Charles (Schumer) In Charge (Of US Senate)
Debate over ACA repeal, 2017. C-SPAN screenshot

The US Senate has some weirdass rules and procedures, from the filibuster to the little-known rule requiring that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell be housed in a bed of warm sand, with a sun lamp and a ready supply of fresh lettuce. But here's one we literally had never heard of until we read this CNN piece yesterday:

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, in an extremely rare move Tuesday, took control of the Senate floor and is forcing a procedural vote on a bill, a step that is typically done only by the Senate majority leader. [...]

Schumer has never before tried to force such a cloture vote in his time as the top minority leader, aides said.

The rules say any senator can do what Schumer did Tuesday but senators typically don't take these extreme steps because doing so regularly would shut down the Senate.

That's why it's custom to let the majority leader set the schedule.

The bill, as Roll Callexplains, would "block the Justice Department from intervening in support of lawsuits involving the 2010 Affordable Care Act." Schumer's procedural move will force Senate Republicans to go on record as either supporting or opposing the Trump administration's attempt to get Obamacare thrown out by the Supreme Court.

That's a pretty big deal with a month to go until the election, and with Senate Republicans in a hurry to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, where she'd almost certainly be the deciding vote to kill the ACA. The vote is likely to take place later today, and McConnell is expected to bring up a bill that would allegedly protect patients with preexisting conditions, so Republicans who vote to let Obamacare be struck down will at least have a fig leaf to campaign on.

Our reaction in the Wonkette Sekrit Chatcave: Holy shit, that's something Schumer could do? And he's only doing it now?

Yes, yes, as the CNN piece notes, it's all about norms and conventions and regular order and all that. If every senator exercised the right to force a vote, that could leave the Senate in chaos, yadda yadda.

You know, as opposed to how it is now: an orderly body of never doing a goddamn thing except confirming as many rightwing Trump judicial nominees as can be scraped off the floors of the Federalist Society's restrooms.

So Schumer hasn't been using this ability all this time because NORMS. You have to respect the norms or there'd be a huge mess in the Senate, with members demanding votes on a whole lot of bills all the time and even less getting done.

On the other hand, and it's a pretty big goddamned hand, the House's coronavirus relief bill was passed IN MAY, and it would have extended emergency unemployment payments, continued a moratorium on evictions, provided a second round of direct cash payments to every American, funded the Postal Service, provided desperately needed aid to state and local governments, and boosted funding for COVID-19 testing, among other things. Thanks to McConnell, virtually nothing has been done to help tide people over through the crisis since the CARES Act passed in March.

Seems like it might have been worth stepping away from NORMS to get a vote on coronavirus relief, maybe? Especially since we're currently saddled with Republican leaders who don't give two shits for NORMS, preferring raw dictatorial power instead.

Ah, but what about that custom of having bills brought up only by the majority leader, lest members just willy-nilly start requiring votes on any damn thing they want and shutting down the Senate? If Democrats insisted on forcing votes on things that are necessary to help people, wouldn't that just lead Republicans to demand votes on even more crazy shit than they already do — while screaming "CHUCK SCHUMER MADE ME DO IT!"

Maybe. Or maybe it could have peeled off enough Republican votes to pass something useful now and then? Or forced some compromises, which would certainly get David Brooks all moist in his swimsuit area.

But if Joe Biden is elected and Democrats retake the Senate, we have a feeling that Minority Leader McConnell (or whoever) won't hesitate to use that power at every opportunity, tying up the Senate with endless crazy bills and blaming Schumer. And he won't cry about NORMS at all.

[CNN / Roll Call / CNN]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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