Senate coronavirus vote delayed after Rand Paul pushes doomed amendment

Sen. Chuck Schumer called the Paul amendment "ridiculous" and "a colossal waste of time"
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., responds to reporters on Capitol Hill on Jan. 8, 2020.J. Scott Applewhite / AP file
By Julie Tsirkin and Dareh Gregorian

Senate leaders were scrambling Tuesday to pass coronavirus legislation as quickly as possible, but Sen. Rand Paul put a damper on those plans, two leadership sources told NBC News.

Senators were heading toward a vote on the package — which would include provisions for free coronavirus testing, secure paid emergency leave, enhance unemployment insurance, strengthen food security initiatives and increase federal Medicaid funding to states — but they had to slam on the brakes because of an amendment Paul proposed.

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The sources said Paul is forcing a vote on his amendment, which would "require a social security number for purposes of the child tax credit, and to provide the President the authority to transfer funds as necessary, and to terminate United States military operations and reconstruction activities in Afghanistan."

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed to take up the amendment Wednesday, delaying the vote on the larger bill, the sources said. The Paul amendment is not expected to pass. The Senate is also planning to vote on the House bill later Wednesday.

Ahead of the vote Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., blasted the Paul amendment as "a colossal waste of time."

The House bill "must pass the Senate today but unfortunately, first we must dispose of a Republican amendment that would make a condition of the bill to require the president to terminate military operations in Afghanistan. Yes you heard me right!" Schumer said on the Senate floor. "In a time of national emergency this Republican amendment is ridiculous, a colossal waste of time. We probably could have voted on this bill a day or two ago if not for the need to schedule this amendment."

McConnell, Kentucky's senior senator, said Tuesday that a number of his members think that the package the House passed Saturday has "considerable shortcomings" but that it is still necessary and urgent.

"My counsel to them is to gag and vote for it," he said.

"We're able to rise above our normal partisanship and many times our normal positions because these are not ordinary times. This is not an ordinary time," he said.

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Paul was the sole "no" vote on the $8.3 billion coronavirus spending bill the Senate passed earlier this month.

Paul is notorious for forcing votes on amendments he knows will not pass.

In July, Paul blocked a bipartisan bill that would ensure that a victims' compensation fund related to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, never runs out of money. Paul questioned the bill's 70-year time frame and said any new spending should be offset by corresponding cuts. After the amendment failed, he wound up being one of two no votes on the legislation.

He even briefly caused the government to shut down in 2018, using a procedural tactic to block the Senate from meeting the deadline to keep the government open because he objected to the price tag.

Julie Tsirkin

Julie Tsirkin is an associate producer for NBC News' Capitol Hill team. 

Dareh Gregorian

Dareh Gregorian is a politics reporter for NBC News.