Party Leaders Give Accusatory Introductory Remarks After 7 Week Recess

The Republican and Democratic party leaders gave critical speeches of their rivals across the aisle this afternoon, in their first day back since the summer recess began in July. The two politicians painted pictures of discord caused by the other side around the flashpoints of Zika funding, which will come to a vote today, defense funding, and partisan intransigence.

McConnell

The Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opened by emphasizing how much needs to get done, and underlined the twin issues of Zika and National Security funding at the top of his list of priorities.

He criticized Democrats in the chamber for filibustering those appropriations. Mr. McConnell said that there is “no good explanation for blocking these important funding bills.”

He praised the work of the Centers for Disease Control and reported that they had informed him of reduced Zika transmission in areas sprayed to exterminate mosquitoes.

Mr. McConnell also noted what he called increased threats from North Korea, and continued attacks by the Islamic State worldwide.

“I hope our colleagues will join us now to end senseless filibusters,” he finished.

Reid

Harry Reid, the Democratic Minority leader, criticized the long summer break. He called the 7 week pause the longest he had seen in sixty years.

“The Senate has a mountain of work to do and no time to do it,” Mr. Reid charged.

He countered Mr. McConnell’s argument that the Democrats bear responsibility for blocking Zika funding.

“We offered compromise to Republicans but they said no to compromise,” he claimed.

He called Zika a growing threat and accused Senate Republicans of stalling while the virus spread, and recited the list of cases in US states and territories. 17,000 cases have been reported, 1,600 of which are pregnant women.

He charged that the Zika bill House Republicans sent back is impossible to pass because of sections in it Democrats find unacceptable. One such section are the cuts to the Veterans Administration, part of funding offsets demanded by the House.  A provision allowing the continued flying of the Confederate flag over military installations was called “unacceptable” by the minority leader.

Along with objections to the makeup of the funding bill, Mr. Reid also complained about reports that Republicans may seek to pass continuing resolutions to fund the government through the next year.

He called the use of a continuing resolution “a permission slip to Congress not to do its jobs next year.”

Mr. Reid cited the need for immediate action on campaign finance reform, college tuition reform, gun control actions, and the continued refusal of the Senate to hold meetings with President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.

“We have a logjam of important legislation that [the majority leader] created,” said Mr. Reid.

by Marlon J. Ettinger

Parliamentarian Earns Her Pay

A comical scene played out this evening in the waning hours of the Senate session that left members scratching their heads over the contents of a bill that was moved by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY.

Senator Bernard Sanders, I-VT, kicked off the confusion by objecting when the Majority Leader moved the bill.

Seeking a point of parliamentary inquiry, Mr. Sanders asked whether or not it was true that there was an amendment in the bill titled “The Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015.”

Mr. Sanders was forceful in his demand for an answer, and the presiding officer was at a loss for words while the Senate staff found what, in fact, the bill said.

“Yes, no, maybe?” asked Mr. Sanders impatiently.

“The language in question is in the House legislation,” came the eventual answer from the chair.

Mr. Sanders then asked that such language be removed by unanimous consent.

Amid uncertainty about whether or not such an action could be taken, the senior Senator from Vermont, Patrick Leahy(D), asked a few times whether or not the legislation would defund Planned Parenthood. Crosstalk reigned casually before Mr. Leahy could get an answer. The presiding officer informed him that such a question was not for the parliamentarian to answer.

Mr. McConnell then took an opening to ask in genuine bewilderment who held the floor. When he was told that it was himself, Mr. McConnell sought to clarify that he was amending the legislation with the Roberts Amendment that would replace in full the Planned Parenthood act.

Barbara Boxer, D-CA, asked whether or not the Senate could strike the language by unanimous consent, and learned from the parliamentarian talking through the presiding officer that that was not the case and that they can only amend.

At this point Mr. McConnell, looking lost, asked if the clerk would read the title of the bill, drawing a wry smile from the presiding officer.

The chamber erupted in laughter when John J. Merlino, the legislative clerk, recited the name of the bill the Senate had been working on all day, the National Sea Grants College Program Amendments Act of 2015.

Charles Schumer, D-NY asked one last time to ensure that the legislative action that Mr. McConnell was about to take would exclude entirely the words “Planned Parenthood” from the bill.

The presiding officer reported that it would, then moved on without taking anymore questions.

by Marlon J. Ettinger

Senate Poised for Fight over Zika Funding

The Senate will vote tomorrow on legislation that could provide $1.1 billion in emergency funding to combat the Zika virus. The coming months are peak mosquito season, and there are fears among health officials that if action is not taken there might be an explosion in incidence of the mosquito-borne disease.

A Centers for Disease Control Interim Response Plan released earlier this month warned that “local transmission of Zika virus in US territories and affiliated Pacific Island countries is ongoing.” It also noted that “neither vaccines nor proven clinical treatments are expected to be available to treat or prevent Zika virus infections before local transmission begins within [the Continental United States] or Hawaii.”

The Majority and Minority leaders both addressed the bill in their opening statements. Mitch McConnell, R-KY, said that combating the spread of the Zika virus should be a priority of both parties. He then accused Senate Democrats of playing partisan politics over funding.

Harry Reid, D-NV, accused the Republican package of being “full of poison pills.” He says that with cuts to Obamacare, Ebola funding, and provisions prohibiting funding in the bill from being directed to Planned Parenthood “it’s like we’re being dared to oppose this legislation.” Democrats are also upset that the bill falls short of the $1.9 billion the Obama administration requested.

The bill has already made it through the House, but even if it does pass the upper chamber the administration has warned it may veto it. This week is the last week for the Senate to address the issue before a long July 4th recess.

The Majority Whip, John Cornyn, R-TX, called the shifting of funds from other programs better than deficit spending.

“I hope we will act with dispatch,” he said, commending the Obama administration for reprogramming $589 million from the Ebola fund to face the Zika threat. He called for support of the bill, and echoed the Majority Leader’s accusation against Senate Democrats.

“They can either play politics at the expense of women and children across the nation, or they can support the bill.”

by Marlon J. Ettinger

Wee Hours

Amendments, Tabled and Passed

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell successfully moved forward motions to table the amendments proposed by Senators Chris Murphy, D-CT, and Dianne Feinstein, D-CA. Those amendments had failed to pass cloture motions earlier in the day.

Mr. McConnell also put forward an amendment for Senator John McCain, R-AZ, amendment 4787 to 4685. The amendment empowers intelligence agencies to use National Security measures to access metadata without a warrant.

Cavaliers and the American Bird

Rob Portman, R-OH, rose to congratulate the Cleveland Cavaliers on their victory last night in the NBA finals over the Golden State Warriors.

He also introduced S. Resolution 502, designating June 20th American Eagle day, before adjourning the Senate until 10:00 AM tomorrow, with a recess between 12:30 and 2:15 PM to allow for committee meetings.

by Marlon J. Ettinger

Wee Hours

Voinovich Resolution

The two Senators from Ohio gave statements on the floor remembering the late George V. Voinovich, who had a storied career in Ohio politics.

Sen. Sherrod Brown(D) spoke of his colleague fondly, recalling the four years they had spent together in the upper chamber. He also commended Mr. Voinovich’s bipartisan legacy.

The Republican Senator, Rob Portman, introduced a resolution honoring the late Senator, calling him “an amazing public servant” and enumerating some of the varied roles Mr. Voinovich played in his many years in Ohio politics: County Commissioner, County Auditor, Mayor of Cleveland, Lieutenant Governor, Governor, and once his term limit was reached in the Executive, enthusiastic election as one of Ohio’s Senators, a position he inhabited from 1999 to 2011.

“This was a guy who devoted his life to public service,” concluded Portman, before introducing Simple Resolution 493, which honored the ex-Senator and passed with unanimous consent.

National Child Awareness Month

The Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell(KY) introduced S. Resolution 494, which designates September 2016 National Child Awareness Month. The resolution passed with unanimous consent.

Time to Wake Up

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI, gave the last speech on the floor before the Senate adjourned for the day. Standing next to an image of Earth with the words “Time To Wake Up” emblazoned in capital letters over it, Sen. Whitehouse opened by marking this speech as his 140th on climate.

He condemned House Republicans voting to unanimously reject climate measures, and compared the current GOP stance on climate change to that of thirty years ago, when the former Rhode Island Senator John Chafee held a two day panel hearing on ozone depletion and the greenhouse effect.

“The GOP’s trust in science has eroded,” said Sen. Whitehouse.

“When one looks at how that party is funded, and how it has become virtually the political wing of the fossil fuel industry, one sees the sad state of affairs.”

“A very few Republicans in Congress are now so bold to accept mainstream science…yet none will yet act,” he continued later in his speech.

Senator Whitehouse finished by highlighting a 2009 ad published in the New York Times urging urgent climate action at the Copenhagen climate summit. Among those who signed were Donald Trump, his two sons, and his daughter Ivanka as representatives of the Trump Organization.  Mr. Trump today rejects the scientific consensus on man-made climate change, and has called it a “hoax.”

Trump Urgent Climate Action

The 2009 New York Times advertisement, Above.

by Marlon J. Ettinger

Party Leaders Mourn Orlando Shooting Victims, Remember Voinovich

The Senate convened today at 4:00PM. Senate Chaplain Barry Black’s commemoration of the victims of the Orlando terror attack on Sunday in the opening prayer set the tone for the opening statements from the party leaders.

Majority Leader

Mitch McConnell, R-KY, asked for the Senate to observe a moment of silence and addressed the people of Orlando, saying “You are not alone, your nation is here with you.”

Mr. McConnell also spoke a few words on his former colleague, ex-Senator George V. Voinovich, who died in his sleep yesterday evening at the age of 79.

The majority leader cited Voinovich’s enthusiastic promotion of NATO expansion in Eastern Europe among the former Senator’s missions, and called him “honest, plainspoken, loyal, [and] frugal.”

“The people of Cleveland, the state of Ohio, and the United States have lost an outstanding public servant,” Mr. McConnell finished before yielding the floor to the minority leader.

Minority Leader

Harry Reid, D-NV, began by paying tribute to the late Mr. Voinovich too, commending him on his years as the Republican Senator from Ohio(1999-2011), and on his dynamic and varied career in politics, from his years as Ohio Assistant Attorney General, Mayor of Cleveland, and his time spent in the Ohio House of Representatives.

Mr. Reid characterized Mr. Voinovich’s Senate career as a bipartisan one, highlighting his heterodox votes against Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and an amenability to support background checks across the aisle.

The Democratic leader used this as a launching off point for another push to enact gun reform in the Senate. Mr. Reid reported that he had had a long conversation with the FBI this morning, and described himself as “heartsick, I’m basically sick by our inaction,” in response to what he called the worst mass shooting in American history.

“Congress is failing to do anything to address mass shootings,” said Mr. Reid, as he called for action to be taken on limiting the size of magazines.

“We can no longer ignore the will of the American people.”

Mr. Reid cited polls showing 90% of Americans favoring expanded backgrounds checks, and 80% of Americans wanting to close the so-called terror loopholes as evidence of the Senate’s unresponsiveness on the issue.

Closing these loopholes has been championed by Democratic lawmakers since the San Bernardino attack last December. Opponents of the loopholes say that law enforcement is prevented from prohibiting the sale of guns to those designated as potential terrorists.

“The NRA is bad, really bad,” said Mr. Reid.

“There’s no excuse for allowing suspected terrorists to buy guns.”

by Marlon J. Ettinger