McConnell wants to save filibuster as part of power-sharing deal

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is looking to kill a Democratic effort to get rid of the legislative filibuster as part of a power-sharing agreement he strikes to divide committee seats and power in the new 50-50 Senate. 

Once three newly elected or appointed Democratic senators are sworn into office on Wednesday — Jon Ossoff (Ga.), Raphael Warnock (Ga.) and Alex Padilla (Calif.) — Democrats will control the majority in the evenly divided Senate because Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will cast the tie-breaking vote once she is sworn in.

The last time the chamber was evenly divided was in 2001, when former Sens. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) were the party leaders. They decided to evenly divide the ratio of committee seats to reflect the strength of the minority party, which was the Democratic Party after George W. Bush won the 2000 election.

McConnell informed colleagues in a memo they “need to enter into a power sharing agreement with the Democrats.” 

“While I am guided in this effort by the Lott-Daschle agreement, I believe we need to also address the threats to the legislative filibuster,” the GOP leader wrote, according to a Republican aide familiar with the memo. “As you know, we all resisted the direct calls of President Trump to destroy the Senate by eliminating the legislative filibuster when we controlled the House, the Senate and the White House.” 

McConnell met with Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) for a half hour Tuesday afternoon to discuss the new power sharing accord and other topics.

“All I’m going to say is — we discussed a whole lot of issues,” Schumer said, when asked about the negotiations. 

McConnell also resisted efforts by President Trump to scrap the filibuster in 2017, when Republicans controlled the executive and legislative branches and wanted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. 

McConnell says he wants an agreement with Schumer up front to protect the legislative filibuster, which requires controversial bills to muster 60 votes to end debate and proceed to a final up-or-down vote. 

Schumer doesn’t have enough votes to eliminate the legislative filibuster. Doing so only requires a simple majority vote but the tactic is considered so controversial and partisan that it’s been dubbed the “nuclear option.” 

But McConnell wants to put the issue to bed before a stalemate over a hot-button issue like raising the minimum wage or expanding background checks for firearms coalesces Democrats behind overhauling the Senate’s rules.

“I believe the time is ripe to address this issue head on before the passions of one particular issue or another arise. We will need unity and the support of each of you as this may take time to work through,” he wrote. 

The GOP leader warned, however, that haggling over the future of the filibuster could delay the assignment of committee seats.

“A delay in reaching an agreement could delay the final determination of committee assignments but it is important to maintain the status quo on the legislative filibuster,” he wrote.

He argued that preserving the power of the minority party is essential to preserving the character of the Senate as a forum for compromise.

“I believe the unique rules of the Senate which forces compromise between the parties is needed now more than ever,” he wrote. “Having an equally divided Senate means that we have to work together to get anything done and the spirit of true bipartisan compromise is possible only when each side realizes they must come to the table together.”

“Our times demand nothing less,” he added.

McConnell argued against Democratic calls to end the legislative filibuster in an op-ed he penned for The New York Times in August of 2019.

“My Republican colleagues and I have not and will not vandalize this core tradition for short-term gain. We recognize what everyone should recognize — there are no permanent victories in politics,” he wrote. “No Republican has any trouble imagining the laundry list of socialist policies that 51 Senate Democrats would happily inflict on Middle America in a filibuster-free Senate.” 

“In this country, radical changes face a high bar by design,” he said, positing that while the legislative filibuster does not appear in the Constitution’s text, it is “central to the order the Constitution sets forth.” 

He noted that in Federalist 62 James Madison argued the Senate was designed not to rubber-stamp bills passed by the House but to act as an “additional impediment” and a “complicated check” on “improper acts of legislation.” 

He also pointed to Thomas Jefferson’s principle that “great innovations should not be forced on slender majorities.”

House Democrats control the majority by five seats at the moment. 

–Updated at 3:50 p.m.

Tags Alex Padilla Chuck Schumer Donald Trump Filibuster Jon Ossoff Mitch McConnell Nuclear option Raphael Warnock

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