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As the Senate approves assistance, Schumer declares, “We can do big stuff.”

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As the Senate approves assistance, Schumer declares, "We can do big stuff."

 

Tensions were high in the Senate just before midnight, as Republican leader Mitch McConnell rose to publicly mock Majority Leader Chuck Schumer for the daylong delay as Democrats squabbled over the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 rescue package.

But it was Schumer, D-N.Y., who reveled in the last word, an unabashedly upbeat “help is on the way” to Americans suffering from the pandemic and lockdowns, as the Senate prepared to pass the huge package without a single Republican vote just 12 hours later.

The Senate’s passage of the massive relief bill on Saturday moves President Joe Biden’s top priority closer to becoming law, paving the way for billions in vaccinations, $1,400 direct grants, and other assistance, and demonstrating that Schumer, in his first big test as majority leader, can unify and deliver the votes.

“Lessons learned: If we work together, we can accomplish great things,” Schumer told The Associated Press after the vote.

“Because it worked,” he said, the result “gives us hope about doing more major things in the future.”

Stewardship of the huge pandemic relief package was an early test of Washington’s new power dynamics, putting Democratic control of the White House and Congress to the test for the first time in a decade and laying the groundwork for Biden’s agenda.

Too much of Biden’s success or failure hinges on the Senate, where Democrats hold a 50-50 majority, a majority so fragile that any single senator can sway the legislative agenda. Although Vice President Kamala Harris can break a tie vote, Schumer has little leeway if Republicans oppose the virus aid, voting in lockstep on Saturday against it as bloated and needless. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a key moderate, wavered on an unemployment clause, throwing the proceedings into disarray ahead of a grueling all-night session.

Senators have been told privately by Biden that their vote on pandemic aid would help create support for the next set of goals. As part of his “Build Back Better” campaign agenda, an ambitious infrastructure package is emerging to introduce highways, broadband, and green-energy initiatives to the entire country. As the Senate leader shepherded the pandemic help to ratification, he and Schumer talked often. It’s now on its way back to the House for a final vote, which could happen as soon as Monday.

Although no senators seemed to be willing to vote against Biden’s top priority, the next votes could be more challenging.

“There are a whole set of topics that quite a number of us were discussing,” said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., a Biden ally ready for bipartisanship who met with the president shortly after the vote.

“This was a reminder yesterday that in a 50-50 Senate, if one member changes their mind on an amendment, debate, or question, the result can be changed,” Coons said.

Filibuster provisions will apply to voting rights, immigration law amendments, and other legislation, requiring 60 votes instead of 51 to pass, a nearly daunting challenge in the face of Republican resistance, which is fueling calls to reform the process to ensure Biden’s priorities don’t flame out.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, a member of the leadership, said, “We’re going to have to have conversations about that.”

But that was a discussion for another day. Democrats elbowed and applauded in the chamber on Saturday as they ushered the huge aid package they had promised voters to acceptance — Stabenow said some were almost in tears. With ten million jobs lost and countless schools and companies closed, it provides additional unemployment insurance of $300 a week, money for school reopenings, eviction rights, and small business assistance.

“To be able to do something so large, and so important, just 45 days after Joe Biden became President of the United States, that fundamentally is the glue for us,” she said.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, described it as the “best day” of his Senate career. McConnell, R-Ky., made a jab at the Democrats’ temporary disarray in his address. Brown dismissed it as cynical and devoid of substance.

Brown replied, “So what?” “No one gives a damn about it. What matters to them is whether or not we were effective in reducing unemployment. Is it true that we delivered vaccines? Did we keep our word on pensions? We were able to reduce child poverty by half. Take a look at that.”

McConnell led Republicans in mounting a filibuster of opposition, reviving a tactic used against the 2009 financial crisis bailout plan when Democrats were in power, when Barack Obama was president.

Following Donald Trump’s election, McConnell and the Republicans who controlled Congress with a narrower Senate majority used similar legislative maneuvers to approve the $2 trillion GOP tax cuts on a party-line vote in 2017. When Sen. John McCain and two other Republicans voted with Democrats, their attempt to dismantle and replace the health-care reform known as “Obamacare” failed, and McConnell was unable to keep his party together.

Schumer took out his not-so-secret tool, the flat flip-phone, from his stately office off the Senate floor, with the lived-in feel of the rumpled New Yorker, which he uses for his frequent calls keeping in contact with senators on their votes.

“Every member of our party, from Bernie Sanders to Joe Manchin, understands that we had to work together, that if we didn’t, we’d all be hurt,” Schumer said, referring to Vermont’s most liberal senator and West Virginia’s moderate senator.

As Manchin paused, Schumer, along with other senators and even Biden, called him. Manchin, on the other hand, had plenty of time — hours dragged on — to make up his mind.

Brown said of Schumer, “He listens to everyone and then he brings it together.” “He’s a natural at it.”

When the votes were counted on Saturday, Schumer pointed to the two new senators from Georgia, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. They had shocked the political community by beating two Republican incumbents in special elections in January, giving Democrats a majority in the House of Representatives.

Afterward, Warnock said, “The people of Georgia deserve a great deal of credit for what happened here today.” “We simply would not be here if they had not stepped up in such a strong way in this landmark election that sent Jon Ossoff and myself to the Senate.”

Schumer pressed the presiding officer to declare the 50-49 vote. One Republican senator was unable to vote due to a family emergency. It was unnecessary for Harris to break the tie.

“We are a fine team,” Schumer said to his colleagues.

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