May 26, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Schumer's litmus test

Illustration of a litmus test revealing a hand shake

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is forcing Republicans into a corner as he tries to pass his China-focused global competition bill.

Why it matters: It's important by itself but also seen by the left as a test for whether Democrats can work with the GOP on anything. If it fails to gain support, it would likely endanger future bipartisan efforts — including infrastructure talks — for the remainder of the 117th Congress.

Details: Schumer strategically mapped out a plan for the bill that would box in the rival party.

  • The foundation of the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act is a bipartisan proposal from Schumer and Republican Sen. Todd Young of Indiana.
  • The legislation is expected to focus on manufacturing, technology, 5G, supply chains and semiconductors — all concerns for both parties.
  • In February, Schumer asked both Democratic committee chairs and their ranking Republicans to work on measures that could be included in a larger package.
  • Now, Republicans are saying they need to see a rigorous amendment process in order to support the measure. So far Schumer has obliged, though it's still unclear whether he'll give all of their amendments a vote.
  • On Tuesday, he introduced six Republican amendments and scheduled votes on several others on Wednesday.
  • In his messaging, Schumer has consistently emphasized he's put up more Republican amendments than Democratic ones.

Yes, but: Many Republicans still argue Schumer isn't working in good faith, and that the process hasn't been totally bipartisan.

  • Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) is going so far as to try to convince Republicans to reject the bill outright, complaining his negotiated bipartisan provision was blocked by Schumer.

The bottom line: Some Democratic lawmakers and their aides say that if this bill doesn't pass, the entire mood in the Senate will shift away from any semblance of accommodation.

  • Alternatively, if it succeeds, it could provide momentum for future negotiations.

What they're saying: Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Axios he's confident the bill will pass.

  • "My feeling is that it's too big to fail. So much work has been put in that it would be inconceivable to me that Republicans would walk away just because the last-minute process didn't play out the way they want it."
  • Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) said she's less certain the bill will succeed unless certain changes are made.
  • "Bottom line is, it's an awful lot of money. There has to be some transparency involved with this, and we have to have clearly defined goals and objectives."

Remember: Aiming to outcompete China is an area in which Republicans and Democrats largely agree.

  • It's the one issue on which Schumer and President Trump saw eye to eye — making it the perfect one for Democrats to force Republicans' hand.
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