At least they cracked down on drug schemes by sports teams.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's Senate didn't do a whole lot to combat coronavirus or push through COVID relief for the American people in 2020.
After an initial round of stimulus payments to Americans in the spring, Congress remained deadlocked for the remainder of the year as McConnell repeatedly stymied bipartisan efforts to pass critical relief legislation.
Even after House Democrats passed a bill that would have provided much-needed assistance to Americans, as the virus surged, McConnell sat on the bill, refusing to address it and labeling it a liberal pipe-dream. In the months that followed, the Senate GOP proposed replacement legislation that didn't do much of anything, other than provide some workers the ability to write off business lunches on their taxes and shield companies from being sued if employees forced back to work became infected.
Finally, in the waning days of December, Congress managed to slip a bipartisan COVID relief bill past the Senate, sending it to Donald Trump's desk (where he at first suggested he wouldn't sign it, but later relented). The bill contained meager $600 direct payments for millions of Americans still suffering through the fallout from the deadly pandemic.
So what were Senate Republicans doing all year rather than fighting the pandemic and providing relief to Americans?
Here's a little refresher.
1. Vowing to block Biden's Cabinet appointees
Just days after the presidential election, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell allegedly told colleagues that he would block any agenda put forward by the incoming Biden administration, including any Cabinet appointees Biden might try to install.
According to a Nov. 5 Axios report, an unidentified source close to McConnell told the outlet that, if he maintained his Senate majority, he might be willing to work across the aisle to confirm centrist nominees, but not controversial "radical progressives".
It was a characteristic move from McConnell, who previously blocked dozens of former President Barack Obama's judicial nominees from confirmation, most notably Merrick Garland, who was tapped for a Supreme Court seat but never got a confirmation hearing.
2. Blocking hundreds of bills passed by the House
The Republican-controlled Senate refused to vote on hundreds of bills passed by House Democrats, signing only 70 bills into law throughout the course of 2020.
"From raising the minimum wage to ensuring equal pay, we have passed legislation to raise wages. And we have passed legislation to protect and expand health coverage and bring down prescription drug prices," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told Vox. "We continue to urge Senator McConnell to take up our bills, many of which are bipartisan."
Among the most significant of the bills passed by the House but stalled in the Senate is the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020, which addresses racial bias and excessive force issues in policing.
According the New York Times, the Justice in Policing Act would effectively get rid of the qualified immunity doctrine protecting police officers from legal consequences for excessive force. It would also restrict acceptable use of lethal force and require police departments to stop using chokeholds.
Instead, Senate Republicans attempted to put forward their own pale reflection of a "police reform" bill in June, which was rejected by Democrats as woefully insufficient. The Republican bill did not actually ban chokeholds, alter in any meaningful way lethal force restrictions, or change existing qualified immunity protections.
According to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris at the time, Democrats chose to block the Senate Republicans' bill so as "to not take crumbs on the table when there is a hunger that America has for real solutions to a very real problem."
3. Ramming through dozens of Trump judicial nominees
Instead of passing legislation to combat the pandemic or provide COVID relief, Senate Republicans spent most of 2020 confirming a record number of Trump judicial nominees, many of them unqualified for the job.
By November 2019, the Senate Judiciary Committee had confirmed about 150 of Trump's nominees to federal benches. One year later, that number had increased to 220.
Taylor Reidy, a spokesperson for the Senate Judiciary Committee, told Roll Call on Nov. 30 that the committee had no intention of halting confirmations during the lame-duck period.
"The Senate Judiciary Committee will continue to process judges nominated by President Trump," Reidy said. "We have confirmed over 220 and look forward to confirming even more."
According to Roll Call, the Senate confirming a White House occupant's nominees after he has lost an election is something that, with a single exception, hasn't happened since 1896.
Russell Wheeler, president of the Governance Institute, told the outlet it was "unprecedented to confirm lame-duck presidents’ nominees after the election."
In October, McConnell told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt that Senate Republicans planned to "run through the tape" and confirm as many of Trump's judicial nominees as possible before time was up.
"We go through the end of the year, and so does the president," McConnell said.
4. Blocking a bipartisan effort to construct Latino and women's history museums
In December, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) asked the Senate to unanimously approve a bill passed in the House that would have provided funds to build a National Museum of the American Latino.
Sen. Mike Lee, the junior Republican senator from Utah, vocally opposed the bill and the bill failed.
Lee referred to museums celebrating different racial and ethnic identities as "separate but equal museums for hyphenated identity groups."
"At the end of such a fraying and fracturing year, Congress should not splinter one of the national institutional cornerstones of our distinct national identity," he added.
The Republican senator also shot down an effort by fellow GOP Sen. Susan Collins (ME) to have a National Women's History Museum constructed on the national mall.
5. Forcing through a Supreme Court nomination — during a COVID outbreak
The GOP majority rammed through Trump's far-right Supreme Court nominee, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, during a high-profile coronavirus outbreak on Capitol Hill and in the White House.
Disregarding the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg's dying wish that a new Supreme Court Justice not be chosen until after the Nov. 3 election, Republicans rushed through confirmation proceedings for Barrett amid pushback from Democrats, who argued to no effect that it was unprecedented to install a justice on the Supreme Court so close to a presidential election.
The Senate moved at breakneck speed regardless of that backlash, confirming Barrett on Oct. 26, one month to the day after Trump announced her nomination.
Despite the fact that several members of the Senate had recently tested positive for coronavirus, they still showed up for a vote.
Sen. Ron Johnson, who tested positive for the virus in early October, said he would show up and vote "in a moon suit" if necessary.
"If we have to go in and vote, I've already told leadership I'll go in a moon suit," he said.
6. Attempting to steal a presidential election
Trump has long refused to accept the results of the Nov. 3 election, and many Senate Republicans have insisted on backing his fast and furious claims of a "rigged" election, silently humoring the White House occupant from the sidelines as he pushes debunked lies on Twitter to prevent Biden from becoming president.
Trump has filed more than 50 post-election lawsuits to seek to overturn election results, winning one and losing the rest. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton also filed a suit in early December in an effort to invalidate millions of votes in four key swing states, with Trump himself and 17 other states hopping on board, requesting that the Supreme Court grant an emergency order to block electors from Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia, and Pennsylvania from cementing Biden's win.
Meanwhile, some Senate Republicans have thrown their hat in the ring, openly assisting Trump in his efforts to steal the election.
Georgia's Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger claimed in November that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) urged him to throw away valid votes in an effort to overturn the election results.
And Ted Cruz urged the Supreme Court to hear one of Trump's many lawsuits seeking to disenfranchise voters. For his pains, Trump invited him to personally argue the case if it made it before the Supreme Court.
7. Blocking three bills to heighten election security
Senate Democrats put forward legislation in February that would have mandated campaigns notify the Federal Election Commission and FBI about any offers of foreign assistance. The bill also sought to protect voting machines from being compromised, and would have required them to remain disconnected from the internet, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
But it was shot down by Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn (TN), who called it a "disastrous vision" and objected to it on the grounds that it would step on the authority of local officials.
The tables would turn later in the year. After Trump lost the Nov. 3 election, Republicans suddenly switched gears, blasting the electoral process as rigged and silently backing Trump as he attacked Dominion Voting Systems, the company whose voting machines were used in several states, suggesting without proof that the machines were compromised. (There is no evidence to back this claim.)
8. Fighting among themselves
As Trump attempted to steal the election in November and December, he slammed a lot of Republicans for failing to deliver it for him, perhaps most notably fellow Republican Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.
Infighting ensued as Georgia Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue issues a statement Nov. 9 joining ranks with Trump to condemn Kemp and Raffensperger for failing to overturn the election results in Trump's favor.
Trump has continued to urge GOP lawmakers to help with his coup, placing them in an untenable position, according to the Washington Post.
Meanwhile, other Republicans have spoken out against Trump's election lies and those undermining the electoral process.
"The biggest concern that I have is that people here genuinely believe that somehow this election was stolen and there's no evidence of that. The president was saying that it was stolen even before Election Day happened. He said if he loses it would be fraud. Well, no one knows that," said Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, in an interview with CNBC in mid-December. "...We have a process. We count the votes. That's the way it is."
Romney, to his credit, was part of a bipartisan group of senators who tried to introduce a COVID-19 relief bill in December, which McConnell initially shot down because it did not include a liability shield for businesses forcing their employees to work during a pandemic. The group later debuted a new two-part package that notably did not include additional funding for state and local governments.
9. Getting tough on sports teams and international doping fraud
In mid-November, the GOP-led Senate focused on a topic it felt was more pressing than COVID relief: a bill enabling the Justice Department to impose stiffer sanctions on sports officials engaging in "international doping fraud conspiracies."
According to the new law, any sports official or non-athlete who influences the outcome of a prominent international sports competition through the use of illegal substances could face up to a 10-year prison sentence, a $250,000 fine for an individual or $1 million for a non-individual.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.