As Washington prepared for a blizzard of motions and maneuvers in the Senate leading up to a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill that has just been fully unveiled, news arrived that one of the purported Republican supporters of the deal, Lindsey Graham, has tested positive for COVID-19 (despite being fully vaccinated). He’s having flu-like symptoms, too, and will be in quarantine for ten days. It also transpires that Graham spent part of the weekend on Joe Manchin’s houseboat, and Manchin has tested negative so far. Centers for Disease Control guidelines do not require quarantines for fully vaccinated people possibly exposed to COVID-19 unless they test positive or show symptoms.
In the current environment there is no telling how many senators could wind up sick or quarantined as the Delta variant works its way through the unvaccinated (and to a lesser extent) the vaccinated. So it’s worth knowing that under the rules of the Senate, a cloture motion like the one that will be necessary to move to a final vote on the infrastructure bill requires 60 votes, period, not just three-fifths of those present and voting. This was an element of the compromise that made it possible to lower the cloture requirements from two-thirds of the Senate to three-fifths in 1975.
Yes, 67 votes were cast for cloture on the earlier motion to proceed to debate on the infrastructure bill in a July 28 test vote, but no one should be certain that the 17 Republicans who voted “yea” (including the wily Mitch McConnell) will be available to do the same as final passage approaches. For one thing, there will be votes on amendments that might have a bearing on support (ostensible or legitimate) for the underlying bill.
It’s a different situation with other must-pass piece of business before the Senate takes its planned August recess: the Fiscal Year 2022 budget resolution, which is required to set up a later vote on a FY 2022 budget reconciliation bill. Such a motion requires just a majority of senators present and voting. But in the long and and ever-changing debate over the enactment of an infrastructure bill, the pandemic might yet have the last word.