Despite several campaign promises to change the way Congress legislates and get things done, the U.S. Senate, under the leadership of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), has not had a recorded vote on a bill in more than a month.
Instead, the Senate on Thursday was considering the nomination of Michael H. Park for a lifetime appointment to the be a federal judge. On Wednesday, it voted to confirm President Donald Trump’s nominees for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Export-Import Bank, and another circuit court judgeship.
A ThinkProgress review of the Senate’s roll call votes reveals that, since an April 1 cloture vote on an appropriations bill, the chamber has devoted virtually all of its roll call votes to confirmation of Trump appointees. With very few exceptions, the Senate’s floor schedule is subject to the sole discretion of the majority leader.
On April 2 and 3, McConnell rammed through a rule change — using a procedural maneuver he previously decried as a way for the majority to “break the rules to change the rules” — to reduce the time allowed for debate before confirmation votes. Since then, the body has confirmed 11 lifetime judgeships and 11 executive branch nominees. The sole remaining vote — an unsuccessful attempt to override Trump’s veto of a resolution to block the president’s use of military force in Yemen — was “privileged,” meaning that it could be considered without McConnell’s approval.
Senate Democrats have noticed that the place McConnell once called “the greatest deliberative body in the world” has stopped deliberating about appropriations, immigration, health care, gun violence, infrastructure, entitlements, and everything else.
“Three times a week the Senate Republicans meet for lunch. … And occasionally they walk into that chamber and take a vote or two or three on judges. That is the sum total of the Senate’s work today,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) told reporters in late April. “Mitch McConnell has effectively turned the United States Senate into a very expensive lunch club.”
A video released Tuesday by the Senate Democrats similarly notes that the Republican majority has turned the chamber into a “legislative graveyard.”
But the Senate’s 53 Republicans did not run on simply rubber stamping Trump nominees and taking the occasional recess.
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), who ousted Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp in November, laid out a very different agenda as a candidate. “One vote does matter,” he said at his party’s convention, noting “border security, sanctuary cities and the rule of law, regulatory reform, economic security, job creation” and “the basic human right to life” as policy areas he hoped to influence if elected.
Cramer on Thursday defended the Senate’s legislative inaction, saying, “Since I joined the Senate in January, we have taken consequential votes on immigration, energy, the economy, and the sacred right to life. While we debate these policies, the Senate is also in the personnel business.”
He also complained of a “judicial vacancy crisis” left by former President Barack Obama, saying he “support[ed] Leader McConnell’s efforts to fix this crisis and to ensure radical, socialist policies passed by the House never become law.”
Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN), who ousted Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly, also proposed a conservative legislative agenda as candidate. His proposals — still listed on his campaign site — included bills to “[m]ake the Trump tax cuts permanent and continue simplifying the tax code,” to “[i]nvest wisely into improving infrastructure, in both urban and rural communities,” to “enact national reciprocity [gun] laws and protect the rights of sportsmen on federal lands,” to enact term limits, and to expand lobbying restrictions for former lawmakers.
Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ), who lost her 2018 race but was then appointed to fill the remainder of John McCain’s term, ran claiming to have “what it takes not only to win, but to get things done in D.C.” In her campaign kickoff victory, she claimed that she was running to “fight the fights that must be won on national security, economic security, and border security.”
Neither McSally nor Braun immediately responded to a request for comment on the Senate’s lack of legislative progress under McConnell.
With a Democratic majority in the U.S. House, elected with a very different mandate and legislative agenda, McConnell and the Senate Republicans have decided that, rather than compromise or find common ground, they’ll simply sidestep the whole process.
Last week, after pushing through the 100th confirmation of a Trump judicial nominee, the Kentucky Republican vowed to continue with what he was doing. “After studying and considering these nominees the Senate will keep on filing judicial vacancies. We’ll keep confirming the president’s team,” he proclaimed.
Senate just confirmd 100th judge nominated by PresTrump I held hrings for 99 of 100 Continuing record brking Pres/GOP success Strict constructionists that read law/constitution as written instead of what suits their political goals is good4 country& thats what trumps noms stand 4
— ChuckGrassley (@ChuckGrassley) May 2, 2019
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who chaired the judiciary committee for most of that time, cheered the achievement.
“Senate just confirmd [sic] 100th judge nominated by PresTrump,” Grassley tweeted. “I held h[ea]rings for 99 of 100[.] Continuing record brking Pres/GOP success Strict constructionists that read law/constitution as written instead of what suits their political goals is good4 country& thats what trumps noms stand 4.”