McConnell says no to delay on votes to accommodate Dem presidential hopefuls

Democrats had pushed for delay to give senators involved in presidential debates time to get back

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell does not want to delay votes on a defense policy bill so that Democratic senators can head to a series of presidential debates in Miami. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made clear Tuesday that Democrats are going to have to filibuster the fiscal 2020 defense authorization bill if they do not want final votes this week.

The Kentucky Republican opened the Senate with criticism of Monday afternoon’s statement by Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer that defense policy bill votes, including consideration of a key amendment regarding limitations on the use of funds for war with Iran, should be delayed until after this week’s Democratic presidential debates.

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“Postpone legislation on our national defense to accommodate the presidential race? In the middle of this ongoing crisis overseas? Come on. Come on,” McConnell said.

McConnell described his own reaction to Schumer’s request as “incredulous.”

“I’m sorry our Democratic friends feel compelled to skip out so they can compete for the favor of ‘the resistance,’” McConnell said. “The rest of us, the Republican majority — we’re going to be right here, we’re going to be right here working and voting to make America stronger and safer.”

McConnell filled the amendment tree to restrict the offering of amendments to the defense bill Monday evening and also moved to limit debate on the substitute amendment from Armed Services Chairman James M. Inhofe that is now the base text.

Since 60 votes are needed to invoke cloture, Democrats must decide Wednesday whether or not to deny cloture, effectively filibustering the measure until after the July 4 recess, so that the Democratic caucus members running for president can be present to vote.

That might also be the only way to guarantee an up-or-down vote on the Iran use of force amendment from Democratic Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico, which Schumer has prioritized. But it would come with potential blow-back for delaying the underlying defense bill, which is broadly bipartisan and authorizes a pay increase for uniformed military personnel.

Udall’s amendment to the defense policy measure would not have any practical effect on any imminent conflict with Iran. Even if the Senate approved the amendment, the bill still must be conferenced with the House’s version of the measure and likely wouldn’t become law for months.

Meanwhile, McConnell’s fellow Kentucky Republican, Sen. Rand Paul, is threatening to block amendment votes until two of his own amendments, including one repealing the 2001 authorization for use of military force, get floor time.

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