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Senate holds sleepy Saturday session as negotiators finalize infrastructure deal

The Hill logo The Hill 7/31/2021 Jordain Carney
Susan Collins, Mitt Romney, Jeanne Shaheen standing next to a man in a suit and tie: Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) hugs Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) as they addresses reporters after a key vote regarding bipartisan infrastructure legislation on Wednesday, July 28, 2021. © Greg Nash Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) hugs Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) as they addresses reporters after a key vote regarding bipartisan infrastructure legislation on Wednesday, July 28, 2021.

The Senate is holding an infrequent Saturday session as bipartisan negotiators work to finalize their $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill.

The by-and-large sleepy session comes as the Senate's bipartisan gang is hoping to finish and formally unveil the text of its agreement sometime Saturday, though that could slip late into the night or even Sunday.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced shortly before 5:30 p.m. that the bipartisan deal wasn't yet finalized, but suggested he was going to keep the chamber on standby heading into the evening so they could file the legislation when finished.

"I've been informed the group is working hard to bring this negotiation to a conclusion, but they believe they need a little bit more time. I'm prepared to give it to them," he said.

"I'm fully committed to passing a bipartisan infrastructure bill, and so the Senate will remain in session today so they can bring this to a conclusion," he added.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), a member of the bipartisan group, said the lawmakers are still finishing the "last couple pieces of legislative language."

"I think on a beautiful Saturday in the end of July, we all wish perhaps we were somewhere else other than on the floor of the Senate," Warner said.

"I hope that we will get that finished as soon as possible so we can get this bill on the floor, have amendments, have a debate," he added.


Video: Senate negotiators reach an agreement on infrastructure (CNBC)

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Sens. Warner, Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.)-four out of the five core Democratic negotiators-were spotted going into Schumer's office on Saturday afternoon as talks continued off of the Senate floor.

Members of the Senate's bipartisan group had indicated on Friday that the bill was still being drafted but that they had hoped to have it finished by Saturday morning. But when the Senate convened on Saturday at 11 a.m., senators were still waiting on the final text.

"Senators from the bipartisan group continue to finalize the text of the agreement," Schumer said from the Senate floor.

The legislative purgatory comes after the bipartisan group announced on Wednesday that it had a deal among its members and with the White House on the "major issues." But they continued negotiating final sticking points well into Friday.

There was also an eleventh-hour drama on Friday that momentarily delayed the vote to formally kick off debate after Republicans worried that a version of the bill circulating around Capitol Hill was a back-door effort by Democrats to offer their preferred version of the legislation.

The deal has already overcome two initial hurdles, and if the bipartisan group is able to formally unveil text on Saturday, the Senate could start voting on potential changes as soon as Sunday afternoon. No votes have been scheduled, and senators and aides have cautioned that when the upper chamber starts voting is directly tied to when the text of the bipartisan bill is filed.

Some senators have bristled over the quick pace.

"This coming week the Senate is supposed to pass a $1 trillion/ 3,000 page infrastructure bill and separately on three major spending bills So far almost no Senator has seen the text of any of these bills," Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tweeted on Saturday.

But senators are hoping to wrap up their debate on the bill by the end of the next week, paving the way for Democrats to turn their attention to a budget resolution that greenlights passing a $3.5 trillion plan without GOP support.

Schumer has vowed to hold votes on both the bipartisan bill and the budget resolution before he lets the Senate leave for a weeks-long summer break. The Senate had been expected to start that break on Aug. 9 but is likely to lose the first week to finish up the two-part infrastructure debate.

"I have said for weeks that the Senate is going to move forward on both tracks of infrastructure before the beginning of the August recess. The longer it takes to finish, the longer we'll be here, but we're going to get the job done," Schumer said.

Updated 5:49 p.m.

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