In rare public display, frustrated senators vent over floor tactics
October 6th, 2011
11:11 PM ET
11 years ago

In rare public display, frustrated senators vent over floor tactics

Washington (CNN) - The Senate pushed back a final vote on a China currency bill until next week after senators descended into an angry and emotional debate over the rights of the minority Republicans to offer amendments to it and other bills.

The dispute Thursday night revealed long simmering divisions between the two parties over the increasing use of delaying tactics – such as filibusters that need 60 votes to overcome - which Republicans use to ensure their rights but that frustrate the ability of the majority Democrats to pass legislation.

Senators crowded onto the floor and listened with rapt attention to the rare public venting of frustration built up after months of bruising battles over government funding, the debt ceiling, and stalled judicial nominations.

"The minority is out of business," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell declared.

"Let's get back to legislating as we did before the mantra around here was "defeat Obama," shot back Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid.

In the case of the China bill, which otherwise has broad bipartisan support, Republicans were frustrated because Democrats blocked them from offering several amendments, including one on the merits of the president's controversial jobs bill, which Democrats opposed debating at this time. In turn, Democrats were upset because Republicans refused to give up the jobs amendment and therefore prevented debate on any other amendments.

The result of the standoff was several days of floor time on the China bill with very little actual debate.

Then, late Thursday, Democrats surprised Republicans by jamming through a rule change – something that only requires 51 votes – to prevent senators in some situations from moving to suspend the rules and offer amendments. Republicans wanted to do that on the China bill in a last-ditch effort to get votes on their amendments.

Democrats said their precedent setting rule change was needed because they feared some Republicans would bottle up passage of the China bill through an endless number of motions to suspend the rules, something Republicans denied.

Sen. Bob Corker, a reform minded Republican from Tennessee, triggered the impassioned debate when he openly challenged Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to explain why the Senate appeared so dysfunctional.

"I think members on both sides of the aisle feel like this institution has degraded into a place that is no longer a place where any deliberation at all," he declared.

Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the top political messenger for the Democrats acknowledged Republicans are frustrated because they often can't offer amendments.

"We are frustrated because the 60 vote rule, which was always used here, is now used routinely," he said.

Reid defended the rule change saying it was aimed at expediting debate. He said an open-ended amendment process is preferable but in recent times it had become "a road to nowhere."

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell fired back saying the Senate was designed by its founders to be "freewheeling body and everyone is better off when we operate that way."

"The country is better off to have at least one place where there is extended debate where you have to reach a super majority to do things," he said.

In the end, Senators agreed to take a cooling off period over the extended Columbus Day weekend and vote on the China bill and the president's jobs bill when they return next week.

Reid announced he hoped soon to convene a private caucus of all senators where they could further discuss and work out their differences.

"It was a pouring out of feelings from both sides," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-West Virginia, a longtime member of the Senate. "Sometimes you have to do stuff like this - have to have a catharsis of some sort. Just let it rip. The beauty of it was it was all on the Senate floor and carried all over the country. So people saw us at our worst and I saw us at our potential best."

Also see:

Obama hails Jobs as brave, bold and talented

DeMint on jobs bill: Senate Democrats are bluffing

President Obama to hold news conference

Filed under: China • Democrats • Harry Reid • Mitch McConnell • Republicans • Senate
soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. CA Dream USA

    Finally the democrats are taking a stand against the delay tactics of the GOPT..

    October 6, 2011 11:42 pm at 11:42 pm |
  2. Larry L

    For two and one-half years the Republicans have rendered the Senate useless. Their one and only goal was to defeat the President and they absolutely don't care what damage they do to our democracy and the American people. I'm taking my own pledge – to work very hard to defeat any Republican at any level in any race. I'm a registered Republican but may never vote for the GOP again. My politicians can't just be about hate and fearmongering. I want pragmatic ideas that benefit all Americans, not just those of us with high incomes and considerable wealth.

    October 7, 2011 12:06 am at 12:06 am |
  3. Rambling Parry

    We will make sure the obstructionist party get what they deserve this election.

    October 7, 2011 12:52 am at 12:52 am |
  4. jane

    Mitch McConnell your primary goal is see Obama serve one term...You may get your desire but you will also be voted out in 2012

    October 7, 2011 01:37 am at 1:37 am |
  5. Marie MD

    Keep it up congress. You might reach your goal of 0% approva!

    October 7, 2011 06:15 am at 6:15 am |
  6. Sonnie2

    To solve this problems would be easy. Just put in term limiits and get rid of the old stuffy boys who think they know everything and can control every one. Din gy Harry leads the list on the needs to report.

    October 7, 2011 06:21 am at 6:21 am |
  7. Wire Palladin, S. F.

    McConnell is fortunate that all Kentuckians are working and, therefore, do not need the jobs bill passed immediately.

    October 7, 2011 07:24 am at 7:24 am |
  8. jsmoulder

    I think the senate needs to go back to old rules, not elected but appointed by the governors of the state they represent.

    October 7, 2011 08:04 am at 8:04 am |
  9. TEG

    I've noticed people calling the GOP the party of obstruction then tell me why did the Senate Majority Leader delay a straight vote on Obama's Jobs Bill? I've got a better question what are you guys going to say when the GOP gains the majority in the Senate in 2013 and the Democrats do the same exact thing?

    October 7, 2011 08:22 am at 8:22 am |
  10. charles hawkins

    Are these the same republicans that claimed that any disunity shown under George W Bush would give our enemies strength?

    October 7, 2011 08:27 am at 8:27 am |
  11. Anonymous

    The Pubs reprsent the landed gentry.. in other words, the rich and super-rich. This has been true since the time of Woodrow Wilson. There has never been a progressive Republican president. They have all been reactionary and regressive. I say it's time we start to eat the rich. We need an old-fashioned revolution like they had in Russia
    in 1917. Simple as that.

    October 7, 2011 08:35 am at 8:35 am |
  12. s

    i don't understand how the republican party doesn't know that they are largely viewed by the general public as being obstructionist.

    October 7, 2011 08:37 am at 8:37 am |
  13. TJfore

    They dont care bout middle class bec they are rich, they needs to work with President , Speaker of the house he got to go, he’s playing dirty politics vote him out. so he can suck people butt...

    October 7, 2011 08:50 am at 8:50 am |
  14. Amit

    Where is a viable third party to vote for?

    October 7, 2011 08:54 am at 8:54 am |
  15. john/omaha

    the dems had control of both house's and did NOTHING but spend money like water. now they cry when they don't get their way. this is going to come back to haunt them.

    October 7, 2011 08:55 am at 8:55 am |
  16. Jackie

    Did anybody notice Congress doing what they always do, stall, delay, are more worried about getting reelected, doing the best job they can for the lobbyists that pay them the most money for their reelection? This is the type of wrangling that has gotten us nothing, the 99% that are completely left out of the process, and have been for at least 30 years. Our interests, the American people, are of no consequence to Congress. This is why this movement occurred. Those that brought down our economy are represented by Congress, those are the ones that receive, while the Congress wants to give more to the top 1%, no taxes, no regulations, not deficit reduction through elimination of subsidies (which are received by the wealthy). It has got to stop, and we are the only ones that can do it, with peaceful solidarity. We saw it in the Arab world, and we can do it.

    October 7, 2011 08:56 am at 8:56 am |
  17. Rudy NYC

    The current Republican Party is the party of Citizens United. It is time to get the money out of all branches of our government; executive, legislative, and especially the judicial. The money in out political system is there because the judicial arm allows it.

    The current Republican Party can complain all they want about President Obama publicly admonishing the justices of the Supreme Court, but he was correct. I think it was the opinion that any fair minded individual would have, any decent President would have, and the court had to be called out. Had the Court had made the correct decision, then they would have no reason to be sensitive to criticism of their ruling.

    October 7, 2011 08:56 am at 8:56 am |
  18. PJ

    We are so tired of the bickering and game playing. It is time for Congress to work together especially the House which has been a disgrace this summer. Work with the President people!!

    October 7, 2011 09:01 am at 9:01 am |
  19. john/omaha

    just looking at the picture of dear sweet harrey he must have just got off his knees in front of obama. where is monica when you need her?

    October 7, 2011 09:02 am at 9:02 am |
  20. AlaskaPalin

    The goal in all of this is 'what's best for the american people'. To the republicans this means the defeat of obama and without any apology they remain steadfast in achieving this objective. To the democrats this means playing ostrich. Whenever and wherever the democrats are majorities nothing is done- first it was both houses now its in the senate. So don't blame republicans for the fact that they can coalesce while the democrats are in disarray. Give to the republicans the government like democrats had it in 2008 and see if nothing will be done.

    October 7, 2011 09:05 am at 9:05 am |
  21. Chris A.

    Finally, something got done; why not just eliminate riders, ammendments, pork, and only deal with the bill as it is written

    October 7, 2011 09:11 am at 9:11 am |
  22. U.S. Common Sense

    So, Reid doesn't want to play by the rules and allow amendments to be proposed, so he goes nuclear (after crying foul when the Republicans threatened to do so six years ago). Yup . . . Reid is a real class act . . . NOT!

    Oh, and Obama? Why aren't you chastising Reid for not allowing your Jobs Bill to come to the floor? Or do your partisan blinders not allow you to see reality?

    October 7, 2011 09:15 am at 9:15 am |