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Politics: McConnell threatens to stall defense bill without amendment votes

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The quest to pass defense policy legislation hit a new obstacle in the Senate Monday as Minority Leader Mitch McConnell vowed to oppose advancing the bill further without progress on amendment votes.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warned that he'll oppose a vote to cut off debate on the Senate version of the annual National Defense Authorization Act, citing GOP calls for more amendment votes. © J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warned that he'll oppose a vote to cut off debate on the Senate version of the annual National Defense Authorization Act, citing GOP calls for more amendment votes.

The Kentucky Republican warned on the floor that he'll oppose an imminent vote to cut off debate on the Senate version of the annual National Defense Authorization Act, citing GOP calls for more amendment votes, including sanctions over Russia's Nord Stream 2 pipeline to Germany.

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"If the Democratic leader insists on forcing a cloture vote later today, I'll oppose cutting of these important debates prematurely when they have really just begun," McConnell said.

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Democrats need to muster 60 votes to advance the defense policy bill, meaning Republicans could stall the measure if they hang together on the vote.

A potential GOP filibuster to force more votes is yet another setback as Schumer tries to quickly finish the defense policy bill this week and pass legislation to avert a government shutdown at midnight on Friday. House and Senate leaders have little margin for error as they aim to send President Joe Biden a compromise defense bill before the end of the year.

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McConnell criticized Schumer for delaying debate on the bill and preventing additional amendment votes. But it was objections from GOP senators that scuttled votes on nearly 20 amendments from senators in both parties before the Thanksgiving recess.

A deal forged by Senate Armed Services Chair Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and ranking Republican Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma to hold roll call votes on an array of amendments collapsed the week before Thanksgiving as seven Republicans objected to protest the exclusion of their proposals.

Among the objectors, Senate Foreign Relations ranking Republican Jim Risch of Idaho and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) called for a vote on their Nord Stream 2 sanctions proposal.

Despite bipartisan backing for punitive actions against Russia, the Biden administration opposes further sanctions on the pipeline, arguing it would alienate European allies.

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With votes torpedoed, Democrats shelved the bill until after the holiday and set up votes to end debate and move to final passage this week, to be followed by negotiations with the House.

But the impasse remained Monday evening, as McConnell hit Democrats over the pipeline sanctions issue, noting similar language was adopted in the House defense bill that passed in September.

"Considering sanctions on the pipeline that fuels [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's encroachment over Europe, including provisions from Senator Risch, that closely mirror language that the House added unanimously is certainly worth the Senate's time," McConnell said.

Facing a potential GOP filibuster, Schumer could put off the vote in order to leave space for negotiations on amendments. But speaking on the floor ahead of McConnell, the New York Democrat gave no indication he would cave to the threat.

Schumer said the chamber worked "in as bipartisan [a] way as it could" to consider the defense bill. He slammed Republicans for not agreeing to votes on a lengthy list of amendments and for shooting down amendments offered by their own party.

"NDAA has been passed by this chamber for over 60 years, and there's no good reason why this year should be any different," Schumer said.

"Unfortunately, Republicans could not accept this agreement before Thanksgiving," he said of the proposed amendment votes. "But we hope that Republican dysfunction will not be a roadblock to passing this bill and taking care of our troops and their families."

Mitch McConnell Confident He Can Get 10 Republicans to Back Him, Others Aren't So Sure .
Some Republican senators have voiced their opposition to allowing Democrats to raise the debt ceiling.McConnell reached an agreement with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to let Democrats raise the debt limit with Republican votes through a one-time process.

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