Republicans use arcane political tactics to sabotage Democrats

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tells reporters on Capitol Hill, Washington, Feb. 14, 2023.  (Pete Marovich/The New York Times)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tells reporters on Capitol Hill, Washington, Feb. 14, 2023. (Pete Marovich/The New York Times)

WASHINGTON — Republicans have decided on the procedural weapon of choice in this Congress — and they’ve trained it squarely against Democrats worried about the prospects for 2024.

Twice in the past week, the Republicans have won, splitting the Democrats. They employed arcane ploys known as resolutions of disapproval that targeted policies they opposed and viewed as political vulnerabilities of the Democratic Party, and used that means to amplify their message.

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The biggest win came on Thursday when President Joe Biden told Senate Democrats that he would sign a Republican-led resolution to block Washington, D.C.’s new criminal law if it reached his desk. It was a reversal from his earlier opposition, frankly acknowledging that Republicans have done better than Democrats on the hot-button topic of violent crime.

It’s somewhat unusual for a president to have to stand up to a law he opposes when his party controls at least a portion of Congress (the Senate, in this case). From veto or harsh decisions.

But the great thing about the disapproval resolution is that it has a special place in the Senate. Majority leaders cannot hold back and are not subject to filibusters, so if lawmakers can muster a simple majority, it is an outspoken political instrument. This is due to the Congressional Review Act, enacted in 1996 after Republicans took power on Capitol Hill, creating a process that allowed Congress to overturn federal rules.

Republicans, who have little power to set the Senate agenda, see this tactic as a convenient way to win legislation and force Democrats to debate topics they want to avoid.

“For minorities, there’s not much else you can do,” said Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas). “I think it’s useful, and we’re seeing some election year conversions when it comes to voting. It gives us more visibility for some of this stuff and we can really discuss whether it works.” increase.”

This approach also fits with Republican legislative thinking, which tends to block policy rather than make it.

“We are made to oppose,” said RN.D. Senator Kevin Cramer.

The current composition of Congress makes disapproving resolutions a potentially powerful weapon for Republicans. can do. Second, because of the bill’s special status in the Senate, Republicans can force a vote there, while Democrats have the politically difficult choice of either voting against or supporting the bill and allowing it to pass. Forced into an unpleasant choice, sent to Biden to prompt a veto showdown.

This week, a bare minimum of two Democratic senators — John Tester of Montana and Joe Manchin of West Virginia — joined the Senate Republicans to encourage retirement funds to consider “environmental, social, and governance” factors. Voted to block the Biden administration’s rule of allowing. When deciding where to invest.

Democrats argued the new rule was neutral and didn’t require investors to consider those factors, but only allowed the practice after Trump-era rules banned it. , Republicans argued that the regulation was an example of a runaway Democratic Party “awakened ideology” that could reduce retirement investment returns and penalize fossil fuel companies. That was enough to dissolve the two Democrats who wanted to and send the resolution to Biden, who promised a veto.

It had already passed the House, but only one Democrat, Rep. Jared Golden of Maine, backed it.

Resolution of the District Crime Bill was an entirely different matter. Thirty-one Democrats joined House Republicans in his February to vote to block the district’s new criminal law. The penal code had been accused of reducing or eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for some crimes while the capital was hit by a high-profile wave of carjackings and murders. Given Congress’ constitutional authority over districts, its laws can be reviewed and overturned.

Republicans are eager to make Democrats vulnerable to crime, and see district laws as a means to do just that. Senate Democrats who have recognized the threat are starting to line up with Republicans, and the resolution looks set to be headed for easy approval next week, whether or not to veto it at a moment when the public is alarmed about violent crime. The president ended the suspense by announcing he would sign it, making it the first district law to be blocked by Congress in 30 years.

Critics of disapproval pressure argue that the fight takes up complex policy issues, boils them down to provocative, politically-inspired sound pricks, and explores the nuances, research, and rationale behind the decisions. Say you’re lost.

Take the brawl over criminal law. Proponents say the final product is the result of years of careful deliberation, incorporating some of the nation’s best criminal justice practices to make local systems more viable and reflective of reality. But all we hear is that carjackers may get a lighter sentence.

“They present complex issues,” Democratic Rep. Senator Chris Coons said of the resolution. In offensive ads, not in what the policy underlies. ”

He called the Republican attack on investment rules “ridiculous” and said it actually runs counter to the Republican tradition of letting the market run its course.

“It was kind of a ‘down is up, up is down’ solution,” he said.

That’s not to say Democrats didn’t try to use the Congressional Review Act. Senate Democrats have made multiple attempts to overturn Trump administration policies, but have been blocked until Biden is elected, and the Democratic-led Congress has overturned some of the Trump administration’s rules.

The Reconsideration Act, intended to give Congress the ability to curb the federal bureaucracy, was initially used sparingly and was signed into law by President George W. Passed legislation to overturn proposed workplace ergonomics rules policy. .

When Republicans took control of the House in 2011, they took aim at Obama administration policies, including those on climate change and the environment, but the president vetoed all five resolutions sent to him. exercised.

When Donald Trump took office in 2017, he and Republican congressional leaders worked in concert to overturn the Obama administration’s string of regulations. Trump signed more than a dozen disapprovals in his first year in office as the Republicans used their power.

Republicans in Congress have sought to continue that push in 2021 after Biden takes office. The Senate has passed an administrative rule that requires large employers to undergo vaccines and routine testing for coronavirus. But California Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who was chairing the House at the time, never scheduled the bill to be voted on and died in the House.

With a Republican majority in the House, there are fewer obstacles to such disapproval resolutions. Republicans already have him one vote into next week by overturning the Biden administration’s policy on the extent of regulation of navigable waterways, a big issue in the agriculture and construction industries.

With elections on the horizon, Republicans say they intend to propose even more. That’s probably the idea most Democrats would disagree with.

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