With Republicans lawmakers on the verge of passing a sweeping tax bill, Sen. Elizabeth Warren took to the Senate floor Wednesday afternoon in an attempt to convince Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to delay the vote. Not on policy terms — on which, of course, Warren very much opposes the legislation — but for the sake of the democratic process, she argued, referring to Tuesday’s election of Senator-elect Doug Jones in Alabama.
And in doing so, the Massachusetts Democrat invoked her old 2012 campaign foe, former Sen. Scott Brown.
Nearly eight years ago, the Senate faced a similar choice, albeit in a flipped scenario, after Brown, a Republican in deep-blue Massachusetts, won a shocking special election on January 19, 2010. Democrats at the time held a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority and were in the midst of a debate over what would ultimately become the Affordable Care Act.
According to Warren, some people thought the party should “ram” the legislation through the Senate before Brown was sworn in.
“I could stand here and read you quote after quote after quote from Republicans who now control the Senate talking about how unfair that would be, how corrupt that would be, and how anti-democratic that would be,” she said Wednesday. “I could go on and on about how today’s Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, said this would be ‘gamesmanship,’ but I want to talk about what Democrats actually did.”
As Warren noted, Sen. Jim Webb, a moderate Democrat from Virginia, released a statement the night of the election in Massachusetts pledging not to participate in the health care discussion until Brown was seated. A day later, then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid agreed.
“We’re not going to rush into anything,” said the Nevada Democrat. “We’re going to wait until the new Senator arrives before we do anything more on health care.”
“The Senate certainly shouldn’t try to jam anything through until Scott Brown is seated,” Obama told ABC News in an interview at the time. “People in Massachusetts spoke. He’s got to be part of that process.”
In fact, Brown ended up being sworn in by Vice President Joe Biden a week earlier than expected. And as a result of Democrats losing their Senate super-majority, the final version of the bill had to go through a process called reconciliation, which allowed the party to pass the legislation with a simple majority, but also bogged down the effort and required some policy sacrifices.
Now, history is repeating itself, but with reversed roles.
Republicans announced Wednesday they had agreed to a deal to merge the two differing tax bills passed in the House and Senate along partisan lines. But Democrats want them to wait until Jones is seated, which isn’t likely to happen for at least another two weeks.
The Alabama Democrat’s arrival in the Senate would narrow the Republican majority to a 51-49 vote margin and could cast the final passage on the tax bill into uncertainty, depending whether Sen. Susan Collins (or any other Senate Republican who voted for the original bill) maintains her support.
However, Republican leaders say they plan to hold a final vote on the bill next week, while appointed Sen. Luther Strange still holds Jones’s seat. And so far, there has been no Republican counterpart to Webb, calling for their own party to pump the brakes. Even Warren admits that politically it’s no easy decision.
“Waiting for Brown slowed down the adoption of health care for two additional months,” she said. “More importantly, it meant that Democrats lost their filibuster-proof majority, and as a consequence the final bill couldn’t achieve nearly as much as Democrats had hoped for.”
But Warren says Democratic leaders did it anyway because they respected the votes of the Massachusetts people and the democratic process, the latter of which she has already criticized the Republican tax bill for skirting.
“We did it because democracy matters, even when it means that it might slow down a President’s agenda,” said the senator. “Democracy matters, even when a Senate seat held for decades by a liberal lion is taken over by a conservative. Democracy matters, especially when it is inconvenient.”
President Donald Trump has set a Christmas deadline for Republicans to get the bill to his desk, which would result in some parts of the legislation taking effect by February. But Warren says there is no reason not to give such a “massive restructuring of our economic system” a few more weeks of scrutiny.
“The election of Doug Jones will not change which party controls the Senate,” she said. “The election of Doug Jones will not give him or Democrats the power to block the tax bill, or any other piece of legislation. But it will respect the people of Alabama, and their choice.”