Warner quarantine could scramble Democrats’ plan for quick budget vote

Senate Democrats want to adopt a budget resolution before impeachment trial starts Feb. 9

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., pictured arriving in the Capitol on the Senate subway to vote Tuesday, announced the following day that he was quarantining after having close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., pictured arriving in the Capitol on the Senate subway to vote Tuesday, announced the following day that he was quarantining after having close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted January 27, 2021 at 9:19pm

Sen. Mark Warner announced Wednesday evening that he is quarantining after potential COVID-19 exposure, which could impact Democratic leaders' plans to bring a budget resolution to the floor next week that would kick off the reconciliation process for a coronavirus relief package.

The Senate can adopt a budget with a simple majority vote, but Democrats have only 50 senators so they need every single one and Vice President Kamala Harris to be present for the vote in order to adopt it without Republican support, which is not expected.

[Democrats planning swift moves on budget resolution next week]

Democrats had been preparing for votes next week in both chambers on a budget resolution with reconciliation instructions for President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. The budget blueprint is expected to allow room for that much in deficit-financed aid; instructions would go to multiple House and Senate committees to produce their pieces of a package that would add up to that figure.

Using the reconciliation process will allow Democrats to pass an aid package without Republican support, since reconciliation measures need only a simple majority in the Senate. While Democrats have not ruled out a bipartisan package, they want to get the process started so they're not scrambling ahead of a mid-March deadline when unemployment benefits expire.

But first Democrats in both chambers need to adopt the same budget resolution. And Warner, D-Va., quarantining could throw a wrench in leadership's plans because the Senate does not have a process for lawmakers to cast floor votes remotely, like the proxy voting rules the House adopted for the pandemic.

Democratic leaders don't have much margin for error. House leaders, now expected to bring their budget blueprint to the floor by midweek, according to sources familiar with the planning, can't lose more than four votes on their side at the moment given no GOP support for the budget blueprint is expected. House Democrats are expected to go straight to the Rules Committee early next week, bypassing the Budget panel.

Congressional Progressive Caucus leaders in the House wrote to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer on Wednesday night telling them the $1.9 trillion figure is the minimum they can accept. But it wasn't immediately clear Senate Democrats would have the votes to adopt that figure as their target, and if Warner is absent it might be impossible.

"Congress should be building off of this opening offer, not weakening it," the House progressives wrote. "Given the clear economic consensus and urgent need for government spending, we are deeply concerned that lawmakers — including a handful in our own party — are advocating to scale back the President’s rescue package."

The goal has been to get the Senate budget debate, which typically takes a week, out of the way before the impeachment trial begins Feb. 9.

Exact timing for bringing a budget resolution to the floor has not yet been announced, but Schumer told reporters Tuesday he was preparing to hold the vote next week. "I informed senators to be prepared that a vote on a budget resolution could come as early as next week," Schumer said.

It's theoretically possible for the Senate to act on a budget resolution and impeachment simultaneously, but it would require an incredible level of bipartisan cooperation that Senate veterans don't see as likely.

A Schumer spokesman couldn't immediately be reached for comment on the Senate's schedule.

'Abundance of caution'

Warner learned Wednesday that a "close contact" tested positive for COVID-19, after which he tested negative for the virus, according to spokeswoman Rachel Cohen.

“Out of an abundance of caution and in accordance with guidance provided by the Office of the Attending Physician, he will be working remotely during his quarantine period,” she said.

Cohen's statement did not specify when Warner's quarantine period would end, and she did not immediately return a request for comment.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines say anyone who has had close contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19 should quarantine for 14 days after the last contact with the infected individual.

Cohen's statement said Warner learned of his close contact's positive diagnosis Wednesday, but did not specify when his contact occurred. So it's unclear how long he will be quarantining, but it could last well into next week and possibly beyond.

If he tests negative again after five days, according to CDC guidelines, Warner's quarantine could end as soon as seven days after contact. But Senate Democrats would need a simple majority just to adopt a motion to proceed to debate on the budget resolution, so Warner's absence early in the week could cause a delay if all Republicans are present.

One option may be to allow Warner to vote from a plexiglass structure that could be set up in the Senate gallery so he would not have contact with other senators and floor staff.

Capitol Attending Physician Brian Monahan erected such a structure for House members to vote in the opening two days of Congress early this month before the chamber adopted its rules package reauthorizing proxy voting. But the move was controversial, and it's unclear Monahan would be willing to do the same for the Senate, which has made no effort to change its rules to allow for remote voting.

David Lerman and Jennifer Shutt contributed to this report.