Schumer Says He and McConnell Near Deal on Organizing Senate

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he and GOP leader Mitch McConnell are near an agreement on organizing the evenly divided chamber that would clear the way for work to begin on President Joe Biden’s agenda.

Republicans for now will still have the power to block some parts of Biden’s policy priorities they don’t like, but McConnell didn’t get the guarantee he sought that Democrats won’t in the future jettison the filibuster that allows the minority to essentially stop debate.

McConnell “relented” and will agree to the rules in place in 2001, the last time the Senate was split 50-50, which was “exactly what Democrats proposed from the start,” Schumer said Tuesday on the Senate floor.

McConnell backed away from his demand for a guarantee after two Democratic senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, said they wouldn’t vote to do away with the filibuster. The “basic arithmetic now ensures that there are not enough votes to change the rule,” McConnell said Tuesday.

He also threatened to slow the Senate’s work to “a snail’s pace” if Democrats make future threats to the filibuster by refusing consent for routine business and demanding “multiple” roll call votes.

Democrats may be able to circumvent filibuster delays for some of Biden’s pandemic relief plan by using another tactic known as budget reconciliation. 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.

“The work must move forward, preferably with our Republican colleagues, but without them if we must,” Schumer said.

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.

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. Democrats will hold the chairmanships and Schumer will set the agenda for the floor.

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, Biden’s nominee to be secretary of state, is to be confirmed by the Senate at noon on Tuesday.

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