Tensions over the Trump administration bubbled over on the floor of the state Senate on Thursday as Republicans walked out after losing a procedural vote on a resolution to expand the attorney general’s powers to sue the federal government.
The resolution, which would allow the state’s top lawyer to sue the federal government without the permission of the governor, received preliminary approval after the walkout.
About two-thirds of the Senate’s 14 Republican members left the chamber after the Democratic majority refused to grant them a delay to further study the legislation and prepare amendments.
Such a delay, known as a special order, is typically granted as a courtesy. But Democrats said it was important to move ahead with the current resolution so Attorney General Brian E. Frosh could respond to the actions of President Donald J. Trump as quickly as possible.
Senators voted 28-18 to reject the delay and proceed to a final vote expected Friday.
Frosh, a Democrat, is seeking broad authority from the General Assembly to bring suit against what he sees as harmful actions by the Trump administration.
Under current law, Frosh would have to seek permission from Hogan, a Republican, to file a lawsuit.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Larry Hogan called the Senate’s action “exceptionally disappointing.”
“This despicable display of out-of-control partisanship is a new low for the self-interested politicians of the General Assembly, and does a deep disservice to the people of Maryland,” spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said.
Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., the floor leader for the legislation, noted that the Maryland Constitution allows for either the Assembly or the governor to give permission for a suit.
“We are exercising the powers that have been granted to us by the people in the Constitution,” the Montgomery County Democrat said.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said attorneys general in 41 states already have independent power to bring suit.
As a joint resolution, the measure would take effect once passed by the Senate and the House. It would not be subject to veto.
A companion bill includes money for the attorney general’s office in future years. That measure is subject to veto, but the majority Democrats appear united enough to override the governor if he takes that action.
One of the Republicans who walked off, Sen. Robert G. Cassilly of Harford County, called the joint resolution “blatantly unconstitutional.”
Miller, a Calvert County Democrat who typically grants minority requests for delay, was unyielding.
“I just want to get the damn thing off the floor as quickly as possible,” he said. “It’s a very divisive issue.”
Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings said all he wanted was one day’s delay.
“This thing is on a rocket docket,” the Baltimore County Republican said. “It’s going to fly out of here.”
But Miller said after the vote that a delay wouldn’t have mattered.
“This is an issue where not a single vote will change,” he said.