Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell wants assurances from Democrats that they will preserve the powerful legislative filibuster once they assume control of the chamber on Wednesday ― a commitment that so far he is not getting.
McConnell met with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who is set to become the new majority leader, on Tuesday to try to hammer out an agreement on Senate procedures and the makeup of committees. They also discussed the schedule for outgoing President Donald Trump’s impending impeachment trial and confirmation hearings for President-elect Joe Biden’s Cabinet nominees.
The two sides made progress on the issues of the hearings and the trial, according to a Schumer spokesman. But they appeared to deadlock on procedural matters that include the filibuster, the rule that allows 41 senators in the 100-member chamber to block bills from proceeding to a final vote.
Schumer “expressed that the fairest, most reasonable and easiest path forward is to adopt” an organizing resolution “without extraneous changes from either side,” the spokesperson said in a statement. That means Schumer is resisting boxing himself in on the fate of the filibuster.
A series of swearing-ins on Wednesday will transfer Senate control from the GOP, which has held the chamber’s majority since 2015, to Democrats. After Kamala Harris, the Californian who on Monday resigned her Senate seat, is sworn in as vice president, she will swear-in to the chamber her replacement, Democrat Alex Padilla, and two Democrats from Georgia recently elected in runoff elections ― Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. Both the Senate Democratic caucus and Republicans will then each have 50 seats, with Harris giving her party control as the chamber’s presiding officer.
With the filibuster in place, however, passing many of the main components of Biden’s legislative agenda means he will need the backing of 10 GOP senators ― a tall order in today’s divided Washington.
The last time the Senate had a 50-50 was in 2001. At that time it took weeks for then-Sens. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and Trent Lott (R-Miss.), the chamber’s party leaders, to hammer out a procedural agreement that did not include addressing the filibuster.
A similar delay now would likely stymie Biden’s hopes for speedy confirmations of his Cabinet nominees.
The filibuster is not mentioned in the Constitution, but starting in the 1800s it evolved as a Senate rule. Once rarely used, in recent decades it has become an ever-more pervasive part of the chamber’s process.
McConnell relied on it to thwart major Democratic initiatives when he served as minority leader during the first six years of President Barack Obama’s eight years in the White House. The Kentuckian seeks to retain it as Biden sets his sight on enacting a bold agenda, including broad action on coronavirus relief, combating climate change, revising immigration laws and expanding health care.
At Tuesday’s meeting with Schumer, McConnell “expressed his long-held view that the crucial, longstanding, and bipartisan Senate rules concerning the legislative filibuster remain intact, specifically during the power share for the next two years,” McConnell spokesperson Doug Andres said.
“Discussions on all aspects of the power-sharing agreement will continue over the next several days,” Andres added.
While many on the left have urged eliminating the filibuster as soon as possible, some Democratic lawmakers have expressed caution about doing so. Indeed, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on Tuesday reiterated his opposition to killing the filibuster.
“This place is supposed to work in a bipartisan way,” Manchin told reporters. “The minority is supposed to have input. I’ve been here for 10 years and I’ve seen where the minority has been shut out horribly and it’s not right. We’ve got to make it work. So I’m going to do everything I can to heal our country and bring people together.”
Biden himself said last year that his support for nixing the filibuster would “depend on how obstreperous” Republicans become under his presidency.