By Bill Barrow
Female members of the Congressional Black Caucus are asking Republican leaders to let Alabama Democrat Doug Jones join the Senate immediately or delay legislative votes. But the move is unlikely to sway the GOP as it tries to get a tax bill to President Donald Trump's desk.
In separate letters to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, 20 House members say Jones has been “duly elected” by Alabama voters, adding, “It is time for you to honor their decision.”
McConnell rejected a similar call from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, after Jones' upset victory Tuesday over Republican Roy Moore. McConnell said appointed Sen. Luther Strange will remain in the seat until January, when Jones would be sworn in to complete the original term of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
That allows Republicans to maintain a 52-48 majority as they try to pass a tax overhaul. A handful of Republican senators have wavered during late-stage negotiations, giving McConnell little room to maneuver with Democrats all voting “no.”
Jones hasn't said plainly how he would vote, endorsing the idea of lower corporate tax income rates but criticizing the GOP bill as too heavily slanted to corporations and wealthy individuals.
McConnell's move is helped by Alabama's routine election process. Jones defeated Moore by about 20,000 votes or 1.5 percentage points, but elections officials are still counting late-arriving absentee votes and write-ins. A final tally won't be certified until late December or early January, when McConnell hopes already to have delivered a tax bill to Trump.
The Black Caucus letters, led by Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-New Jersey, and Terri Sewell, D-Alabama, do not mention the details of Jones' upset victory over Moore, but the Democrat was boosted by strong African-American turnout. Exit polls suggest black voters cast about 30 percent of 1.35 million ballots, despite being just 25 percent of the eligible electorate. The polls showed Jones winning about 94 percent of the black vote, with near unanimous support among black women.
Coleman, Sewell and their colleagues tried to boost their argument—or at least make a political point—by reminding McConnell he's been willing in the past to adjust the Senate agenda based on the election calendar. In 2016, the Kentucky Republican cited the looming presidential election as he refused to act on President Barack Obama's nominee for a Supreme Court vacancy.
“Let's let the American people decide,” McConnell said at the time, the letter recalls.
After Trump took office and made his own nomination, McConnell quickly shepherded Justice Neil Gorsuch to a confirmation vote.
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