A bill with broad bipartisan support that was supposed to sail through the U.S. Senate instead divided the upper chamber severely late Thursday night as Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) forced senators to take long procedural votes late into the evening.
The bill, called the Endless Frontier Act, is meant as a U.S. counter to the Chinese Communist Party’s agenda and would fund research institutions in America to the tune of more than $100 billion.
Thursday’s late-night voting delay also prolonged the highly anticipated vote on the House-passed January 6 commission bill, which was slated to happen right after the vote on the Endless Frontier Act.
As the clock approached midnight on Thursday, Johnson led other Senate Republicans in raising objections to proceeding with a final vote on the Endless Frontier Act. Johnson, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), and Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) each argued the Senate was not given time to review amendments to the bill. Johnson and Scott requested the vote be delayed, but Commerce Committee chair Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) denied their requests.
Several Capitol Hill reporters from various outlets narrated the spiraling chain of events on Twitter:
Johnson explains to Hill reporters that his amendment to uncancel border wall contracts did get a vote. "But there are plenty of other things I did not get to vote on and did not get included in the manager's amendment." So his plan is to use as much debate time as he can.
— Mike DeBonis (@mikedebonis) May 28, 2021
Ron Johnson is standing next to his desk. On his chair sits a very tall stack of paper. It looks like a bill. Gulp.
— Igor Bobic (@igorbobic) May 28, 2021
Total pile-up on the Senate floor as Cantwell tries to attach long-negotiated manager's amendment package to competitiveness bill. Johnson asks for three hours to read, Rick Scott asks to delay bill until after recess. Cantwell says no, so Lee objects to her attempt
— Burgess Everett (@burgessev) May 28, 2021
“I’m getting some liquor and taking a nap,” Coons says leaving the floor
— Igor Bobic (@igorbobic) May 28, 2021
So Sen. Thune tells reporters on the late shift on the hill there should be time for a "siesta" before any more real floor action, predicts 5-6 hours of debate by the objecting senators.
— Niels Lesniewski (@nielslesniewski) May 28, 2021
A handful of senators meanwhile — three Republicans and one Democrat — opposed proceeding on the Endless Frontier Act legislation earlier Thursday after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) negotiated a deal to break an hours-long stalemate on the floor over the bill.
The opposition senators were Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Josh Hawley (R-MO), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and each had different reasons for opposition. Rubio, for instance, was concerned the bill did not have sufficient safeguards to protect the research it would fund from falling into the hands of the very Chinese communists it is meant to counter, while Sanders had earlier in the week proposed an amendment to strip a controversial provision from the proposal that would amount to a “bailout” for Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
More broadly, these Senate floor fights are playing out on the backdrop of the looming vote on the January 6 commission bill. That bill, if enacted, would create a bicameral special panel to investigate the riots at the U.S. Capitol on the day that the electoral college certified now President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory.
Even though the January 6 commission bill passed the House with 35 Republican votes, it is likely to be shot down in the Senate as Schumer forces the Republicans to sustain the party’s first filibuster of this Congress. The filibuster rule requires 60 votes to vote on legislation, and while a handful of Senate Republicans plan to support the commission, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) public opposition to it in the last couple weeks has all but guaranteed at least 41 Republicans will stick together to sink the plan.
The bitter divisions in the evenly-divided Senate — in which Democrats only have a majority because Vice President Kamala Harris cuts ties in the chamber — on display Thursday night foreshadow possible problems for Biden’s legislative agenda down the road as infrastructure negotiations remain ongoing between the two parties.
A number of Biden’s legislative timeline goals, from police reform proposals to the infrastructure talks and more, have already failed to meet originally proposed deadlines, and these brutal fights do nothing to help ease tensions ahead of coming fights.