Jan 5, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Omicron, snowstorm thwart Schumer’s midterm year quick start

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is seen arriving at the U.S. Capitol.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer arrives at the Capitol on Tuesday. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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.

The latest:

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."
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