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Senate Democrats Block Bipartisan Middle East Bill Over Ongoing Shutdown for 3rd Time

Should Congress pass these bills related to Syria?

by Countable | Updated on 1.14.19

(Updated 1/14/19 at 6:15pm ET): For the third time in the past two weeks, Senate Democrats blocked the bipartisan Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act, arguing that no bills should be considered unless the Senate votes on bills to end the partial government shutdown.

The bill failed on a 50-43 vote, with Democrats Senators Joe Manchin (WV), Doug Jones (AL), and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ) joining with Republicans to vote in favor once again.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) changed his vote to 'no' for procedural reasons so that he could file a new cloture motion on the bill, which could be considered as early as Wednesday.

Countable's previous updates appear below.


(Updated 1/10/19 at 2:30pm ET): For the second time this week, Senate Democrats filibustered the bipartisan Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act, arguing that no other legislation should be considered until a bill ending the partial government shutdown is brought up for a vote. The same four Democrats joined all present Republicans in voting for the bill, which needed 60 votes to advance but failed on a 53-43 vote.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) filed a new cloture motion for the bill after changing his vote to 'no' for procedural reasons. The new motion could be considered when the Senate reconvenes next week.

Countable's previous update appears below.


(Updated 1/8/19 at 6:20pm ET): Senate Democrats followed through with their pledge to filibuster the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act until funding to reopen the government is considered. The bill fell short of the 60 votes needed to limit debate in a 56-44 vote, which saw all Republicans and four Democrats ― Sens. Joe Manchin (WV), Doug Jones (AL), Bob Menendez (NJ), and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ) ― vote to consider the bill.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) filed a new cloture motion for the bill after changing his vote to 'no' for procedural reasons. The new motion could be considered later in the week.

Countable's original story appears below.


With the White House’s Syria strategy shifting away from a near-term withdrawal toward a drawdown that won’t start until key criteria are met, both chambers of Congress are set to take up bills this week aimed at increasing pressure on the Assad regime to end the conflict.

The Senate will vote Tuesday on a bill ― the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act ― that contains four measures that received bipartisan support in the last Congress. It includes the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, which would take the following steps to bring the war in Syria to an end:

  • Impose new sanctions on persons or entities who provide the Assad regime with financing, aircraft or parts (and related financing), telecommunications services, or support the Syrian energy industry.
  • Encourage negotiations to end the crisis by suspending sanctions if parties to the conflict are engaged in meaningful negotations and violence against civilians has stopped.
  • Help investigations that will eventually lead to the conviction of war criminals by authorizing the State Dept. to support entities that are collecting and preserving evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria.

The bill also contains bipartisan measures aimed at strengthening security alliances with Israel & Jordan and countering the anti-Israel boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement.

But despite the bipartisan nature of the bill, Senate Democrats are expected to block the bill in Tuesday’s procedural vote, arguing that the Senate shouldn’t take up legislation unrelated to ending the partial government shutdown. (When Democrats controlled the Senate during the partial government shutdown of October 1-16, 2013, they held confirmation votes on two bipartisan judicial nominations and advanced a Farm Bill on a voice vote.)

While the broader Middle East policy bill seems stalled in the Senate, the House is expected to take up the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act as a standalone bill later in the week.

House Democratic leadership is bringing the bill up under the fast-track “suspension of the rules” process, which allows a bill to pass with less debate if it has the support of at least three-fifths of voting members. Given that the bill’s predecessor in the previous Congress passed the House on a voice vote, the current version will likely be passed and sent to the Senate in a similarly bipartisan manner.

— Eric Revell

(Photo Credit: anjci via wikimedia / Creative Commons)

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