WASHINGTON – Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., forced the Senate to begin reading all 628 pages of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID bill aloud on the Senate floor Thursday, further delaying a vote on the legislation Democrats hope to make law by next week.
Johnson said his tactic was about “educating” the American public on what was in the $1.9 trillion package, which he has derided as full of provisions unrelated to COVID relief. The entire process could take at least 10 hours.
He told reporters Thursday he felt badly for the Senate clerks who are going to “have to read it,” but it was “important” to delay the process and read the bill aloud because “so often we rush these massive bills” which few lawmakers have time to read.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Johnson’s move would “accomplish little more than a few sore throats for the Senate clerks who work very hard day in, day out to help the Senate function.”
And Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters, “I’m not sitting here for reading the bill.” His Republican colleague had “every right” to request the reading, but “I don’t think it particularly moves the ball forward,” Graham said, citing the later amendment process as a more productive use of time to showcase Republican disagreements with the legislation.
As the clerk began reading the bill Friday afternoon, Johnson was the only senator in the chamber. He sat watching the clerk, his blue face mask resting on his desk.
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Senators normally waive the reading of amendments or legislation on the Senate floor, but Johnson invoked a procedural move to compel the reading of the entire bill.
Other Republican senators signaled their support for Johnson’s move. Asked about Johnson’s plans, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, told reporters “I do” support them. And Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., said he was “absolutely supportive” of the move because few senators had read the whole text.
Democrats groused about the reading of the bill.
After the clerk started reading the bill, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., got up from his seat and said to a colleague, “good thing we have time during a national emergency to do this.”
The Senate voted earlier Thursday to begin debate on the bill. Vice President Kamala Harris had to break a 50-50 tie on the motion to begin debate.
Once the reading of the legislation is complete, the Senate will start 20 hours of debate on the bill, aiming to pass it by the end of the week.
Democrats want to move the bill through Congress by mid-March, when a federal boost to unemployment benefits expires. The House will have to pass it again next week because of the changes made by the Senate.
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