A new report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) has found that current GOP Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is the worst Senate Majority Leader in history for the first year of a Congress in terms of shutting down debate using a controversial procedure known as “filling the amendment tree.”
The report, commissioned by the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee and provided exclusively to Breitbart News by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s office, shows that McConnell has used the procedure more in the first year of a Congress than any other Majority Leader in history. Traditionally, the report shows, use of the tactic becomes more frequent in a second year of a Congress—essentially meaning that McConnell’s extraordinary use of the tactic this year is a sign he will use it even more in a second year. This report follows up on a previous CRS report that the Democrats commissioned earlier in the year that found McConnell was on a pathway similar to Reid’s, but this new report proves that McConnell has now gone above and beyond where Reid was.
Politico wrote in July of the previous CRS report:
Before he took over as majority leader, Mitch McConnell was a harsh critic of Harry Reid’s use of a parliamentary tactic to block amendments on the Senate floor. The Kentucky Republican said it was an abuse of the chamber’s rules that stifled debate in the famously deliberative body. But in his first seven months as Senate majority leader, McConnell has employed that same tactic to push through a highway bill, trade legislation and a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security. McConnell has used the maneuver more often than past Senate majority leaders — Robert Byrd, George Mitchell and Tom Daschle, all Democrats — and he’s done it just about as much as Reid did during a similar time period in the Nevada Democrat’s reign.
Back then, McConnell spokesman Don Stewart rejected the notion that the use of this tactic alone served as proof of a broken Senate. Stewart argued there are plenty of other metrics, and by McConnell’s calculations, the Senate is back on track with a much more open process than during Reid’s tenure.
“We’ve passed dozens of bipartisan bills under the new leadership, with another one this week — a multiyear highway bill that seemed impossible under the previous leadership the last several years,” Stewart said. “The Senate is back to work.”
But now McConnell has exceeded Reid. CRS found, according to this new nonpartisan report Reid’s office provided to Breitbart News exclusively, that McConnell has used the tactic 11 times in 2015. Compared with Reid’s first year of the last Congress—where Reid, then the Majority Leader, used it nine times—that means McConnell has used the tactic in the first year of a Congress more than any Majority Leader in history, including Reid.
Reid served as Majority Leader in the 110th, 111th, 112th, and 113th Congresses. In those Congresses’ first years, Reid used the tactic, nine times, seven times, nine times, and nine times respectively. In the second year of those Congresses, Reid used the tactic 12 times, 16 times, 17 times and 16 times respectively. Since McConnell has used the tactic 11 times in the first year of this Congress, the thinking goes, he is expected to use the tactic even more than Reid did in his second year.
CRS wrote that “The examples of filling the amendment tree identified by CRS are those in which the Senate majority leader or a designee used the right of preferential floor recognition to limit the amending opportunities available to all Senators by proposing amendments such that some or all of the amendments permitted under the circumstances by the Senate’s principles of precedence were simultaneously pending.”
The report only includes instances where the Majority Leader deliberately fills the amendment tree to cut off debate and end the Senate’s open amendment process, not “instances in which all possible amendments were offered (and thus, the amendment tree filled) by Senators through the normal deliberative process of considering a measure on the chamber floor.” CRS wrote:
In answering this request, CRS examined data from the Legislative Information System of the U.S. Congress (LIS) relating to the amendments offered by the majority leader between the 99th Congress (1985-1986) and September 24, 2015, of the 114th Congress (2015-2016). CRS’s examination of these LIS data attempted to identify patterns in the offering of amendments that might suggest that an amendment tree was being filled or partially filled in the manner described above. These patterns include: the offering of amendments to a measure in sequence by the majority leader or his designee, including second-degree amendments; amendments offered to a measure that made small, technical, changes in the bill (such as changes in its effective date) or sequential amendments which differed in only slight, technical respects from each other; and amendments coupled with the offering of a motion to commit or recommit and/or the immediate filing of a cloture motion.
CRS also, it noted in the report, “searched for instances in which the majority leader or a designee objected to a unanimous consent request to set aside a pending amendment so that another amendment might be offered.”
“Finally, CRS conducted both electronic and manual searches of the Congressional Record as well as Lexis and ProQuest Congressional database searches of various media sources for instances in which Senators might have alluded to the amendment tree being filled,” CRS wrote. “The daily, rather than the bound, edition of the Record is cited here because it is available to congressional offices online.”
The report includes a bar graph chart showing the trend at the end of the report, included here:
McConnell’s office wouldn’t answer a series of detailed questions from Breitbart News about this—including whether the Majority Leader continues to believe, as he did when Reid was the Majority Leader, that this tactic is an abuse of power; whether he plans to continue using the tactic moving forward; or whether McConnell believes this is why recent polling shows half the country wants him removed as Senate Majority Leader—but did question the newsworthiness of this updated report from CRS’s earlier findings over the summer.
“It’s the same report with updated numbers,” Stewart said in an email. “Reid’s trying to wring another story out of it. Nice that you’re happy to help him with it. But since this spin was widely covered a couple months ago, and responded to, I’m curious to see your recycling job for the Democrat Leader.”
The new development, however, as noted above, is that McConnell has now surpassed Reid in the use of filling the amendment tree as a tactic to shut off debate in the first year of a Congress–setting up an expectation, if McConnell follows the trends the report shows, that McConnell will likely in the next year use the tactic more than any Majority Leader in U.S. Senate history.
Stewart also provided Breitbart News with several quotes from Senate Democrats praising McConnell’s leadership style.
“I welcome what Senator McConnell, our new majority leader, has envisioned as a more active floor in the Senate where we … bring amendments to the floor, debate them, vote on them, and ultimately pass legislation,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), the Senate Minority Whip, said in one. “That is the procedure of the Senate which historically had been honored but fell, sadly, into disrepair over the last several years.”
“I am very excited about the process, the open amendment process,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) said in another, before adding: “This presents an incredibly valuable opportunity to accomplish some of our Democratic priorities.”
“I think we do have more opportunities to offer amendments,” Sen. Barbara Mikulksi (D-MD) said in another quote McConnell’s office referred to Breitbart News.
“I am grateful for the opportunity to go back to regular order,” Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-SD) added. “I am grateful for the opportunity to talk about amendments.”
“I am grateful that we continue to have an open amendment process and the opportunity to discuss and debate the issues in front of us,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) said, too.
Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), McConnell’s office noted, thanked McConnell on the floor as well while working on a bill at the beginning of the Congress. Udall said:
Mr. President, let me just say to the two leaders on the floor who have participated in this open amendment process that I really appreciate the way Chairwoman Murkowski and Ranking Member Cantwell have worked through this bill.I really appreciate all their help. I have heard, at least on our side of the aisle, over and over that this is the way the Senate should be moving, this is the way we should be working. So I think all of us are very appreciative of how the two managers of the bill have worked together.
In addition, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) also thanked them for an open process, according to McConnell’s office.
“I, too, want to talk for a few minutes about what an incredible process it’s been,” Cantwell said in January while working on a bill, before adding: “I think this process that we just went through bodes well for us trying to say to both sides of our aisles that listen there are things we can put on the table and discuss in a process we can go through and that process can work.”
The CRS findings are significant because McConnell himself and several of his deputies lambasted Reid when the Republicans were in the minority last year,and in the lead up to the GOP taking the majority in this past year’s midterm elections, for the use of this very tactic.
In an interview with Sean Hannity in 2014, McConnell accused Reid—because of his use of this tactic—of being a dictator.
“The way he’s been operating is he doesn’t let the minority have any amendments. He’s already turned the senate majority leader’s office into an office for a dictator and now he wants to get rid of, what we call, the motion to proceed,” McConnell said in July 2012, according to The Hill newspaper. “As a practical matter, he wants to make it easy to get on bills so he can employ a device that gets us from offering any amendments at all.”
McConnell repeated that line and more criticisms of Reid many times in subsequent years.
In the case of McConnell’s leadership style in this Congress, however, many of the times he has filled the amendment tree to block amendments have been in an effort not to stymie the party in the minority—in this case, the Democrats—but to shut down his own Republican members. He has used the tactic to push through Obamatrade, funding for Planned Parenthood, the Iran deal via the Continuing Resolution, and more.