McConnell, Schumer fail to cut power-sharing deal amid filibuster snag

Greg Nash

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) failed to reach a deal on Tuesday on organizing a 50-50 Senate as a fight over the filibuster threatens to drag out the talks for days. 

The two Senate leaders met to discuss how to share power in an evenly split Senate. According to Schumer, they talked about “a whole lot of issues” but didn’t reach an agreement. 

The talks have snagged over a fight on the 60-vote legislative filibuster, which could drag out the negotiations for several days. 

McConnell is pressing to use the power-sharing agreement to help protect the filibuster amid calls from progressives to nix the hurdle in order to help pass Democratic legislative priorities. 

Doug Andres, a spokesman for McConnell, said that during Tuesday’s meeting, the GOP leader “expressed his long-held view that the crucial, longstanding, and bipartisan Senate rules concerning the legislative filibuster remain intact, specifically during the power share for the next two years.”

“Discussions on all aspects of the power-sharing agreement will continue over the next several days,” Andres said.

But McConnell’s decision to drop the filibuster into the discussion over how to organize a split Senate drew fierce pushback from outside groups, which urged Democrats to reject the GOP leader’s gambit. 

“Senator McConnell knows that the filibuster is the best weapon he has to control the Senate from the minority and prevent Democrats from delivering on the promises they made to voters, which is why he is so desperate to maintain it,” said Fix Our Senate, a coalition of outside groups that support nixing the filibuster.

Democrats don’t currently have the votes in the caucus to nix the filibuster. Several have signaled skepticism about getting rid of it, and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has vowed that he will not vote to do so.

Democrats will have only a 50-seat majority, as incoming Vice President Kamala Harris can break a tie, meaning they would need the support of every member of the caucus if they were going to deploy the “nuclear option” and get rid of the filibuster with only a simple majority. 

McConnell indicated in a letter to the Senate GOP caucus that he wanted to use the negotiations with Schumer over how to organize the Senate to get a deal on the future of the filibuster. 

“I believe the time is ripe to address this issue head on before the passions of one particular issue or another arise,” McConnell wrote. 

Without a deal between McConnell and Schumer, the Senate is expected to be stuck in limbo until the two leaders work it out, including Republicans still having a majority on some committees even though Schumer will become the majority leader of the Senate on Wednesday once three new Democratic senators and Harris are sworn in. 

The eventual agreement is expected to largely mirror a 2001 power-sharing agreement where the party in the White House technically had the Senate majority. Under that deal, Democrats would also chair the committees, but legislation and nominations that got a tie vote in committee could still be sent to the floor. 

A Schumer spokesperson said on Tuesday night that they had a “substantive conversation” and “made progress” on issues such as confirming President-elect Joe Biden’s Cabinet picks and holding a second impeachment trial for President Trump. 

“On an organizing resolution, Leader Schumer expressed that the fairest, most reasonable and easiest path forward is to adopt the 2001 bipartisan agreement without extraneous changes from either side,” the spokesman said.

Tags 50-50 Senate Charles Schumer Donald Trump Joe Biden Joe Manchin legislative filibuster McConnell Schumer negotiations Mitch McConnell Nuclear option Senate organizing resolution Senate power-sharing deal split Senate

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