that many votes.”
Alexander said McConnell’s holds on trade-related nominees were “completely different” from the agreement on legislation.
“Occasionally you delay a nominee to get the attention of the administration, and that’s what he’s doing,” Alexander said. “But in terms of legislation coming to the floor and Senators being allowed to have votes — even if they’re not germane — that’s working pretty well. ... There are going to be times when Sen. Reid moves to fill the tree, and there are going to be times when Sen. McConnell votes against a motion to proceed. But that hasn’t happened yet.”
Alexander cited McConnell’s energy amendment to the small-business bill, which the Senate debated Tuesday, as an example of how the process is working. McConnell proposed barring the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. McConnell’s strategy has been to force votes on Republican priorities such as repealing the health care law rather than blocking Democratic efforts to move bills.
And McConnell said his objection to trade-related nominees had nothing to do with his agreement with Reid, but rather were designed to “help the president do what he says he’s in favor of doing, which is send all three trade agreements up.”