GOP Sen. Ron Johnson's stunt to delay virus relief backfires

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Ron Johnson's effort to drag out passage of the popular bill failed, as senators now have less time to debate it.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) tried to delay the passage of the coronavirus relief bill by forcing Senate clerks to read aloud every word of the 628 legislation.

However Johnson's effort to delay passage of the bill — which will send another round of direct payments to Americans, extend more generous unemployment benefits, and provide funding for vaccine rollout and school reopenings — actually backfired, as there are now 17 hours fewer to debate the legislation.

Here's what happened:

Johnson remained on the Senate floor until around 2 a.m. EST, nearly 11 hours after clerks began to read the legislation at Johnson's demand.

But after he left, Democrats moved to cut down debate on the bill from 20 hours to 3, and Johnson was not there to object. That means Republicans will have 17 fewer hours to debate the merits of the bill.

"Still struggling to understand @RonJohnsonWI last night," Paul Kane, a longtime congressional correspondent who works for the Washington Post, tweeted. "He forced nonpartisan Senate staff to read entire covid bill for 10+ hrs. Yet he wasn't there to object when Dems reduced debate to 3 hrs (instead of 20). So, now bill is moving faster to passage, not slower. Strategery?"

In a tweet Friday afternoon, Johnson expressed gratitude for his clerks, who because of his demand on Thursday were forced to read the bill aloud for hours into early Friday morning. "I would like to thank the Senate clerks who read the $1.9 trillion bill yesterday. I know it was a big job and it’s unfortunate it took 11 hours. I finally got a hard copy of the bill about an hour into the reading and followed along the entire time," Johnson wrote.

Democrats are moving quickly on the legislation because they want to have it on President Joe Biden's desk by March 14, when expanded unemployment insurance benefits are set to expire.

If Republicans were successful in their efforts to delay the passage of the bill, it would leave hundreds of thousands of laid-off workers with smaller unemployment checks. On Thursday, the Department of Labor announced that 745,000 had filed for unemployment payments the week before.

But ultimately, having less time to debate the bill cuts back on the GOP's opportunity to build opposition to the legislation, which is currently overwhelmingly popular with the electorate.

A Politico/Morning Consult poll published Wednesday found 77% of voters supporting the relief legislation. That includes a whopping 59% of Republicans.

In the end, debate on the relief package began at 9 a.m. Friday morning, and will wrap up around lunchtime.

At that point, Republicans will wage another stunt to drag out the passage of the legislation, by offering amendments they hope will cause political pain to Democrats.

And at the end of the day, it looks like not a single GOP lawmaker will vote for the relief bill. Already, Vice President Kamala Harris had to break a tie Thursday even to proceed to debate the bill in the evenly divided 50-50 Senate.

And Democrats are crying foul that Republicans, who voted for relief bills under Trump, are now unified in support against Biden's proposal.

"Now that a Democrat is in the White House, now that Democrats control the Senate, those same ideas [Republicans] supported when Trump was president and McConnell was majority leader are a liberal wish list. Same ideas. Who the heck are they kidding?" Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Friday morning on the Senate floor.

Updated with additional comments from Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI).

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.