Will Senate Republicans be stopped from working on anything else legislatively before the partial government shutdown ends?
Whether or not the Senate debates a new package of Syria sanctions and an effort to block boycotts of Israel this week could hinge on whether Maryland’s Democratic senators can convince their colleagues to do nothing until a deal is reached on ending the shutdown.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland has been leading the call to stymie other legislation until Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky calls up House-passed funding bills to reopen the government. Last week, the House passed measures to provide full appropriations for the various agencies and offices currently shuttered, along with a continuing resolution for the Homeland Security Department, as the debate drags on about funding President Donald Trump’s desired border wall.
McConnell has said repeatedly that he has no intention of doing that because neither of those bills will get a presidential signature.
“Senate Democrats should block consideration of any bills unrelated to opening the government until Sen. Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans allow a vote on the bipartisan bills the House passed to open the government,” Van Hollen tweeted over the weekend. “Mitch, don’t delay. Let’s vote!”
A senior Senate Democratic aide said Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer would be joining in the opposition to taking up the Middle East policy package before votes on the House-passed spending bills. “Senate Republicans should instead bring to the floor the House-passed bills to reopen the government,” the aide said.
Van Hollen, the former chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, has been gaining support among the conference, including from potential White House aspirants.
“The @senatemajldr should immediately allow a vote on the bipartisan bills the House already passed to reopen the government — until that happens, @SenateDems should block consideration of all unrelated bills,” New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker tweeted Monday morning.
“I agree, @ChrisVanHollen, the Senate must reopen the government as the first order of business before proceeding with other bills. Federal workers and government contractors are suffering,” she tweeted.
Some other Democrats looking ahead to the 2020 presidential race did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the plan, which has also won backing from the AFL-CIO.
The strategy, which also has the backing of others representing the large population of federal workers within the national capital region, including Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner of Virginia, as well as Maryland’s senior senator, Benjamin L. Cardin, will be first put to the test early Tuesday evening.
The Senate is not in session on Monday.
That first real Senate vote of the Congress, which is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, is on a motion by McConnell to short-circuit any potential filibusters on the motion to proceed to a bundle of foreign policy bills held over from 2018 that have had bipartisan support.
Both Kaine and Warner said Monday that they would be voting “no” Tuesday.
The highlights of the actual legislative package up for debate Tuesday, which is being led by Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio, include a measure that would provide for a new round of sanctions targeting Syria and language that is getting the most attention because it would seek to thwart efforts to promote boycotts, disinvestment and sanctions against Israel.
In a debate that has been playing out on Twitter, in no small part because senators have not been on Capitol Hill for several days even as the shutdown has continued, Rubio has argued that the shutdown is not really why a number of Democrats are pushing to block the foreign policy bills.
“A significant # of Senate Democrats now support #BDS & Dem leaders want to avoid a floor vote that reveals that,” Rubio tweeted.
Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, another member of the Foreign Relations Committee, was quick to dispute that, also on Twitter.
“I hope a staffer wrote this tweet and when you see it you take it down,” the Connecticut Democrat said in response to Rubio. “You know it isn’t true that ‘a significant # of Senate Dems support BDS’. Really dangerous to play politics w support for Israel.”
Watch: What really happens during a government shutdown, explained