Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) agreed to move forward with a power-sharing agreement on Monday that will allow Democrats to take full control of the Senate after two Democratic senators reiterated their support for the filibuster.
The Kentucky Republican had previously demanded that Democrats pledge to preserve the filibuster, the chamber’s supermajority requirement for legislation, in an organizing resolution laying out procedures for how a Senate divided 50-50 will operate. But Democrats refused, citing a previous agreement from 2001, the last time the Senate was split 50-50, that included no such language.
McConnell’s demand effectively blocked Democrats from taking the reins of Senate committees even though they had won control of the chamber earlier this year. Senators need to formally pass the resolution in order to change the membership of committees, which are currently controlled by Republicans.
In relenting Monday, McConnell cited public comments from two moderate Democrats ― Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona ― against ending the filibuster, positions that align with his view on the matter. Manchin has been one of the loudest and most consistent voices in support of preserving the filibuster.
“I do not support doing away with the filibuster under any condition. It’s not who I am,“ Manchin told reporters on Capitol Hill.
Sinema, meanwhile, emphasized her position in favor of minority rights to The Washington Post earlier on Monday. Both senators simply restated their positions.
“Today two Democratic senators publicly confirmed they will not vote to end the legislative filibuster.... With these assurances, I look forward to moving ahead with a power-sharing agreement modeled on that precedent,” McConnell said, referring to the 2001 agreement.
McConnell did not receive similar assurances from top Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has said that “all options are on the table” when it comes to the filibuster.
The New York Democrat maintained that McConnell shouldn’t get to dictate the terms for another Congress after his party had lost the majority. Democrats are also cognizant of the power of threatening to blow up the filibuster as a negotiating tactic in advancing one’s agenda. Agreeing to McConnell’s gambit would have disarmed them of that option.
“We’re glad Senator McConnell threw in the towel and gave up on his ridiculous demand. We look forward to organizing the Senate under Democratic control and start getting big, bold things done for the American people,” Schumer spokesperson Justin Goodman said in a statement.
McConnell’s announcement was the first win for Schumer in his new job as majority leader, but the challenges ahead are daunting. He must keep his razor-thin majority united in passing President Joe Biden’s agenda ― no small task with a caucus as diverse as one that includes senators like Manchin and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
Whether Democrats ultimately come around to eliminating the filibuster will depend on their desire to pass specific pieces of legislation in a sharply divided Senate, not an arcane organizing resolution. And it will depend on Biden himself, a longtime former senator who said last year his position on nixing the rule will depend on how much GOP lawmakers obstruct his presidency.
Asked Friday whether Biden still opposes eliminating the filibuster, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said: “The president’s position hasn’t changed.”