Senate Republicans are scrambling to figure out the logistics of an unusual vote Friday that Democrats are insisting take place but most Republicans wish had happened earlier in the week so they could be gone for their July Fourth recess.
The vote is on a Democrat-authored amendment to require President Donald Trump get congressional approval before carrying out military action against Iran. Democrats pressed GOP leaders to schedule the vote Friday so the Democratic senators running for the White House could attend Thursday night’s presidential debate in Miami and then return to Washington for the vote.
In another procedural twist, senators agreed that if the measure were to pass it would be applied retroactively to the National Defense Authorization Act, which was approved by the Senate Thursday.
Despite the Democrats’ herculean efforts, their measure is expected to fall short of the 60 votes it would need to advance. Regardless, Democrats believe it as important to get senators of both parties on the record about the issue.
Republicans reluctantly agreed to procedural anomalies, so they can clear the decks of the Senate’s work and leave town. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell acknowledged to reporters his Republican rank-and-file members are not “wildly enthusiastic” about his decision to hold the Friday vote.
But that was little relief for Capitol workers, stunned when they learned the vote may start as early as 5 a.m. and stay open until the dinner hour to accommodate senators with different scheduling needs. Some want to vote and leave on crack-of-dawn flights to their home states while other senators can’t make it to the Capitol until much later.
GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said there has even been “talk” among Republicans about having Democratic senators preside over the chamber, an almost unheard-of ceding of the gavel — and the authority that goes with it — to the minority. If they didn’t, some Republican senators would have to stick around to oversee the session, which they don’t want to do.
Collins said no decisions have been made by GOP leaders about who will preside or what the exact schedule will be.
Sen. John Tester, a Democrat from Montana, was heard making travel arrangements on his speaker phone as he walked near the Senate floor. He said he is anxious to vote at 5 a.m. and jump on a flight home.
“What time is the flight?” he asked a person on the phone.
Tester confirmed Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was lining up Democratic senators to preside and laughed at a reporter’s joke that Democrats would use the unusual position of power to rescind Trump administration policies — or confirm Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court — by unanimous consent while Republicans were out of the room.
“I never saw it happen when we were in the majority,” Tester said about the minority party presiding. “But what the hell.”
Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, a member of the GOP leadership, said he and other senators would prefer “to vote right now.”
“People want to vote, they have plans,” he said.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, a Republican of Oklahoma, who chairs the Armed Services Committee, has been managing the defense bill all week but is anxious to get home.
“I’m at the top of the list,” of those who want to leave, he quipped.