Empty subway cars trundle from the Capitol to the office buildings with a whoosh straight out of a Star Wars movie. Footfalls reverberate loudly off the white-stone walls in the Russell Building. Gilded elevators bong and open their doors — no need for the usual Senate two-step because there’s no one inside.
While the Senate was open for business this weekend, all the activity attending a normal legislative session was largely absent.
It was so quiet that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had time to squeeze in a regular doctor’s appointment with a physician in the Capitol.
An aide said that some reporters thought Reid was secretly heading to House Speaker John Boehner’s office, or perhaps to meet with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. But this was just a regular checkup — and nothing’s the matter with Reid, the aide said.
For McConnell, the sluggish schedule afforded him a chance to get back to Kentucky, where he faces stout political opposition on the right from businessman Matt Bevin, and the left from Democratic candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes. That he wasn’t in the Capitol also suggests the level of disagreement between chambers and the difficulty of a deal.
“He is meeting with constituents, but remains in contact with his members and is available if a vote is called at any time this weekend,” said spokesman Michael Brumas in an email.
Many of the senators in the Capitol were junior Democratic members, tapped to preside over the Senate. For example, Freshman Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, who caucuses with Democrats, rushed onto the subway from Dirksen, prepared to give a floor speech, then preside over the chamber.
But there were Republicans, too. Sen Mike Lee of Utah sparred over the shutdown from the well of the Senate with his Democratic colleagues, and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine offered a proposal she thought could serve as a political escape hatch for both sides, repealing the medical device tax (for Republicans) and offering agencies flexibility in applying sequestration cuts (for Democrats).
There were no votes Saturday, but there was partisan rhetoric from the floor. Clearly exasperated at how dug in her colleagues are, yet still optimistic about breaking the impasse, Collins suggested sheathing the rhetorical daggers.
“I think the more people who are willing to put ideas out there — and if not mine, someone else’s — the better,” Collins said.
The Senate returns at 2 p.m. Monday, with votes on judicial nominees later in the evening. The Senate might also take up the House-passed mini-continuing resolution providing for back-pay for federal workers, aides say.
But Democrats and Republicans will also pick up the fight over the shutdown where they left off — dug in as ever.
“This isn’t a date to the prom,” Reid said recently, explaining why Democrats won’t offer Republicans a face-saving provision. “This is our country.”
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The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has released its score of the House-passed American Health Care Act, which would replace Obamacare. According to the CBO, the bill would reduce the deficit by $119 billion by 2026, while leaving 14 million more Americans uninsured in 2018 than under current law, a number swelling to 23 million by 2026. Further, insurance premiums would balloon 20 percent in 2018 and five percent in 2019 before the waiver provision in the legislation would kick in. The provision allows states to apply for waivers and permit insurers to offer skimpier plans, which would likely entice younger and healthier individuals to buy health insurance while potentially pricing older and less healthy Americans out of insurance plans. House Republicans approved this bill in late April without waiting for the CBO score.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said Wednesday during a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing that President Donald Trump's budget is little more than recycling bin material. "The budget proposed by the president doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell of passing," Graham said. Graham had previously opposed the budget over its nearly 30 percent cut to the budget of the State Department. The budget slashes spending on domestic priorities while increasing military spending.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday that he doesn't yet know the formula towards gaining passage of an Obamacare replacement in the Senate. "I don't know how we get to 50 (votes) at the moment. But that's the goal," McConnell said. The House passed an Obamacare replacement bill which has been widely seen as dead on arrival in the Senate, and McConnell has put together a working group of Republican Senators working towards creating health care legislation which could gain the support of at least 50 Senators.
"Former FBI Director Robert Mueller has been cleared by U.S. Department of Justice ethics experts to oversee an investigation into possible collusion between then-candidate Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign and Russia." Some had speculated that the White House would use "an ethics rule limiting government attorneys from investigating people their former law firm represented" to trip up Mueller's appointment. Jared Kushner is a client of Mueller's firm, WilmerHale. "Although Mueller has now been cleared by the Justice Department, the White House may still use his former law firm's connection to Manafort and Kushner to undermine the findings of his investigation, according to two sources close to the White House."