Democrats are threatening to slow the Senate to a crawl in response to President Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey.
“We clearly have the option of slowing down the proceedings of the Senate if there’s not proper response from Republicans,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said after a closed-door Democratic caucus meeting focused on Comey’s firing.
Democrats fired a warning shot Wednesday.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, objected to the Senate GOP’s routine request to allow 13 committee hearings to take place.
“Because of the decision last night by the president of the United States to terminate the director of the FBI and the questions that its raised we gathered together, the Democratic senators on the floor, and listened as our leader at least suggested a path for us to follow as an institution facing this constitutional question,” Durbin said from the Senate floor.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), in an unusual move, stressed during his request that committees are “doing important work” including a hearing on North Korea.
The Dems’ move also abruptly ended a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that had already started.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) requested that McConnell ask Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to meet in a separate closed-door briefings with senators.
Spokesmen for Durbin and Schumer did not respond to requests for comment on whether Democrats would try similar tactics this week. Murphy said there wasn’t “consensus” yet on playing procedural hardball.
“I think this is 12 hours old, and I think we have to give a little bit of time for Republicans to have their own conversations and perhaps rise to the occasion,” he said.
Wednesday isn’t the first time Democrats have tried to leverage the Senate schedule.
Former Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) warned last year that he would block committee meetings as part of a protest after Republicans refused to hold hearings or votes on Merrick Garland, former President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee. Democrats quickly backed down from that threat.
Republicans used the procedural tactic when they were in the minority to try stall former President Obama’s nominees.
Senate committees can still meet, but under the Senate’s “two-hour rule,” they are limited to meeting during the first two hours after the Senate convenes.
A Senate Judiciary Committee hearing ended abruptly Wednesday after word spread that Senate Democrats were planning a slowdown of committee business.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) suddenly adjourned the hearing before Democrats could carry out the plan.
Ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) used that meeting to dig into her concerns over Comey’s firing.
“At a minimum, the decision to fire Comey raises questions about the appropriateness and timing of firing the person in charge of an investigation that could — I won’t say would, but could — implicate the administration. To have this happen, and happen now, is beyond surprising,” she said during the hearing.
A visibly annoyed Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said she didn’t understand the point of the Democratic tactics, which postponed her hearing scheduled for Wednesday.
“Prohibiting me from chairing a hearing of the Aging Committee in which we have witnesses who have flown here from four different states, how does that contribute to solving anything that has to do with Jim Comey’s firing?” she told reporters.
Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) called the Democratic tactics “another low” for the Senate.
“We ought to want the United States Senate to function,” he said from the Senate floor. “Everything does not have to be partisan. Everything does not have to be political.”