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Washington • Sen. Mike Lee of Utah helped push the Senate into a rare weekend session, obstructing what congressional leaders had hoped would be smooth passage of a stopgap budget deal as the federal government again sits on the brink of a shutdown.
Lee joined with Sen. Ted Cruz on Friday to demand the Senate take up a measure gutting President Barack Obama's executive orders on immigration, forcing procedural votes on the critical passage of the budget measure to keep the government operating.
"Regrettably, a small group of Senate Republicans has determined it is in their political interest to hold this legislation hostage," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid complained Saturday on the Senate floor. "They objected to an agreement that would allow us to vote on Monday night. Now we're relegated to watching the time tick away on our clocks just so we can keep the government open and funded."
Reid took advantage of the delay to place several judicial and executive nominations up for confirmation, bringing senators back into session for 40 separate votes late into the night. Under Senate rules, a single senator can object to waiving a procedural vote to advance to final passage.
Many senators had left the Capitol on Friday night, assuming a two-day break before passing the budget bill when Lee and Cruz requested a vote on the amendment to reverse Obama's actions to halt the deportation of some immigrants in the country illegally. GOP leaders were irked, noting that the move would allow Reid to throw delayed nominations into consideration on Saturday.
"I wish you hadn't pointed that out," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, told Politico.
Lee said Friday that he wouldn't sit idly given Americans' "grave concerns" with the president's immigration actions. He called the budget deal – a measure stuffed with various unrelated riders to ensure passage a "perfect" reflection of government at its worst.
"I rise in opposition to the spending bill before us today," Lee said on the Senate floor. "I rise in opposition to the cynical substance of the legislation. I rise in opposition to the un-republican and undemocratic process by which a small collection of political and economic insiders crafted it, to benefit each other at everyone else's expense."
Congress passed a four-day extension of the current budget while it considers the more long-term measure. Reid set up a vote for 11 p.m. Utah time Saturday night for a procedural vote, anticipating final passage of the budget deal on Monday at 5 a.m. Mountain Time. If Lee and Cruz were to drop their objections to passing the legislation, the vote could come sooner.
Lee and Cruz were the chief architects of the strategy in late 2013 to force Congress to cut funding for the Affordable Care Act in order to pass a budget bill, a move that led to the 16-day government shutdown with hundreds of thousands of furloughed federal workers, shuttered parks and suspension of services.
The Utah Republican said it was Obama and Democrats' fault that the shut down occurred, though several Republicans lamented Americans would blame the GOP for the impasse.