Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, May 17, 2016.
Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Will the GOP-led Senate ever get back to legislating?

Michael Truncale is perhaps best known as a failed Republican congressional candidate who, in June 2011, condemned then-President Barack Obama as Obama an “un-American imposter.” More recently, Donald Trump nominated Truncale to be a federal district court judge in Texas.

The Senate voted to confirm him yesterday, largely along party lines. The vast majority of Republican senators – including the ostensible “moderates” – voted for Truncale, though Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) balked.

There have been so many of these votes in 2019, they tend not to generate many headlines. Day after day, the Senate Republican majority, well aware of Democrats’ inability to stop them, brings White House nominees to the floor. The chamber nearly always serves as a rubber stamp for Trump.

But David Bernstein raised an interesting observation this week that’s worth considering: why doesn’t the Senate try legislating?

Barring something unexpected, this Tuesday will mark two months since the U.S. Senate held a roll call vote on passage of any type of legislation. That was a joint resolution to nullify President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency at the Mexican border (which Trump later vetoed).

It’s been three months, as of Sunday, since the Senate last took yeas and nays on a genuine, full-fledged bill…. The United States Senate, that great deliberative body, has effectively ceased legislating this year. It has shut down. Closed for business until 2021.

It may be tempting to cut Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other GOP leaders some slack because of the circumstances: there’s a progressive Democratic majority in the House, which probably has no interest in the kind of bills that could clear the upper chamber.

But the House continues to tackle legislative priorities all the time, sending more than 100 bills to the Senate in the hopes that McConnell might try tackling an issue or two.

That doesn’t happen. Pending legislation simply gathers dust.

Last week, the Senate majority leader declared “case closed” in the Russia scandal – to be sure, it was wishful thinking on his part – and said lawmakers should focus on legislating instead of seeking answers to unresolved questions about the controversy.

It wasn’t just bizarre given the areas in need of congressional scrutiny; it was also jarring because McConnell controls his chamber and hasn’t shown any interest at all in even debating bills. It’s difficult to identify any kind of Senate Republican legislative agenda at all.

David Bernstein’s piece added:

With little hope of seeing legislation actually reach the floor, Senators on both sides of the aisle have largely given up on trying to craft bills in committee.

Senate committees have held hearings on just a dozen bills this year, according to Library of Congress data at congress.gov; there are typically hearings on at least a couple hundred in a two-year session. On average, over the past 10 sessions, nearly 600 bills go through “markup,” a key step in finalizing the contents; just 57 bills have been marked up in the Senate so far.

If this were September 2020, and members were eyeing the exits to hit the campaign trail, the collapse of the Senate’s legislative process would at least make sense. But this Congress is just getting started. It’s only mid-May 2019. History suggests this is the precisely the time we’d expect to see lawmakers doing real, substantive work.

Instead we see Mitch McConnell’s Senate, barely bothering to spin its wheels, except to add a small army of far-right jurists to the federal bench.

Senate Democrats yesterday unveiled a new video, blasting McConnell for his passivity. “Instead of working to find bipartisan solutions to our nation’s problems, Republicans have turned the Senate into Mitch McConnell’s legislative graveyard,” the narrator says.

Whether the majority leader considers this criticism is unclear.