The Senate Democrats Blocked McConnell Last Night


Did you see that the Democrats in the Senate thwarted Mitch McConnell last night? I would understand if you didn’t–most everyone was focused on Trump’s Oval Office address, whether they were watching it or not.

Since the 116th Congress opened last week, a portion of the government has been shut down. Right away, the House voted on some legislation to pass a continuing resolution to reopen the government, but the Senate–under the leadership of Republican Mitch McConnell–has refused to bring any legislation to the Senate floor to end the shutdown.

Instead, McConnell has been trying to have the Senate move right along with its normal business, and ignore the shutdown.


Mitch McConnell, by The Washington Post‘s brilliant editorial cartoonist Ann Telnaes.

The Democrats weren’t having any of it. They have been getting louder and louder in their demands that no Senate business should move forward BEFORE they deal with a vote on a continuing resolution to reopen the government.

A bit of background

✦ The Senate, by design, allows for a lot of time for debate. Once draft legislation gets moved out of a committee and is brought up for consideration on the Senate floor, every Senator can argue their case for or against the legislation at length.

✦ The primary way to end the debate and advance to a vote on a piece of legislation, is to invoke cloture. Now don’t fall asleep–this will be quick, I promise. To invoke cloture, a handful of Senators have to sign a petition which is then introduced in the Senate. Then everyone waits one full legislative day, then the next day the full Senate votes. If 60 Senators vote Yes, cloture is invoked, and then the legislation proceeds down its normal path to a final vote. (I’ll leave the additional complexities out for now.)

What happened

So, McConnell filed cloture on S.1, the Senate’s first piece of legislation in the 116th Congress last Friday (which, for the record, does not address the shutdown). They waited the mandatory one day (Monday), and then took a vote the next day (Tuesday).

The Democrats warned McConnell that they did not want to proceed with normal Senate business until they had dealt with the shutdown. McConnell ignored them and moved forward with S.1. So, Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) led the charge and Chuck Schumer got most of the Democratic caucus in order, and this is what ultimately happened:

The Democrats needed 41 votes No (so McConnell couldn’t get to the 60 votes Yes he needed), and they ended up with 44. That means cloture is NOT invoked and the legislation cannot move forward.

(For those wonks out there, McConnell originally voted Yes with the Republicans but once the cloture vote failed, he changed his vote to No so he could refile for cloture again. Which he did immediately after the vote failed. We should expect the next cloture vote for this legislation on Thursday or Friday.)

The Democrats in the Senate, who have the minority, don’t have a lot of power to affect how business proceeds in the Senate, especially the way McConnell runs it. So their protest last night with a successful block of McConnell’s agenda is something we should celebrate. It’s not an easy thing to accomplish.

I don’t know what it will take to force McConnell to address the shutdown but between the growing discontent on the Republican side and the emboldened Democrats, life won’t be easy for McConnell for a while.

Take action

It’s a good idea to call your Senators about this. If they’re playing hardball with McConnell, thank them! Let them know you approve. If they’re Republicans, let them know you want this shutdown to end AND without money for the Wall. If you want a script, Indivisible has a great one at the bottom of this page.

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