Politics in the Senate took a turn for the absurd Thursday, as the GOP boycotted the Senate Finance Committee’s “mock markup” of trade legislation because they said it would make it difficult for them to start their July Fourth recess — which itself had been curtailed earlier in the day.
Both the markup — which would have no real effect on the status of the trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama — and Republicans’ sudden concern for the start of their four-day weekend are signs of just how deeply poisoned the atmosphere in the Senate has become. Senate leaders earlier Thursday decided to remain in session next week, citing a lack of progress on debt-ceiling talks.
Finance ranking member Orrin Hatch expressed outrage that Democrats insisted on holding the markup at 3 p.m., when some Republicans would already be on their way home, instead of at 10 a.m., when they would have time to debate some of their proposed 97 amendments before heading home for the holiday.
“We have rights in the minority. … We’re not going to be jammed like this!” the Utah Republican said at a 3 p.m. press conference. Republicans also object to the inclusion of enhanced trade assistance for displaced workers in the South Korea agreement, but Hatch said they were prepared to move forward with the markup only if it were held in the morning, not the afternoon.
Hatch blamed the White House, not Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), for trying to rush through the trade agreements and for pushing the 3 p.m. start time.
Although Republicans had made clear for hours that they would not attend the markup, Democrats made a show of attempting to hold it. Prior to the start time, Baucus approached several committee members, including Hatch — all of whom were conveniently surrounded by reporters at the time — to remind them it was still scheduled for the afternoon.
Baucus and the committee’s Democratic members even came to the Finance hearing room at 3 p.m., where they lamented Republicans’ decision.
“I’m certainly disappointed that my colleagues have chosen not to join us to consider this legislation. This choice is a strict departure from the years of bipartisan work of this committee,” Baucus said.
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said he was “dumbfounded and saddened by what is happening here today. ... [It] tells the story of the broken politics in our country and the broken United States Senate.”
Kerry also noted that Republicans for months have attacked the Obama administration for what they say has been its slow handling of the trade deals, arguing their concern for the agreements had been trumped by politics. “I guess it was important to them until it stopped being important to them because politics took over.”
“We’re beginning to see a pattern among some of our colleagues on the other side of the aisle. They’re No. 1 priority is political victory, regardless of the consequences for the country,” Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said.