What was the legislation being voted on?
On July 28, 2015, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) introduced S.1881, a bill in the U.S. Senate to prohibit Federal funding of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. The bill had 44 cosponsors, all Republicans. The vote was not on the bill itself but on a cloture motion that would allow the bill to proceed to a vote by the Senate.
What is a cloture motion?
In the Senate, senators have the right to speak as long as necessary on any issue. Because of this, any senator or group of senators can simply remain on the Senate floor and talk (about anything), thus blocking legislation from coming up for a vote. Strom Thurmond, the late senator from South Carolina, holds the record for the longest individual speech when he filibustered for 24 hours and 18 minutes against the Civil Rights Act of 1957.
Nowadays, Senators rarely even have to speak at all. They merely have to threaten to filibuster and the issue is tied up unless the Senate can invoke cloture. Cloture is a procedure by which the Senate can vote to place a time limit on consideration of a bill or other matter, and thereby overcome a filibuster. Under the cloture rule (Rule XXII), the Senate may limit consideration of a pending matter to 30 additional hours, but only by vote of three-fifths of the full Senate, normally 60 votes.
Because of filibusters and cloture, the Senate almost always needs 60 votes to pass controversial legislation. In the case of this defunding bill, failing to invoke cloture means the bill cannot move forward.
What was the outcome and who voted in favor of defunding Planned Parenthood?
The vote on the cloture motion was 53 against to 46 in favor (the Senate is comprised of 54 Republicans, 44 Democrats, and 2 independents who caucus with the Democrats). Only two Democrats—Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana—voted in favor. Sen. Kirk (R-Illinois) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) voted against. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) did not vote on the motion.
Why did Sen. McConnell vote against the motion?
Senator McConnell supported the legislation and even co-sponsored the bill. So why did he vote against it? Because under Senate procedure, when a cloture motion to proceed to the measure fails to pass with the required 60 votes, the Majority Leader may switch his ‘yes’ vote to ‘no,’ which allows him bring it up for reconsideration at a future time. As McConnell’s staff explained, “Leader McConnell would have voted in favor of the bill but in order to preserve his right to bring it up again, he simply changed his vote to ‘no.’”
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