Under the U.S. Constitution, the House doesn’t get a lot of say in the Senate’s schedule
With Democrats looking everywhere for a way to stop or delay a Senate vote on new U.S. Supreme Court justice to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said her Democrats have “arrows in our quiver” yet to deploy.
The problem? Short of sending over additional articles of impeachment, that quiver may actually be pretty empty.
The U.S. Constitution generally gives broad powers to each chamber of Congress as to how they run their day-to-day business, experts say. On a practical level, that means the Senate is governed by series of successive unanimous consent agreements between Republicans and Democrats as to what will come to the floor and what gets a vote, with terms mostly set by the Republican majority.
Given the Senate’s complex rules and the limited number of items that get a full roll call vote, floor time is often referred to as the coin of the realm in the Senate. With a senators eager to leave for the campaign trail once a stopgap spending bill and/or a coronavirus aid bill is passed, Democrats hope a further delay in getting to a vote on a Ginsburg successor could push it to after Election Day.
“We have our options,” Pelosi told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos in an interview Sunday.
“We have arrows in our quiver that I’m not about to discuss right now, but the fact is, we have a big challenge in our country,” she said.
Pelosi doubled down on that idea in a New York Times podcast interview with tech reporter Kara Swisher released Monday. “Well, I have arrows in my quiver, in the House quiver, and one of my arrows is not to say what the arrows are,” she said.
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But congressional rules experts are doubtful that quiver has much more than sending over new articles of impeachment, as there are few areas where the House can influence the Senate calendar.
Pelosi appeared to be reluctant to go that route, either with additional impeachment articles against Trump in addition to the ones he was acquitted of early in the year, or against Attoney General William Barr, which some Democrats have suggested.
She called Barr a “henchman” to Trump.
“He’s a disgrace to the office he holds. He shouldn’t even be a lawyer. He should be disbarred. We’ve held him in contempt of Congress. But he is an employee, and the villain here is Donald Trump. And that is what we have to do – is to make sure that he is not re-elected,” she told Swisher.
There are some laws that require the other chamber to vote on something the other has passed, but they are few and far between.
The Congressional Review Act allows a chamber of Congress to pass a resolution of disapproval of some agency regulations, which is then required to be voted on by the other chamber within a limited amount of time. The War Powers Act regarding uses of military force by the president has similar provisions. But neither would put those at the top of the Senate’s agenda.
“They could start impeachment proceedings in the House on Barr, but I don’t see that holding up Lindsey’s Judiciary Committee proceedings on SCOTUS since it would take some time to get to the Senate even if Barr were impeached,” said Bill Hoagland, executive vice president of the Bipartisan Policy Center and a former long-time GOP budget aide, referring to Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham.
Aside from the Congressional Review Act and the War Powers Act, “don’t see a lot to hold up,” Hoagland said.
Bill Dauster, a former long-time Democratic aide who wrote a book on Senate procedure, said, “I am confident that Leader Schumer’s team and Speaker Pelosi’s team are both working hard to think up what they can do. But if Leader McConnell can line up the votes, I do not see a procedural way to stop him.”
A former senior GOP aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, concurred.
“Articles of impeachment are really the only thing that throws the Senate completely on its head,” the former aide said.
Even that, though, could still mean the Senate simply divides its time between impeachment proceedings and regular business. “He may even have an out that way,” the former aide said, referring to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Withholding funds to process the nomination on a stopgap funding bill would probably be unconstitutional and would not be signed into law anyway, the former aide said.
Hoagland said Senate Democrats could try to take advantage of a rule allowing annual budget resolutions to come to the floor when the Senate has yet to pass one by the spring, in order to stretch things out.
“Democrats could file a budget resolution and try to get it called up as privileged matter. But I have not heard any effort to do so,” he said.