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Amid NY Senate standoff, GOP achieves symbolic Cuomo override

ALBANY — In a surprise move Tuesday engineered by Republicans, the state Senate approved a bill to override a gubernatorial veto for the first time in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s eight-year tenure.

It was purely a symbolic victory — the bill has no chance of passage in the Democratic-led Assembly,

But in an increasingly bitter standoff about which party will control the politically split Senate, Republicans were crowing about forcing Democratic senators to override a veto by a Democratic governor in a vote overseen by a Democratic lieutenant governor.

It was a maneuver that could force both sides to end the now weeklong parliamentary hostilities — or escalate them. Notably, it also came following sharp accusations on the floor and off about competence and game playing.

To recap, the Senate is currently split 31-31 because of the decision of Sen. Tom Croci (R-Sayville) to rejoin the Navy and miss most of the final weeks of the 2018 legislative session.

Last week, Democrats attempted to capitalize on the situation by having Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, exercise her seldom-used powers to preside over the chamber and cast a potential tiebreaking vote to codify abortion rights into state law. But before she could ascend to the Senate rostrum and take the gavel on Wednesday, Republicans abruptly adjourned the daily session. The scene was repeated Thursday.

Hochul was in session from the start Tuesday, but before Democrats could get to the abortion bill, Republicans plotted to put forth a bill to provide five years of state funding for full-day kindergarten programs around the state. It was a bill Democrats unanimously supported earlier this year; Cuomo vetoed it in April, noting that three years of funding already had been approved.

Hochul first tried to block the vote, then, at the advice of Senate parliamentary staff, allowed it. After a round of bickering about procedure, it sailed through without opposition. As for the abortion bill, it was tabled.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) issued a statement calling the override historic. He sarcastically expressed gratitude to Cuomo and Hochul.

“We thank the governor for sending his lieutenant governor to preside over this historic override,” Flanagan said.

The override attempt won’t get full legislative approval. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie dismissed it as unnecessary, noting that three years of kindergarten funding already had been approved.

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) acknowledged the override caught Democrats off guard. But she said Republicans had veered from an agreement reached earlier Tuesday morning to allow the vote on abortion rights as a way of brokering Senate peace and resuming a normal schedule of voting on bills. She said Republicans were using desperate parliamentary tactics to avoid a vote on abortion during an election year.

“What we just saw was an outrage,” Stewart-Cousins said. “What we just saw was an inability for us to get a vote on choice.”

After adjourning for the day, leaders were uncertain if the high jinks would continue Wednesday.

Flanagan said the Senate got more accomplished when Hochul wasn’t presiding. He also pushed back against criticism that Republicans cut her off and raised their voices when she was at the rostrum, during one of several back-and-forth sessions about which senator had the right to speak.

“I’ve been here 16 years — today’s not the first day anyone’s voice has been raised,” Flanagan said. “Let’s be really crystal: a fifth-grade reading of the rules would demonstrate that every point that was raised was a valid point of order . . . and if the lieutenant governor or anyone else standing at the rostrum doesn’t feel compelled to follow the rules and [is] ad-libbing, I’m going to stand up every single time.”

Hochul, a former Buffalo-area congresswoman, said she didn’t take it personally, and that she “wouldn’t descend to that level.” She said the issue was about abortion choice.

“I’ve been in this business a long time. I’ve argued with Republicans and have been talked down to on the floor of the United States Congress,” Hochul said. “I won’t address the impact on me. This isn’t about me. . . . This is about allowing the voices of the women of this state to be heard.”

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