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GOP Sen. Johnson delays Covid relief bill by forcing all 628 pages to be read out loud

The clerks finished the reading early Friday, 10 hours, 43 minutes and 9 seconds after they began.
Senator Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., speaks to members of the media while departing the Senate Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on March 3, 2021.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., speaks to the media at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.Stefani Reynolds / Bloomberg via Getty Images

A Republican senator severely delayed passage of a $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package Thursday by insisting that the entire 628-page bill be read out loud.

In protest of the bill, which had been expected to pass after a marathon round of votes overnight Thursday, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., objected to waiving the reading of the legislation.

Two Senate clerks — John Merlino and Mary Anne Clarkson — and other members of the secretary of the Senate's office took shifts reading the bill. The effort, which began at around 3:30 p.m., didn't wrap up until more than 10 hours later — 10 hours, 43 minutes and 9 seconds to be exact.

Any member can object to waiving the reading of the bill, a procedural move that is typically skipped. Johnson said in a tweet Thursday that because of its large price tag, "we should know what's in the bill."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Johnson's stunt 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."

The Democratic-controlled Senate voted Thursday afternoon to begin debate on President Joe Biden's relief package.

The procedural motion passed by a party-line vote of 51-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie. It came after Senate Democrats made some changes to the House-passed version, including new limits to eligibility for the $1,400 cash payments.

"It is time to tell the American people that help is on the way," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said before the vote.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., blasted the Democratic bill as a "partisan spending spree."

The bill does not need any Republican support to pass, because Democrats are using a special budget process to bypass the filibuster. However, Republicans are expected to raise objections, anyway.

Before a final vote can be taken, senators will be able to introduce unlimited amendments, which is known as a "vote-a-rama."

The Senate could pass the bill as early as this weekend.

The House passed a version of the Covid-19 relief bill last month. Once the Senate bill is approved, the House will have to vote on it again before it can be sent to Biden.