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WASHINGTON (AP) — It was about added than accouterment virus aid.
Day afterwards day, night afterwards night, the assemblage of a dozen or so senators met over pizza and Zoom calls, beating out a framework for a $900 billion-plus COVID-19 virus aid and bread-and-butter abatement package. Their ambition was not alone to breach a adamant impasse on the communicable aid, but to appearance that the old agency of accomplishing business in Washington — in adequate faith, beyond affair lines, with banter — could still succeed.
Their assignment interjected beginning drive against a anniversary deal. The White House jumped in with a new proposal. Congressional leaders showed interest. The gridlock seemed to be breaking.
But problems bound flared. Details accepted vexing. And by week’s end, the assembly complex in the bipartisan talks were acceptance that the thorniest botheration of all — whether companies, schools and others should be adequate from virus-related lawsuits — was article they artlessly couldn’t solve, at atomic not yet.
For President-elect Joe Biden, it’s a bright adumbration that there are accommodating ally in Congress for the affectionate of accord architecture he campaigned on. Yet it’s additionally a cautionary account aloof weeks afore his inauguration, assuming how difficult it will be to administer from the centermost at a time aback associates of Congress, and the country at large, acquisition it adamantine to arch the abysm amid them.
It additionally showed aloof how burst Congress, decidedly the Senate, has become.
“Everyone’s frustrated,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., in an interview. “There are senators on both abandon that are actual balked that about the Senate has chock-full functioning.”
Biden has a clue almanac of acid deals in Congress, both as a above agent and as carnality admiral to Barack Obama, and the new White House will be carefully watched for its accepted overtures to the moderates.
Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who is accepted to blade his party, and anew absolved Republicans freed of Trump and acquisitive to bear for capacity aback home will accept abundant amplitude in the new year.
Because the House and Senate will both accept slimmer majorities, that creates opportunities for alone assembly to accretion ability by bridge affair curve to tip the vote tally. It additionally agency Biden’s administering will adequate be affected to await on Republicans in the House, if the majority Democrats splinter, and in the Senate, behindhand of affair ascendancy afterwards the Jan. 5 runoff elections in Georgia.
The accepted COVID “gang” leaders, GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, all but continued an allurement to the Biden administration.
“We acquainted the stakes were artlessly too aerial to acquiesce accessory warfare to anticipate us from carrying relief,” the two senators wrote in an op-ed announcement the bipartisan framework. “The process, too, can serve as a arrangement for advance on added difficult but basic issues in our carefully disconnected Senate.”
Yet, as the aftermost week’s negotiations unfolded, it became bright that affair leaders still drive the accommodation making, the final signatories to any deal.
Senate Majority Baton Mitch McConnell signaled it was “unlikely” any accommodation on the accountability affair would be adequate to Republicans, who authority the majority in the Senate.
Aligning with bourgeois Republicans, McConnell scoffed at “bailouts” for the states — alike admitting some GOP senators would acceptable the beverage of banknote to pay police, firefighters, accessible bloom workers and others aback home.
Senate Democratic baton Chuck Schumer, backed by progressives, alone the accountability absorber as arbitrary to workers who would accept little recourse to sue their administration over alive altitude during COVID.
“It’s an amoral position — no abatement for the American bodies unless corporations accept absolute amnesty from lawsuits,” Schumer said.
Washington austere out for the weekend, hopes dimmed for a across-the-board accord afore Christmas.
Gangs generally appear in Congress, decidedly the Senate, aback there’s a exhaustion of administration and assembly accept pent-up activity to breach through the standoffs and acquisition a resolution.
During moments of crisis, the gangs usually accomplish in absorption attention, architecture anxiety as assembly ataxia secretly, to advance that best ambiguous of Washington achievements, a bipartisan compromise.
But they don’t consistently bear solutions.
In 2005, the Assemblage of 14 bipartisan senators engineered an end to a collision over Democratic efforts to block then-President George W. Bush’s administrative nominees aback all abandon agreed to lower the temperature.
But the acceding fell afar by 2013 as tensions above over with the Republican barricade of Barack Obama’s nominees. Fed up, the Senate majority baton at the time, Democrat Harry Reid, invoked the alleged “nuclear option” — a rules change that bargain the beginning for acknowledging abounding administrative and controlling annex nominations to a 51-vote majority.
McConnell went added in 2017, deploying the “nuclear option” to acquiesce Trump’s Supreme Court picks to be accepted the aforementioned way — what abounding of today’s senators appearance as a breaking point for the Senate.
Congressional gangs were able-bodied in 2013 as assembly approved to bang compromises with Obama.
The bipartisan Assemblage of Eight senators delivered a across-the-board clearing overhaul, a hard-fought accommodation that anesthetized by a advanced allowance in the Senate — alone to acreage with a bang in the House. It never became law.
Collins and added women led a assemblage that helped Congress affluence out of the 2013 federal shutdown. And Collins helmed addition assemblage during the 2018 abeyance that abundantly active a “talking stick” so participants could booty turns administration account to end the standoff.
Former Senate abettor Ryan Nickel sees gangs as the bill of the new Congress, as centrist Democrats and Republicans advance their admiration to bear achievements during in the Biden era.
“2021 can be the year of the talking stick caucus,” said Nickel, now a Democratic strategist.
Others though, see the gangs as a evidence of a greater problem.
Rather than agilely agitation legislation on the Senate floor, leaders absorber senators from demography boxy votes — or votes on bills that would absolutely accept advanced bipartisan support.
It’s become a procedural accoutrements race, anniversary ancillary deploying the rules of the alcove to block action, consistent in the stalemates.
Merkley is alive with senators to anticipate a activity Senate: What if the senators took votes on the COVID bill? On amendments to accommodate money to the states? On the accountability aegis for businesses and organizations? Added unemployment benefits, money for hospitals and vaccines?
“At atomic in voting, our citizens would apperceive area we stood,” he said. “We wouldn’t charge a assemblage appropriate now. We would accept had a assemblage of 100.”
EDITOR’S NOTE — AP Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro has covered Congress back 2010. Follow her at https://twitter.com/LisaMascaro
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