Senate Dems try to declare ‘independence’ amid GOP floor takeover

Schatz is undecided on a vote to disapprove of a recent progressive revision to D.C.’s criminal code that’s set to take place Wednesday after sparking a surge of discord within his party. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) declined on Monday night to say how he’ll vote and indicated at a leadership meeting he won’t whip votes on the proposal.

But most Democrats now expect a big vote in favor of unraveling the crime plan, particularly after the D.C. Council ham-handedly tried to withdraw the effort on Monday ahead of its certain demise. And Wednesday’s vote won’t be the first time senators have to contend with a House Republican strategy to force what they see as tough votes in the upper chamber — on deck are votes disapproving of Biden administration regulations on water, trucking emissions and the Pentagon’s environmental impacts.

Republicans might unintentionally be solving as many problems for Democrats as they’re making. Despite the clear Senate floor schisms that the disapproval votes create, they also give Democrats some party-bucking bona fides that are otherwise rare in the Senate.

“I’m supporting public safety,” Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) said of the criminal justice vote. Rosen, who is up for reelection next year, said she made up her mind before Biden’s announcement last week that he will sign the rollback.

Biden’s comments left Senate Democrats free to break from the D.C. Council’s progressive policies without risking a White House confrontation. But even when Biden did promise to uncap his veto pen — on a GOP effort to block an ethical investing regulation — Sens. Joe Manchin
(D-W.Va.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) joined the GOP to support the rollback.

The disapproval votes expected in the coming weeks are privileged under Senate rules, meaning that they cannot be filibustered or bottled up. Schumer almost certainly wouldn’t allow votes on them if he were able to unilaterally stop them. And House Republicans can keep sending them across the Capitol with simple majority votes.

Party leaders seek to block their incumbents from tough votes, but these days they are borderline encouraging them.

“Everything is a 30-second ad. That’s what it’s all about,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). “If I were running in Montana and West Virginia, I’d be looking for the same things.”

In the House, 173 Democrats opposed the D.C. criminal code disapproval resolution after the White House issued a statement opposing it. Those Democrats essentially were left hung out to dry by the administration, voting based on the expectation Biden might veto the measure that just a month ago his administration called “an affront to the democratic values on which our nation was founded.”

But now with Biden saying “if the Senate votes to overturn what D.C. Council did — I’ll sign it,” Senate Democrats are making a glass of lemonade with the lemons Republicans are forcing to the Senate floor.

“Certainly if they vote for it and they know that the president’s going to veto it, that could be considered a free pass for someone in the states that it most highly affects. But it’s still the right thing to do,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), who is leading the efforts to roll back the EPA’s water rule.

Case in point: Manchin, her West Virginia colleague. He was the first Democrat to announce support for blocking the D.C. criminal code revisions, bucked Biden on his administration’s progressive corporate governance rules and will support Capito’s effort to stop what he calls the “ridiculous” water rule.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) broke with former President Donald Trump’s regulatory regime on issues ranging from technology to health care to pollution in the run-up to her 2020 reelection win in blue territory. And hers is a template Democrats can use running in red states this cycle.

Manchin said he supports House Republicans’ rollbacks when it “makes sense.”

Tester, who plans to vote to disapprove of the D.C. crime bill and is weighing what to do on the water rule, said he’ll “make the call for what they are” when it comes to the GOP disapproval resolutions.

“If they think they’re putting me in a bind, they’re not,” he added. “And I don’t know if they’re helping me, I don’t know if they’re hurting me.”

That said, there are fissures within the Democratic caucus over the D.C. vote — particularly given the long-running debate over the capital city’s statehood bid and its budget autonomy. As he tried unsuccessfully to withdraw the crime bill on Monday and void the Senate’s vote this week, D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson said that he would not be consulting with GOP leaders “and calling them every week and asking for permission to move forward” on legislation.

“D.C. is trying to withdraw the bill and work on it some more. And any effort to go forward on this vote is just a way to try to stomp on D.C.,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who vowed to vote against congressional intervention into the capital’s affairs.

And the DMV region is neatly split over the matter. Both of Maryland’s Democratic senators, Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin, said they would vote against efforts to rein in the D.C. Council’s autonomy.

But both Virginia Democratic senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, said they would vote to disapprove.

Kaine, who is up for reelection next year, had previously said he didn’t want Congress to make D.C. “play Mother-May-I on everything” and that he’s “pretty strongly a home rule guy.”

But after Biden made his position clear last week and Mendelson launched his failed attempt to scuttle his own bill, Kaine had a different view on Monday.

“Now that the council is saying they want to withdraw, it’s clear the bill is not ready for primetime,” Kaine said. “So I’ll vote for the resolution and encourage the mayor and the council to get on the same page, and it’ll give them the opportunity to get on the same page.”

Anthony Adragna contributed.