The election-year ploy is meant to imperil vulnerable Senate Republican incumbents.
Donald Trump may not have to win the White House for the Senate to start voting on his agenda. Senate Democrats plan to force their Republican colleagues to take sides on the GOP presidential frontrunner’s most controversial proposals by offering them as amendments to other bills this year.
“Since Republican leaders in the House and Senate have pledged loyalty to Trump, the obvious next step is to vote on his policies, including his unconstitutional plan to bar people from entering the United States based on their religion,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said in a Thursday statement, referencing Trump’s call for a ban on Muslim entry to the U.S. following the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino. “These votes will give all Senators a chance to take a stand on the policy issues dominating the public debate—and Republicans a chance to stand with the frontrunner for their nomination.”
The not-so-subtle intent is to embarrass Republican Senators facing tough reelection fights in the fall by making them reckon with Trump’s most polarizing pronouncements. Vulnerable GOP incumbents in swing-states like Florida, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Wisconsin could find the proposition especially uncomfortable. Reid didn’t indicate when Democrats would try to push the votes—though the annual process of assembling government-funding measures could provide an opportunity.
Reid’s gambit—call it legislative trolling—is nothing new. In even-numbered years, lawmakers set aside most serious policymaking work to focus on positioning themselves for the election. President Obama acknowledged as much in the opening lines of his State of the Union address on Tuesday, saying he understands “that because it’s an election season, expectations for what we’ll achieve this year are low.”
Top Republican officials are already worrying about the down-ticket drag on their candidates if Trump or firebrand Texas Sen. Ted Cruz ends up seizing the party’s presidential nod. A GOP pollster this month reportedly told a closed-door huddle of House Republican leaders that 48% of voters would be less likely to vote for a Republican Congressional candidate if Trump is the nominee.
In the Senate, Democrats are within striking distance of reclaiming control. The party needs to pick up five seats (or four, if a Democrat holds the White House). And Democrats are only defending 10 seats, while Republicans have 24 in play.