Omicron, snowstorm thwart Schumer’s midterm year quick start
The D.C. snowstorm and Omicron variant have crushed plans by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to begin the 2022 midterm year with a legislative flurry.
Why it matters: Congress has a long list of priorities that carried over from last year. Making progress on any of them would provide at least a campaign talking point. The problem is the new COVID variant and flight delays have left Capitol Hill a ghost town.
- Road closures have canceled votes and other legislative activity for two days straight.
- Wednesday's votes, the first of the week, also may be the last. Many members will be out of town Thursday for a memorial service honoring former Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.).
- Multiple Senate aides and reporters have also decided not to come into work because of the rapid spread of coronavirus in recent weeks.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said in a series of interviews he was stuck on I-95 for more than 27 hours after trying to get to D.C. on what is his usual 2-hour commute.
- The legislative business he rushed to make on Tuesday ended up postponed.
- The spike in the Omicron variant also forced Schumer to move Democrats' weekly in-person caucus lunches back to a virtual setting.
- That robbed the party of the opportunity to hash out its differences in the same room after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) blew up their chances of passing President Biden's Build Back Better package last month.
Between the lines: Schumer has a long list of legislation he sees as imperative to boosting Democrats' chances in the midterms.
- He's tried to set definitive deadlines to instill urgency within the Senate before the summer recess ends meaningful legislative activity for the year.
- Only a potential lame-duck session would remain.
The main biggest priorities on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue are salvaging BBB to the degree possible and reforming Senate rules.
- The specific question is whether to bring back the talking filibuster, as well as creating a one-time carve-out to bypass the filibuster and pass Democrats' voting-rights package.
- Neither of those priorities seems to be in a good place right now, given fresh pushback from Manchin.
Voting rights: Schumer says the Senate will vote on a package of Senate rules changes by Jan. 17 — less than two weeks away.
- While Manchin said he's still talking with his colleagues, he isn't on board with a filibuster carve-out for voting rights — calling it "a heavy lift" — and isn't willing to go nuclear and eliminate the filibuster altogether.
- "Once you change a rule, or you have a carve-out ... you eat the whole turkey," the senator told a COVID-thinned group of pool reporters on Tuesday.
- He added that he would want any reform of Senate rules to have GOP buy-in — a long-shot to near impossible ask.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), also a key holdout to major filibuster reform, reiterated during the Democratic lunch she will not support any effort to get rid of the 60-vote threshold, according to two sources familiar with the call.
- Sinema has been having one-on-one talks with her colleagues for weeks, one of the sources said.
Schumer was hosting a meeting Tuesday evening with Manchin and the other seven Senate Democrats who helped craft the Freedom to Vote Act.
- The majority leader said earlier in the day: "Manchin has said all along he wants to work with Republicans, and we've all been very patient ... but I believe he knows we won't get any Republican cooperation."