- Mitch McConnell is wielding any power he can to block Democrats from carrying out their agenda.
- Democrats, now in control of Congress and the White House, are pushing back on McConnell’s demands.
- It’s left the Senate at an impasse at the start of Joe Biden’s presidency.
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Top Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell is wielding any power he can to stop Democrats from fulfilling their legislative agenda now that they control both Congress and the White House.
The Kentucky senator, who’s been relegated to minority leader, has not reached a power-sharing deal with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, which is required for the Senate to reorganise and move forward after Democrats took the majority on Wednesday.
McConnell’s holdup is over the filibuster. He wantsSchumer to pledge not to touch the legislative tactic, in which senators can delay or block a bill by requiring a 60-vote threshold to end debate; it’s often used as the minority party’s check on the majority. With the Senate evenly split 50-50 and Vice President Kamala Harris as the tiebreaking vote, some Democrats have argued that achieving that supermajority may be a heavy lift when trying to pass their policies.
“The legislative filibuster is a crucial part of the Senate,” McConnell said on the Senate floor on Thursday. “I cannot imagine the Democratic leader would rather hold up the power-sharing agreement than simply reaffirm that his side won’t be breaking this standing rule of the Senate.”
McConnell is essentially aiming to prevent legislation without Republican support from landing on President Joe Biden’s desk. The self-described Grim Reaper, McConnell is no longer the head of the upper chamber for the first time in six years, but he’s still trying to bend the rules to his liking in a chamber that has long given extraordinary power to one lawmaker to block the entire body’s agenda.
McConnell has asked Democrats to provide an assurance that they will protect the filibuster for the next two years and not override the 60-vote requirement, which could be done through the “nuclear option,” a procedure allowing a bill to pass with a simple majority of 51 votes. That timing appears to be pegged to the 2022 midterm elections, when Republicans will have the opportunity to flip the House and the Senate.
Democratic leaders have vowed to push back on McConnell and have already rejected his demands. Schumer hasn’t signalled his intentions with the filibuster, but he’s indicated he’s not willing to surrender Democrats’ new power to the minority leader.
McConnell’s “proposal would remove a tool that the Republican leader himself used twice in just the last Congress,” Schumer said on the Senate floor on Friday. “Leader McConnell’s proposal is unacceptable â€” and it won’t be accepted. And the Republican leader knew that when he first proposed it.
“The American people want us to work together and move past the meaningless political fights and gridlock that have plagued us for too long,” Schumer added. “It’s time to get to work.”
The standoff has left the Senate stuck. Schumer hasn’t been as influential as he’d hoped in his first few days as majority leader. One of his (and Biden’s) key priorities, to deliver economic relief to millions of Americans struggling financially because of the coronavirus pandemic, has been delayed. Biden’s $US1.9 trillion stimulus deal hasn’t been brought to the negotiating table. Democrats also haven’t ascended to committee chairs, meaning Republicans have been heading Biden’s Cabinet confirmation hearings, creating confusion and stalling the process.
An area where Democrats have fought back on is impeachment. McConnell had sought to postpone a Senate impeachment trial for former President Donald Trump until February. However, Schumer announced on Friday that the Democratic-led House planned to send the article of impeachment to the upper chamber on Monday. The Senate is constitutionally mandated to begin the trial by 1 p.m. the following day.
Still, the slim margins in Congress won’t play much in Democrats’ favour when it comes to big legislative items, and their new power could depend on how well they can unify against McConnell and his caucus.
Some centrist Democrats may balk at progressive legislation or at forgoing the filibuster. Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, for example, are likely to defect to the GOP on issues like these.
Biden has also given himself a challenge by insisting on crossing the party aisle and bridging political divides. He’s repeatedly promised on the campaign trail and now as president to work on bipartisanship â€” and that entails working with McConnell.