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S. 1: Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act of 2019

Feb 5, 2019 at 3:33 p.m. ET. On Passage of the Bill in the Senate.

This was a vote to pass S. 1 in the Senate.

What was the first legislation that Senate Republicans introduced this year?

Context

The very first bill introduced by a majority party in Congress sends an important message about what their legislative priorities are.

In the previous Congress, House Republicans’ first bill was the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act which lowered personal income and corporate tax rates, although ballooning the national deficit in the process.

In the current Congress, House Democrats’ first bill is a multipronged anti-corruption vehicle which would institute public financing campaigns, overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision which removed limits on corporate donations, and require presidential candidates to publicly release their tax returns.

So, what is current Senate Republicans’ first bill?

What the bill does

The Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act would institute several measures related to that region, including:

  • Reauthorize a cooperation agreement the U.S. struck with Jordan in 2015: a three-year deal to streamline defense sales, secure the country’s borders with Iraq and Syria, and fight ISIS.
  • Authorizing sanctions against the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria unless several conditions are met — conditions which are unlikely to be met, such as releasing political prisoners and no longer targeting civilian populations.
  • Extend an existing loan guarantee program with Israel through 2023, while increasing protections for state and local governments that refuse to invest in or contract with companies which boycott Israel.

At least 26 states have passed laws banning their contractors from boycotting Israel. This includes blue states like California and New York, red states like Texas and Alabama, and all six swing states that flipped from Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016.

The bill, numbered S. 1, was introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).

What supporters say

Supporters argue that the U.S. needs to take several bold actions to further help our friends and punish our enemies in one of the planet’s most volatile geopolitical regions.

“It is in America’s national security interests to ensure that our allies in the Middle East like Israel and Jordan remain secure amid the region’s growing destabilizing threats posed by Iran and Syria’s Assad regime,” Sen. Rubio said in a press release. “This important bill will also impose new sanctions against the Assad regime and its supporters who continue to commit horrific human rights violations against the Syrian people.”

What opponents say

Opponents counter that the bill’s provisions helping protect state and local governments that punish Israel boycotters is a freedom of speech violation.

“In the midst of a partial government shutdown, Democratic and Republican senators have decided that one of their first orders of business next week should be to sneak through a bill that would weaken Americans’ First Amendment protections,” ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel Kathleen Ruane told The Intercept.

“The bill… encourages states to adopt the very same anti-boycott laws that two federal courts blocked on First Amendment grounds. The legislation, like the unconstitutional state anti-boycott laws it condones, sends a message to Americans that they will be penalized if they dare to disagree with their government.”

Odds of passage

The bill received more approval than disapproval votes in its first vote, 56–44, but that wasn’t enough to surpass the 60-vote threshold needed to advance.

However, it’s possible the bill could pass the Senate in a future vote. Some Democrats — even ones who may have otherwise supported the legislation — didn’t back it right now by arguing that no other legislation should move until the partial government shutdown is ended.
 Unlike House Republicans’ tax cut reform of 2017 or House Democrats’ public financing of 2019, which were clearly meant as party priorities that few if any members across the aisle would support, this bill actually has some level of bipartisan support.

A somewhat similar bill introduced by Rubio last Congress attracted 48 Senate cosponsors: 33 Republicans and 15 Democrats. However, it never received a vote.

The current version so far only has three cosponsors, all Republicans. (Although it’s only been a few days — 30 of the 48 cosponsors for the previous version signed on after its introduction day.)

Totals

All Votes R D I
Yea 77%
 
 
 
77
52
 
24
 
1
 
Nay 23%
 
 
 
23
1
 
21
 
1
 

Bill Passed. Simple Majority Required. Source: senate.gov.

The Yea votes represented 71% of the country’s population by apportioning each state’s population to its voting senators.

Ideology Vote Chart

Key:
Republican - Yea Democrat - Yea Republican - Nay Democrat - Nay
Seat position based on our ideology score.

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Vote Details

Notes: *Senate Minority Whip’s Vote “Aye” or “Yea”?
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Study Guide

How well do you understand this vote? Use this study guide to find out.

You can find answers to most of the questions below here on the vote page. For a guide to understanding the bill this vote was about, see here.

What was the procedure for this vote?

  1. What was this vote on?
  2. Not all votes are meant to pass legislation. In the Senate some votes are not about legislation at all, since the Senate must vote to confirm presidential nominations to certain federal positions.

    This vote is related to a bill. However, that doesn’t necessarily tell you what it is about. Congress makes many decisions in the process of passing legislation, such as on the procedures for debating the bill, whether to change the bill before voting on passage, and even whether to vote on passage at all.

    You can learn more about the various motions used in Congress at EveryCRSReport.com. If you aren’t sure what the Senate was voting on, try seeing if it’s on this list.

  3. What is the next step after this vote?
  4. Take a look at where this bill is in the legislative process. What might come next? Keep in mind what this specific vote was on, and the context of the bill. Will there be amendments? Will the other chamber of Congress vote on it, or let it die?

    For this question it may help to briefly examine the bill itself.

What is your analysis of this vote?

  1. What trends do you see in this vote?
  2. Members of Congress side together for many reasons beside being in the same political party, especially so for less prominent legislation or legislation specific to a certain region. What might have determined how the roll call came out in this case? Does it look like Members of Congress voted based on party, geography, or some other reason?

  3. How did your senators vote?
  4. There are two votes here that should be more important to you than all the others. These are the votes cast by your senators, which are meant to represent you and your community. Do you agree with how your senators voted? Why do you think they voted the way they did?

    If you don’t already know who your Members of Congress are you can find them by entering your address here.

  5. How much of the United States population is represented by the yeas?
  6. GovTrack displays the percentage of the United States population represented by the yeas on some Senate votes just under the vote totals. We do this to highlight how the people of the United States are represented in the Senate. Since each state has two senators, but state populations vary significantly, the individuals living in each state have different Senate representation. For example, California’s population of near 40 million is given the same number of senators as Wyoming’s population of about 600,000.

    Do the senators who voted yea represent a majority of the people of the United States? Does it matter?

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