Van Hollen Leads Charge Against Senate GOP Over Shutdown

U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D)

U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen is shaking up the shutdown stalemate with a plan for Democrats to block Senate Republicans’ priorities until they agree to vote on House bills to fund the government.

The Maryland Democrat floated the maneuver in a tweet over the weekend, prodding Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), “Mitch, don’t delay. Let’s vote!”

Van Hollen’s strategy appears to be gaining momentum on Capitol Hill, putting the senator in the center of the bitterly partisan fight over border security that has shuttered federal agencies for weeks and appears to have no end in sight. President Trump has planned a televised address for Tuesday night to reiterate his case for beefed up security along the southern U.S. border.

Other Senate Democrats have publicly backed Van Hollen’s plans to pressure Senate Republicans. That includes Maryland Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D), who echoed his colleague on Twitter, adding, “This isn’t business as usual. This is a crisis, a fundamental failure to govern, and Americans are suffering for it.”

The Washington Post reported Monday that Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told his caucus he would vote against advancing Republicans’ first legislative order of business: a bill to increase military assistance to Israel and Jordan while imposing new sanctions on Syria.

The Democrats’ plan prompted outrage from the lead sponsor of that bill, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

Rubio accused his Democratic colleagues of attempting to use the shutdown to disguise an intraparty spat over the controversial movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel (BDS).

“A huge argument broke out at Senate Dem meeting last week over BDS. A significant # of Senate Democrats now support #BDS & Dem leaders want to avoid a floor vote that reveals that,” Rubio tweeted.

Van Hollen shot back Monday, “You’re missing the point. It’s not about which bill we’re voting on. It’s about the fact that McConnell has the power to bring up the bipartisan House-passed bills today and end this shutdown and we need to make that the first order of business.”

As the tactic appeared to be gaining steam among Democrats yesterday, Rubio wrote, “Some democrats pledging to paralyze the Senate as a shutdown negotiation tactic. So the answer to a government shutdown is to shutdown more of the government?”

Among the other senators who have endorsed Van Hollen’s strategy is Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). “Sen. Van Hollen is absolutely right. We should block consideration of all bills on the Senate floor until we end the Trump shutdown and reopen the federal government,” Sanders wrote.

The Senate is scheduled to hold a procedural vote on whether to proceed to Rubio’s pro-Israel bill Tuesday evening, ahead of Trump’s planned address.

McConnell has suggested he’ll only bring up bills that are likely to be passed by the Senate and signed by the president.

Van Hollen and Cardin — whose state includes a sizeable chunk of the federal workforce —  are some of the most vocal critics of the ongoing shutdown.

Van Hollen hosted a roundtable discussion in Prince George’s County Monday with federal workers who have been impacted by the shutdown, where the senator criticized Senate Republicans and the president.

“Mitch McConnell has it within his power today to bring up those two bills that passed the House to reopen the government,” Van Hollen said. “I know the president said a little while ago he would be proud to shut down the government. Nobody should be proud of shutting down the government.”

Cardin and Van Hollen are also among the 30 co-sponsors who introduced legislation last week that would guarantee that furloughed federal employees are paid retroactively and require that all government employees be paid as soon as possible after the lapse in appropriations ends. One Senate Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, was among the cosponsors.

House lawmakers have also introduced a bipartisan bill that would require back pay for government employees impacted by the shutdown.

Maryland Democratic Reps. Jamie Raskin, Anthony G. Brown, Steny H. Hoyer and David J. Trone have signed on as co-sponsors of the legislation, whose prime sponsor is Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.).

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