Senate Work Slows Amid Comey Firing Fallout

Democrats have several tools to complicate life in the chamber

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., arrives for a news conference in the Capitol on the firing of FBI director James Comey on May 9, 2017. Schumer called for a special prosecutor to look into the relationship between the Trump campaign and Russia. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Work in the Senate came to a slowdown on Wednesday in the fallout of the surprise firing of FBI Director James B. Comey.

Senate Democrats invoked a two-hour rule that restricts the time and duration of committee meetings. The objection to the commonly waived rule could put a stop to some of the chamber’s activities for the day.

It is just one example of the number of ways in which Democrats can slow down Senate procedure should they wish. As outrage grows over President Donald Trump's decision to terminate Comey, it remains to be seen how aggressive Democrats will choose to be in trying to impede Senate activity. 

The controversy surrounding the termination also had other reverberations on previously planned committee work. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee postponed a markup of legislation affecting the Food and Drug Administration so Democrats could attend an all-caucus meeting on the Comey firing, a panel aide confirmed.

Democrats spent much of the morning putting pressure on Republicans to appoint a special prosecutor to oversee an investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 election.  

All 48 members of the Democratic caucus were asked to begin the Senate’s daily session in their seats during opening remarks by the leaders of both parties, a move intended to underscore the severity of the situation.  

“I hope the Majority Leader agrees with me that we need to get to the bottom of this … and get a handle on all of the facts so that we can grapple with them,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York said on the Senate floor. “I’d remind him and my Republican friends that nothing less is at stake than the American people’s faith in our criminal justice system, and the integrity of the executive branch of our government.” 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in his opening remarks recognized the outcry from Democrats for the appointment of a special prosecutor, but said “partisan calls should not delay” the investigation by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Other GOP members agreed with the Kentucky Republican.

“We are finally making some significant progress,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a member of the panel, told reporters. “We’re going to issue a report. It will contain facts and then at that point people can make a decision…about whether or not an inquiry from a law enforcement perspective is warranted.”

Rubio said the appointment of a special prosecutor could shut down the committee’s ability to do its work “because a significant amount of information would now be denied on the basis of an ongoing investigation.”

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