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.”
What We're Following See More »
When it comes to name-calling among America's upper echelon of politicians, there may be perhaps no greater spat than the one currently going on between Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Donald Trump. While receiving an award Tuesday night, she continued a months-long feud with the presumptive GOP presidential nominee. Calling him a "small, insecure moneygrubber" who probably doesn't know three things about Dodd-Frank, she said he "will NEVER be president of the United States," according to her prepared remarks."We don't know what Trump pays in taxes because he is the first presidential nominee in 40 years to refuse to disclose his tax returns. Maybe he’s just a lousy businessman who doesn’t want you to find out that he’s worth a lot less money than he claims." It follows a long-line of Warren attacks over Twitter, Facebook and in interviews that Trump is a sexist, racist, narcissistic loser. In reply, Trump has called Warren either "goofy" or "the Indian"—referring to her controversial assertion of her Native American heritage.
The House on Tuesday voted 403-12 "to pass an overhaul to the nation’s chemical safety standards for the first time in four decades. The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act aims to answer years of complaints that the Environmental Protection Agency lacks the necessary authority to oversee and control the thousands of chemicals being produced and sold in the United States. It also significantly clamps down on states’ authorities, in an effort to stop a nationwide patchwork of chemical laws that industry says is difficult to deal with."
"Leaders of the Republican Party have begun internal deliberations over making fundamental changes to the way its presidential nominees are chosen, a recognition that the chaotic process that played out this year is seriously flawed and helped exacerbate tensions within the party." Among the possible changes: forbidding independent voters to cast ballots in Republican primaries, and "doubling the number of early states to eight."
Citing the unpredictable nature of this primary season and the possible leverage they could bring at the convention, John Kasich is hanging onto his 161 delegates. "Kasich sent personal letters Monday to Republican officials in the 16 states and the District of Columbia where he won delegates, requesting that they stay bound to him in accordance with party rules."
"Speaker Paul Ryan is changing the rules of how the House will consider spending measures to try to prevent Democrats from offering surprise amendments that have recently put the GOP on defense. ... Ryan announced at a House GOP conference meeting Tuesday morning that members will now have to submit their amendments ahead of time so that they are pre-printed in the Congressional Record, according to leadership aides." The change will take effect after the Memorial Day recess.