VP Harris casts tie-breaking vote to start COVID debate as GOP senator demands 628 page bill be read


Vice President Kamala Harris cast the tie breaking vote in the Senate Thursday so lawmakers could start debate on President Joe Biden‘s $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill.

But, immediately, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin demanded the entire text of the 628 page bill be read aloud. A Senate clerk started the reading at 3:21 p.m. and it’s expected to take 10 hours.  

With the Senate evenly divided at 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans, senators hung out on the Senate floor, chatting in small groups, as they waited for Harris to be rushed up Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House to break their tie.

She arrived in a flurry and took her seat on the dais, announcing: ‘The Senate being equally divided the vice president votes in the affirmative and the motion is agreed to.’ 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer tried to wave the reading of the bill, which usually all senators agree to in order to save time. 

But any single senator can object to the waiver and Johnson did so. 

‘Observing the right to object,’ he said.

‘Is he allowed?,’ Schumer demanded.

Harris ruled Johnson’s objection was allowed and the clerk of the Senate would have to read the bill – all 628 pages. 

‘The objection is heard. The clerk will continue the reading,’ she said.

Vice President Kamala Harris arrives in the Senate to cast a tie breaking vote so lawmakers can start debate on COVID relief measure

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin demanded the entire text of the 628 page bill be read aloud and a Senate clerk will spend next 10 hours doing just that

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin demanded the entire text of the 628 page bill be read aloud and a Senate clerk will spend next 10 hours doing just that

The reading commenced as senators stood chatting, their voices growing louder than the clerk’s. Harris gaveled the chamber into order and left the room. 

Most senators also left, including Johnson, leaving the clerk to read to a nearly empty room. 

Senator Bernie Sanders appeared to joke with a colleague. 

‘I want to stay to hear the reading. I may have missed something,’ he said letting out a loud laugh. 

And he told another colleague: ‘Good thing we have time during a national emergency to do this.’ 

After the bill is read, senators will proceed to 20 hours of debate of the legislation.  After that they will hold a vote-a-rama, a series of votes on multiple amendments to the legislation, an activity that usually goes most of the day and into the night.

It’s unclear when there will be a final vote on the legislation but it could be this weekend. 

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives canceled its votes scheduled for Thursday after U.S. Capitol Police revealed it has received intelligence reports that indicated ‘a possible plot to breach the Capitol by an identified militia group.’

‘The decision was made that it was possible to finish all of the House’s legislative work for the week tonight,’ said the office of House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer, on Wednesday. He sets the voting schedule.  

Thursday is predicted by followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory to be the day that Donald Trump will take power again, returning to D.C. to be inaugurated as president once more. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer walks through the Ohio Clock Corridor in the Capitol on Thursday in route to his office

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer walks through the Ohio Clock Corridor in the Capitol on Thursday in route to his office 

Capitol remains on high alert for potential unrest from Trump supporters with members of the National Guard on patrol

Capitol remains on high alert for potential unrest from Trump supporters with members of the National Guard on patrol

National Guard members on alert in front of the Capitol on Thursday ahead of reports of potential unrest from Donald Trump supporters

National Guard members on alert in front of the Capitol on Thursday ahead of reports of potential unrest from Donald Trump supporters

US Capitol Police said they received intelligence reports on a possible threat for March 4 - the day QAnon supporters claim Donald Trump will be inaugurated president

US Capitol Police said they received intelligence reports on a possible threat for March 4 – the day QAnon supporters claim Donald Trump will be inaugurated president

March 4 as been branded by QAnon loyalists as ‘real Inauguration Day’ as it was the date formerly scheduled for the event until 1933. 

Security is being beefed up around the Capitol out of fears there could be a situation similar to January 6 – when pro-Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, resulting in five dead and a wake of destruction in the building. 

Lawmakers were forced to flee their chambers and go into hiding as rioters swarmed the building, some waving Confederate flags or Trump signs.  Some shouted ‘where’s Mike’ as they searched for then Vice President Mike Pence, who was rushed from the Senate floor moments after the Capitol was breached. The rioters came within a hundred feet of Pence and several yelled ‘Hang Mike Pence’ as they searched for him. 

There’s a much tighter security perimeter for Thursday compared to January 6th, however. Anti-climbing fencing topped with razor wire surrounds the Capitol Hill complex. Lawmakers, staff and media must enter through check points manned by armed National Guard troops. 

Under the heavy arm of security, the Senate will be focused on the relief package with a day of rigorous debate and parliamentary procedure.  

Senate Republicans have denounced the legislation as too expensive and filled with liberal priorities. They have vowed to hold up a final vote on it as long as possible.

Depending on how long Republicans can stall and how many amendments are offered the legislation, a final vote on the COVID relief package may not come until the weekend.

In the 50-50 chamber, Senate Democrats cannot afford to lose one vote and leaders have worked to shore up support for the legislation. 

President Biden already agreed to one compromise: cutting off stimulus checks to Americans who make more than $80,000 a year.   

He told reporters in the White House on Thursday he was comfortable with his decision cap the limit on those receiving checks.  

Biden made the move to sooth Senate moderates, who worried about the cost of the legislation. But the change infuriated progressives – although they are expected to still support the bill.

The relief package contains several provisions that have made it popular in opinion polls, even while attracting virtually no Republican support in Congress. It includes an extension of unemployment benefits and a supplemental unemployment benefit of $400 per week, an expanded child tax credit of up to $3,600, and more than $300 billion for state and local governments. 



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