Sen. Charles E. Schumer and John McCain met with reporters for nearly an hour Wednesday morning. Together. On the record.
The result of the Wall Street Journal-sponsored breakfast with the New York Democrat and Arizona Republican was a wide-ranging conversation on domestic and foreign policy that occasionally veered into the absurd.
The initial focus was on the prospects for an immigration overhaul to move through the House in the aftermath of the upset primary defeat of outgoing House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., but much of the discussion focused on Senate operations.
Schumer conceded that a Senate order that allows amendments would involve vulnerable Democrats dealing with difficult votes, but he suggested that might be acceptable if the end result was clear: That the underlying bill would eventually get the votes needed to pass the Senate.
"Some of the bills we put up are political ... I argue against every one of them, of course," Schumer said, generating laughs from a room full of reporters familiar with the senator from Brooklyn's role as Democratic messaging guru.
"Thank God for Chuck Schumer," McCain quipped in response.
McCain and Schumer said that conversations were ongoing about the elusive deal to thaw the repeated sparring over amendments that's doomed even ostensibly non-controversial legislation.
"I'm hoping that perhaps, and we've come close to it a couple of times, where we could agree to have amendments and votes," McCain said. "One of the ways would be to take up the defense authorization bill, because we always allow amendments on that, on that bill."
In a couple of recent cases, the Senate's moved quickly. There's a bipartisan deal on reauthorizing the Workforce Investment Act, for instance. But more generally, there's been a morass. McCain cited familiar statistics about the lack of roll call votes on amendments over the last year.
"It's just not fair to our constituents not to have debate and votes, and but I'm sure if Sen. Reid or someone else were sitting here, maybe Chuck will say, 'well, these Republicans, they always demand unlimited amendments and non-germane,' and all that, and there's some legitimacy to that, ok," McCain said of attempts at putting bills on the floor without amendment restrictions. "But I still think that all of us would be better off if we at least tried a few times."
Schumer Casts Doubt on Export-Import Bank Among the topics discussed was the likelihood that Congress would reauthorize the charter for the Export-Import Bank.
"I believe we need it. The argument that 'let the free market handle it?' Well yeah, if all the other countries of the world stopped their subsidies, we should," Schumer said. "Otherwise we're doing unilateral disarmament and hurting our people."
"Will it happen? I think it's likely to happen that the House won't pass it," Schumer said, referring to internal dynamics among House Republicans.
"I still hope we can pass it in a bipartisan way in the Senate," Schumer said.
"You have immigration reform which the business community is strongly for. You have the tax extenders, which the business community [backs] — R&D, bonus depreciation — which our Republican colleagues hard right are holding up. Now you have the Ex-Im Bank. We're even getting some blowback on TRIA — terrorism insurance," Schumer said. "I would say to my dear friends at the Chamber of Commerce, it doesn't make sense for you anymore to just always support the whole Republican ticket."
Schumer contended that he might have points of view on many issues closer to business interests "than the, you know, typical House Republican because of the dominance of the tea party."
McCain responded to that by pointing to opposition among Democrats to fast track Trade Promotion Authority.
"I don't think the Business Roundtable is overjoyed," by the position of Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., against the trade powers.
"I'm not against reauthorizing it, but I would like to see it restructured in a way that we can help businesses all over America and not just the largest corporations."
McCain said the issue has not yet been his focus, citing other priorities before the Senate.