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Democrats Had a Lot of GOP Help on Energy Bill Vote

Cornyn, right, blamed Democrats for the impasse, but several of his GOP colleagues, such as Lee, left, voted to sustain a filibuster on the energy bill. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn was mad, and he knew just whom to blame: Democrats, who were insisting on an emergency aid package for the city of Flint, Mich., to address its poisoned water system. But the truth, as it often is, was a little more complicated.  

As his colleagues voted down a move to cut off debate on a bipartisan energy bill Thursday, the Texas Republican trained his sights on the other side of the aisle.  

"And because our colleagues from Michigan refused to take 'yes' for an answer, objected to a vote on their very amendment, the Democratic caucus has come together and brought down this bipartisan bill, killing it -- at least for the time being," Cornyn said. "This is about trying to embarrass Republicans," he fumed.  

But 15 of Cornyn's Republican colleagues joined most, but not all, Democrats in voting against cutting off debate, pushing the number of votes below even majority support, much less the 60 required, to 43-54. Earlier Thursday, the Senate failed to cut off debate on a substitute amendment, 46-50, that included some Flint-related measures.  

Even when discounting Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's "no" vote -- he changed his vote from an earlier "yes" because it preserves the right to return to the measure quickly -- 14 Republicans voted against the party line: Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, John Boozman of Arkansas, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Mike Crapo of Idaho, Jeff Flake of Arizona, James Lankford of Oklahoma, Mike Lee of Utah, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Jim Risch of Idaho, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Tim Scott of South Carolina, Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania and David Vitter of Louisiana.  

Five Democrats, plus independent Sen. Angus King of Maine, broke from their caucus to support cutting off debate: Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Tim Kaine of Virginia, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire.  

The broader bill would streamline permitting for liquefied natural gas exports, mandate improvements to the electric grid's reliability and security, raise energy efficiency standards for commercial and federal buildings and permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund.  

McConnell announced the chamber would return to the measure -- senators' next vote is on Monday at 5:30 p.m. -- and that in the meantime, "Hopefully, we'll be able to salvage this important piece of legislation," pointing to ongoing discussions between Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Michigan's two Democratic senators, Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters.  

Those discussions were indeed ongoing, even on the floor during the vote. As Murkowski went to vote, she walked down the center aisle with Stabenow. Signaling the clerk to vote, Murkowski continued to talk with Michigan's senior senator even as she raised her index finger up to signal a "yes" vote.  

"There was some interesting discussion where we are on the process," Murkowski said on the floor shortly after the vote, citing "good, strong work" and that "we have more work to do."

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