National News

Gridlock in State Senate as Neither Party Can Muster a Majority

Posted May 31, 2018 9:08 p.m. EDT

ALBANY, N.Y. — Stalemated. Stymied. Stuck.

Any of the above can describe the current state of play in the New York state Senate, where pending bills were set aside for a second straight day after it became evident that the ruling Republican majority could not muster the 32 votes to pass a bill — again because of the absence of a Navy-bound senator and the hairs-breadth division in chamber’s membership.

The Republicans hold their majority in the 63-seat chamber only because of the continuing defection of Sen. Simcha Felder, D-Brooklyn, who caucuses with Republicans. There are 31 other Democrats. But that slim advantage for the Republicans has been undercut in recent days by the decision of Sen. Tom Croci, R-Long Island, to return to service in the Navy, depriving his colleagues of the critical 32nd vote.

So it was that a day after they stopped a Democratic effort to vote on two bills concerning abortion rights Wednesday, Republicans seemed to invite the same treatment on a bill concerning concussion protocols for students.

The Republicans found themselves, with no support from the other side of the chamber, unable to get to 32 votes.

And then the speechifying began, often about the horror of politics, of all things, ruining any chance of lawmaking.

“This is what people hate around the state about what goes on in politics: It’s sickening, it truly is,” said Sen. Andrew Lanza, R-Staten Island, yelling at Democrats for “making a mockery of justice” and not protecting children. “Because of politics, they vote no.”

That obloquy led to a sharp response from Sen. Michael Gianaris, D-Queens, who said that the Republicans had not announced which bills might be brought up that day and were simply posturing without power to pass anything.

“They don’t have the votes to pass a single thing in this chamber,” Gianaris said, his voice also rising. “And their answer to that is to jam us with things,” that the Democrats had no chance to read, review or deliberate about.

“Sen. Lanza is correct,” Gianaris added, “Let’s stop the shenanigans. Let’s stop the politics.”

That seemed unlikely anytime soon, of course, as Albany has another three weeks of legislative session before a six-month sojourn away from the Capitol. That period will also include the November elections, during which the Republicans may face strong political headwinds, including President Donald Trump’s unpopularity in his home state.

Democrats, who reunified in April after a seven-year schism involving eight breakaway members who formed the Independent Democratic Conference, are hoping to win outright control of the Senate.

While the Senate is generally more genteel than the larger, more verbose state Assembly, the scene Thursday caused leaders of both conferences to take swipes at the other.

“The Democrats have decided they don’t want to govern,” said the Republican Senate leader, John Flanagan, of Long Island. “They want to have politics rule the day. It’s embarrassing, it’s disgusting.”

Flanagan’s Democratic counterpart, Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, called Republicans’ actions “unprecedented” and “an assault on our democracy,” and accused Flanagan and his conference of stalling legislation rather than considering the abortion bills her colleagues proffered Wednesday.

“We are prepared to work with our colleagues across the aisle to go back to what is the normal process in this chamber,” said Stewart-Cousins, the minority leader from Westchester County. “I think people expect nothing less.”

The showdown, and the slowdown, in the Senate even prompted the administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo to wade in Thursday. Its messenger was Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who serves as the official president of the Senate and who Democrats believe has a constitutional right to break any ties in the chamber.

The Republicans, naturally, dispute that, with Flanagan saying she had “no right whatsoever to vote on anything.”

That being said, the Republicans quickly adjourned Thursday when Hochul suddenly appeared in the chamber. She subsequently pronounced herself and Cuomo “offended by the actions taken today in the Senate.” The whereabouts of Croci, meanwhile, remained a mystery. His office had previously said he was “in the States,” and on Thursday, it would offer no additional details, including whether he was on a ship, on shore, or anywhere near Albany.

And finally, there was Felder, the rogue Democrat, who could give his party the majority if he wanted to side with them. He conceded Thursday that he was tempted to rejoin his fellow Democrats but had given his word to the Republicans that he would stay.

As for what happened — or did not happen — Thursday, Felder was succinct.

“It’s just mischief,” he said. “My mother would have probably said, ‘Have you gotten this out of your system?'”