Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) late Thursday left Democrats angry and sputtering on the Senate floor, as he used his new power as majority leader to brush off several Democratic amendments in an effort to speed up work on a bill to approve the Keystone pipeline.
McConnell has so far made a point of allowing amendment votes, something Democrats barely allowed for the last few years. Earlier Thursday, McConnell boasted that the Senate had already held more amendment votes on the Keystone bill than Democrats allowed during all of 2014.
"We've actually reached a milestone here that I think's noteworthy for the Senate," McConnell said after the 15th amendment vote. "This is the way the Senate ought to work."
But McConnell has also said the Senate can't work on the Keystone bill forever, a warning that he wants to finish it up at some point in the near future.
Late Thursday night, McConnell said the new open process in the Senate led members of both parties to propose a new wave of amendments that he wanted to deal with immediately. He asked senators for an agreement to vote on a series of 12 amendments right then and there.
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) objected, and said Democrats would be ready to keep working on these amendments on Friday. But McConnell dismissed that and said the Senate should be ready to work on them now. With no agreement, he said his only choice was to start a series of votes to table, or kill, all Democratic amendments.
"Given the fact that they're reluctant to vote on their own amendments… the only way to go forward is to table their amendments," he said.
As Democrats protested, McConnell moved to table the first amendment, from Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.). Markey asked several times to have one minute to speak on his amendment — "Mr. President! Mr. President!" he yelled in an effort to stop the process — but McConnell objected, and the Senate voted to kill his amendment.
The same thing happened for other Democratic amendments from Sens. Tom Carper (Del.), Pat Leahy (Vt.), Jack Reed (R.I.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.).
The process led to some sharp debate on Twitter, as Democrats argued that McConnell's tactics showed he wasn't serious about an open amendment process. Sen. Clarie McCaskill (D-Mo.) complained that McConnell was only interested in killing Democratic amendments, and wasn't giving Democrats even one minute to speak about their proposals.
Rather than accept reasonable request to come back in am to debate amndmnts,McConnell now tabling every D amndmnt,refusing to let Ds speak.— Claire McCaskill (@clairecmc) January 23, 2015
Adam Jentleson, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), tweeted, "So much for open debate. McConnell just denied Markey chance to speak."
But Dan Holler of Heritage Action, shot back, "How many amdts did Markey have voted on last year?"
how many amdts did Markey have voted on last year? MT @AJentleson: So much for open debate: McConnell just denied Markey chance to speak— dan holler (@danholler) January 23, 2015
Earlier in the debate, Durbin asked why the Senate couldn't come back into session on Friday morning and handle all the amendments. McConnell has said the Senate would work Fridays, but later adjourned the Senate until Monday, further angering Democrats.
Senate Democrats accused McConnell of breaking his promise to work on Fridays so that Senate Republicans could attend a Friday meeting in California hosted by Charles and David Koch, big contributors to the Republican Party.
McConnell: "We need to work on Fridays*." *Unless there's a Koch summit that weekend http://t.co/hBJ56BkuxN— Senate Democrats (@SenateDems) January 23, 2015