Every once in a while, elections and legislation collide dramatically. Democrats' massive upset in Alabama could be one of those times, by sinking Republicans' tax bill at the last minute.
Or, if Senate Republicans have their way, Alabama's election might not change a thing.
Republicans are trying to pass a major tax rewrite, without any Democratic votes, as their two-seat majority is about to be cut in half, thanks to Sen.-elect Doug Jones (D-Ala.).
They can afford just two defections to pass a final version and send to President Trump's desk. With Jones in the Senate, they will probably afford just one defection. And one vote is enough: Republicans' Affordable Care Act repeal bill fell short by a single vote in the summer, and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) has indicated he'd vote against the final tax bill.
IF Jones were in the Senate in time, the tax bill could die. That's where we find ourselves Wednesday morning, in a he-said, he-said battle about whether Republicans should pause the tax bill vote to let Alabama's newest senator take part.
Wednesday morning, Senate Democrats went on a media blitz demanding Republicans pause a vote on the tax bill until Jones's election results are certified and he's seated, probably at the end of December or days after the New Year. But later in the day, Republicans announced they had reached a deal on a merged tax bill that could pass both the House and the Senate.
“We are calling on Mitch McConnell to hit pause on his tax bill and not hold a final vote until Doug Jones is sworn into the Senate,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a news conference. “Doug Jones will be the duly elected senator from the state of Alabama. The governor didn't appoint him. He won an election.”
They claim when the shoe was on the other foot and a Republican won a Massachusetts special election in 2010 that could have derailed Obamacare, Democrats waited for that Republican to be seated.
“The Senate certainly shouldn't try to jam anything through until Scott Brown is seated,” President Barack Obama told ABC the day after Scott Brown won an open seat, knocking Democrats' filibuster-proof majority to 59. “The people in Massachusetts spoke. He's got to be part of that process.”
Yeah ... no, say Senate Republicans. Well before Tuesday's election, they were planning to vote on a final version of the tax bill next week. And they sure as heck aren't going to change that schedule now.
“We're voting next week,” said Don Stewart, deputy chief of staff for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). “And Sen. Strange is a senator until the new member is sworn in.”
But Republicans do risk opening themselves up to charges of hypocrisy by plowing full-steam-ahead on the tax bill before Jones is seated.
President Trump praised Obama in 2010 for holding off on the Obamacare vote until Brown got seated.
Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) allies launched a petition to get Brown seated before Democrats took the final vote on Obamacare. Brown himself petitioned the state to be seated as soon as possible.
And in 2016, Senate Republicans refused to hold hearings on President Barack Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland, to fill a vacant seat on the Supreme Court after Justice Antonin Scalia died nine months before the presidential election. Their reasoning: The American people should have a say in who sits on the highest court in the land.
It was a huge gamble, and it paid off. That a conservative justice, Neil M. Gorsuch, is the ninth justice and not Obama's more left-leaning pick is entirely because McConnell proved he could hold off on important votes until after the results of an election.
Now, he appears to be saying the opposite: No need to hold off on a bill that will rewrite the tax code for the first time in three decades.
Democrats are furious.
“This is a Senate majority leader who threw out the Constitution and delayed a vote on a Supreme Court nominee so 'the people could speak,' " said Stephanie Cutter, a former Obama official and top Senate Democratic aide. “What's different here?”
A liberal organizing group, Democracy for America, started a petition to try to pressure Senate Democrats to refuse voting on the tax bill until Jones is seated.
Republicans argue that Democrats are the ones being disingenuous. Yes, Senate Democrats waited until Brown got seated to take the final vote on their health-care bill. But Democrats also decided to change the method by which they passed Obamacare, doing it through a budget process called reconciliation that let them avoid a Republican filibuster. So, in essence, Brown's existence in the Senate was moot for Obamacare passage.
(That's the same process, by the way, by which Republicans are attempting to pass their tax bill.)
The reality is, if you go back far enough, you can find hypocrisy on both sides of the aisle. And Republicans probably aren't going to use what happened in 2010 as a reason to imperil their first major legislative victory this entire year.