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McConnell Agrees to Power Sharing Pact, Backs Off on Filibuster
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Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has backed off from a key demand that had held up a power-sharing agreement after two Democratic senators agreed not to vote to do away with the rule he wanted to preserve — the filibuster.
McConnell had refused to agree to any deal with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to share power in the 50-50 Senate without a pledge that Democrats wouldn’t jettison the filibuster, which allows the minority to block legislation by requiring 60 votes to advance most legislation.
Schumer rebuffed the idea of a guarantee. But McConnell said statements from two Democratic senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, were enough.
While both sides claimed victory, McConnell’s position was becoming untenable and risked provoking the Democrats into doing the opposite of what he wanted and eroding the filibuster out of the gate. There’s also potential risk down the line if Republicans engage in maximum obstruction and anger Manchin and Sinema.
So far, on cabinet nominees and on scheduling the impeachment trial, the two sides have managed to avoid a partisan impasse. For instance, Antony Blinken, President Joe Biden’s nominee to be secretary of state, is to be confirmed by the Senate at noon on Tuesday.
“The legislative filibuster was a key part of the foundation beneath the Senate’s last 50-50 power-sharing agreement in 2001,” McConnell said in a statement. “With these assurances, I look forward to moving ahead with a power-sharing agreement modeled on that precedent.”
Justin Goodman, a Schumer spokesman, said in a statement that “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.”
In an interview on MSNBC recorded earlier Monday, Schumer said Democrats wouldn’t let McConnell “dictate” how they deal with Senate business. He accused the minority leader of “trying to blockade everything.”
Manchin told reporters Monday he “does not support throwing away the filibuster under any condition.” A spokesman for Sinema said she also was against eliminating the rule.
Manchin’s and Sinema’s stances aren’t new, but they indicate the tenuousness of the Democrats’ control of the chamber. They need all 50 Democrats in lockstep, and with the filibuster in place they’ll need 10 Senate Republicans to join them on most bills. In votes where only a majority is needed, Vice President Kamala Harris can break a tie.
Under the agreement in place in 2001, the last time the Senate was evenly split, both parties had an equal number of committee seats equal budgets for committee Republicans and Democrats, and the ability of both leaders to advance legislation out of committees that are deadlocked. But Democrats will hold the chairmanships and Schumer will set the agenda for the floor.
Some issues can be passed with a simple majority via a balky process known as budget reconciliation, but that method has limits on what can be included and when. Already, Democrats are weighing whether to use the process to bypass Republicans on a major virus relief package Schumer wants to send to the White House by mid-March, with a follow-on package later in the year.
Manchin and Sinema, however, are among the Democrats trying to cobble together a bipartisan package that would be smaller than the $1.9 trillion plan Biden has proposed. If no such deal comes together before the Feb. 8 start of arguments in the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, that could spur Democrats to go it alone.
The Senate has only been evenly divided three times before: in 1881, 1953 and 2001.