The Senate GOP Divide on Display

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., leaves the Senate on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, March 22, 2013, after several votes on amendments to the budget resolution.
National Journal
Michael Catalini
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Michael Catalini
Sept. 26, 2013, 2:06 p.m.

The nor­mally sleepy Sen­ate cham­ber crackled with drama on Thursday.

Sen. Bob Cork­er got so frus­trated with Sens. Ted Cruz and Mike Lee on the Sen­ate floor Thursday that the presid­ing of­ficer — Sen. Tammy Bald­win of Wis­con­sin — ad­mon­ished mem­bers that rules re­quire them to refer to each oth­er in the third per­son.

“It’s my un­der­stand­ing that the reas­on you don’t want to send a bill over to the House who could pos­sibly put in place some very good policies for us here “¦ is that you want the Amer­ic­an people and the out­side groups that you’ve been in con­tact with to be able to watch us to­mor­row,” Cork­er said.

The of­fend­ing re­marks were call­ing a col­league “you,” but the real of­fense, in Cork­er’s view, is one the Sen­ate has been grap­pling with since Cruz’s 21-hour talk-a-thon in op­pos­i­tion of Obama­care.

Cork­er is one of a num­ber of Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors who all but pulled their hair out over Cruz and Lee’s tac­tics aimed at de­fund­ing Obama­care through a stop­gap fund­ing meas­ure.

Cruz and Lee want Re­pub­lic­ans to vote against clo­ture on a bill they ac­tu­ally sup­port be­cause that will al­low Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id, D-Nev., to strip the Obama­care lan­guage and change a date in the bill. Their strategy as­sumes that after the gov­ern­ment shuts down, the pub­lic will grow angry at Obama and Demo­crats over Obama­care and force them to re­peal it.

Cork­er has com­pared Cruz and Lee’s strategy to walk­ing in­to a “box canyon” from which there’s no es­cape, and he ar­gued that be­cause Demo­crats con­trol the Sen­ate and the White House, it’s im­possible to ex­pect them to be per­suaded.

The scene began over an ar­cane but com­mon Sen­ate pro­ced­ure: a un­an­im­ous con­sent re­quest, which in Eng­lish is a pe­ti­tion to pro­ceed on a meas­ure without hav­ing to tally votes. As the name sug­gests, it means that no sen­at­or ob­jects, and if one sen­at­or does, then the re­quest is denied.

Here’s what happened:

Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id, D-Nev., asked to move up a clo­ture vote and fi­nal votes on the House’s fund­ing res­ol­u­tion to Thursday night. He reasoned that the soon­er the House got the bill back, the soon­er it could act.

Lee, with Cruz seated nearby, stood to ob­ject. He reasoned that most Amer­ic­ans ex­pec­ted the vote on Fri­day or Sat­urday.

“The Amer­ic­an people are pay­ing at­ten­tion to this. The Amer­ic­an people are watch­ing this,” Lee said.

What’s the dif­fer­ence between a vote to­night and to­mor­row, Lee asked.

Re­id called their strategy a charade, and soon after that, Cork­er joined in on the floor, spar­ring with Cruz over his vote on a pro­ced­ur­al vote on a mo­tion Wed­nes­day.

“I don’t think we’ve had in the Sen­ate where we had a 21-hour fili­buster and then the per­son car­ry­ing out the fili­buster voted for the is­sue they were fili­bus­ter­ing,” Cork­er said.

Cruz shot back he voted how he said he would. It’s the second clo­ture vote he op­poses.

“I ap­pre­ci­ate the sen­at­or from Ten­ness­ee’s com­ments sup­port­ing the ma­jor­ity lead­er and I know the sen­at­or from Ten­ness­ee is learned on the Sen­ate pro­ced­ures, so that I know he must have made a mis­state­ment when he mo­ments ago sug­ges­ted that those of us who par­ti­cip­ated in the fili­buster the oth­er day some­how changed our po­s­i­tion,” Cruz said.

After some more back and forth, Cork­er laid in.

“It’s my un­der­stand­ing again, re­l­at­ive to this vote to­night hap­pen­ing in­stead of to­mor­row, is that my two col­leagues, who I re­spect, have sent out emails around the world and turned this in­to a show pos­sibly, and there­fore they want people around the world to watch maybe them and oth­ers on the Sen­ate floor. And that is tak­ing pri­or­ity over get­ting le­gis­la­tion back to the House,” he said.

Cruz then said maybe Re­id is con­fused be­cause he would be vot­ing with Cork­er on the bill. Cork­er to Cruz: Well, why did you vote with Re­id on Wed­nes­day?

After more spar­ring, Bald­win banged the gavel when the time ran out, and re­minded mem­bers that they are to refer to one an­oth­er in the third per­son.

Re­id left the floor, then re­turned.

“I’m sorry we’re go­ing to have to vote to­mor­row and not today,” he said.

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