Senate preparing for politically tough votes amid Covid relief push

The long series of amendment votes, known as a vote-a-rama, is a Senate tradition that the minority party uses to put members of the majority on the record on controversial issues in an effort to make changes to a bill that they oppose.

It’ll be a major test of Democratic unity at a time when Senate Democratic leaders have no margin of error given the 50-50 partisan split of the chamber, where Vice President Kamala Harris is the tie-breaking vote.

Democrats are under pressure to stick together to support the relief legislation, which has undergone some major changes in the Senate after the House passed the bill last week, ahead of a final vote. But Republicans are eager to try to exploit any divisions within the majority party.

“On the positive side, it’s a chance to vote on some things that you wouldn’t get to vote on in the normal course of business,” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told reporters when asked to sum up the vote-a-rama process for those unfamiliar. “It’s a chance to see how the parties approach a particular issue, the good thing. The other side of the story is, it’s kind of stupid.”

The marathon effort to pass the $1.9 trillion legislation kicked into high gear Thursday when senators voted to open debate, and in a sign of just how thin Democrats’ majority is, Harris broke the tie advancing the bill. But Republicans opposed to the legislation have been taking steps to draw out the process, starting with forcing the 628-page bill to be read aloud. The Senate then has up to 20 hours for debate, followed by the vote-a-rama.

Democrats expect the vote-a-rama to begin Friday before noon.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, criticized Republican tactics to slow down the process on Thursday, saying that forcing the full reading of the bill “will merely delay the inevitable” and vowing that “no matter how long it takes, the Senate is going to stay in session to finish the bill this week.”

Multiple GOP members and aides familiar with the planning told CNN earlier this week that the plan is to try to peel off Democratic members on a few key amendment votes in order to demonstrate differences within the Democratic ranks as well as create some ripe-for-campaign moments that can be made into political ads later on.

Asked how long it could last, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Senate Republican, said, “It’s indefinite. You’ve got lots of people who want to offer lots of amendments.”

“I think we’ve got very good amendments on the issues of the day,” Graham told reporters when asked to explain the strategy. “I’m just focusing on getting the best foot forward in terms of how we would do this differently, what we would do with your money as the American people and what we believe Covid relief should consist of.”

CNN’s Ali Zaslav and Lauren Fox contributed to this report.

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