December 4, 2023

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (L) and Senate Democratic Chairman Chuck Schumer are seen during a joint congressional session after gathering to vote for the 2020 presidential college electoral college in the House of Representatives in Washington, USA, to be confirmed on January 6, 2021.

Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

Senate leaders moved closer on Tuesday to an agreement on the division of power in an evenly divided Senate that will allow Democrats to take control of the committees as they attempt to advance President Joe Biden’s agenda.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., and Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Grappled with Senate rules for days after the Democrats officially took control of the Chamber on Wednesday. A breakthrough came when two of the Chamber’s most conservative Democrats said they would vote against the abolition of the legislative filibuster.

“My talks with the Republican leader have made remarkable progress,” Schumer said on Tuesday, adding, “we can finally get the Senate up and running.”

Although Schumer has control over what goes into the Senate, the Democrats will not take control of committees where lawmakers begin the legislative and nomination processes until the chamber passes a resolution that sets guidelines. Generally, the Senate unanimously approves the move and gives McConnell power to block it.

The Republican leader wanted to make sure the Democrats didn’t scrap the legislative filibuster so that the legislation could only pass with a majority of support instead of 60 votes. Schumer tried to keep the option on the table when the Democrats tried to carry out their agenda with little or no Republican support.

However, two Democratic senators have put the debate up for discussion. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona said they would not vote to get rid of the filibuster, effectively ending the Schumer-McConnell standoff.

On Tuesday, McConnell said Sinema “informed me directly last night that under no circumstances would it reverse course” and scrapped the filibuster. He argued that pursuing the power to pass simple majority laws “would not hasten the ambitions of the Democrats” but “horribly delay them.”

Schumer and McConnell said they plan to model the deal after the 2001 deal, when the Senate was last split between 50 and 50. It gave the parties an equal number of seats on committees but allowed the majority to break ties.

Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris holds the casting vote throughout the Chamber.

An agreement will give the Democratic senators the opportunity to lead the committees. They include:

  • Bernie Sanders, an independent Vermonter who negotiates with Democrats on the Budget Committee
  • Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden on the Finance Committee
  • Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown on the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee
  • Washington Democrat Patty Murray on the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions

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