Senate chaos threatens to slow Biden's agenda

President BidenJoe BidenBiden prepares to confront Putin Ukrainian president thanks G-7 nations for statement of support Biden aims to bolster troubled Turkey ties in first Erdoğan meeting MORE is facing big headaches on getting his priorities off the ground on Capitol Hill. 

Biden pledged to unify the country after the tumultuous years of the Trump presidency, and Democrats are vowing to use their first unified government in more than a decade to enact a “bold" agenda.

But they are facing significant hurdles to getting anything done fast. There’s a looming second impeachment trial for former President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden prepares to confront Putin Biden aims to bolster troubled Turkey ties in first Erdoğan meeting Senate investigation of insurrection falls short MORE and, in the meantime, a chaotic Senate that is stuck in limbo amid a standoff on a power-sharing agreement with Republicans. 


“Things are on hold. I’ve got a lot of things I want to do,” Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinThe tale of the last bipartisan unicorns Ex-DOJ official Rosenstein says he was not aware of subpoena targeting Democrats: report Trump DOJ demanded metadata on 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses, Apple says MORE (D-Ill.) said of the impact of not having a power-sharing deal on Biden’s agenda. 

Biden’s problems are twofold: His Cabinet nominees appear poised to move at a sluggish pace and two of his legislative priorities — coronavirus relief and immigration reform — are already being panned by top Republicans. 

In a potential sign of the hurdles to come, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellWhat the Democrats should be doing to reach true bipartisanship Democrats mull overhaul of sweeping election bill McConnell seeks to divide and conquer Democrats MORE (R-Ky.) sent a warning shot during one of his first floor speeches back in the minority. Republicans, he warned, were willing to work with Biden but also wouldn’t be shy about blocking bills they don’t support. Because of the 60-vote legislative filibuster, Democrats will need at least 10 GOP senators to pass most things. 

“If and when our Democratic friends depart from common sense, when they retreat from common ground, when their proposals would harm the common good — then we’ll use the power the American people have given us to push for what is right,” McConnell said. 

It’s a stark reminder of the partisan divisions awaiting Biden, a decades-long deal cutter who came up through the party’s centrist lane and is pledging to unify an increasingly frayed country. 

Hanging over any scheduling in the Capitol is the timing of Trump’s second trial, with senators waiting to see when House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi: 'No intention' of abandoning Democrats' infrastructure goals Senate investigation of insurrection falls short Ocasio-Cortez: 'Old way of politics' influences Manchin's thinking MORE (D-Calif.) will send over the article of impeachment. 


The Speaker and the House impeachment managers are keeping a tight lid on their plans. But McConnell told Republicans during a conference call that he wants to delay the trial until February, something he needs Democratic buy-in for. 

Doing so could give Democrats time to get more of Biden’s nominations confirmed, and Sen. Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsBiden prepares to confront Putin Concerns grow over China's Taiwan plans Progressives want to tighten screws beyond Manchin and Sinema MORE (D-Del.), a top Biden ally, said on CNN Thursday that he’d be willing to see the trial delayed to get more nominations done.

Once an impeachment trial starts, it’s expected to sideline anything else in the Senate. 

Democrats and Biden have floated the idea that the Senate could vote on nominations and legislation in the morning and then conduct Trump’s historic second trial in the afternoon. 

But Republicans have shot that down, saying Democrats must choose between trying to get more of Biden’s nominations confirmed or holding an impeachment trial. 

“They have a decision to make. We can’t make that for them,” said Sen. Mike RoundsMike RoundsTrump, midterms fuel GOP's effort to quash Jan. 6 commission Senate GOP blocks legislation on Jan. 6 commission Senate votes to advance China bill after Schumer strikes deal MORE (R-S.D.). 

Biden could only get two nominations confirmed this week: Avril Haines as director of national intelligence and former Gen. Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinBiden congratulates newly-formed Israeli government Netanyahu ousted as Israeli lawmakers approve new government Concerns grow over China's Taiwan plans MORE, who the Senate is expected to confirm on Friday, as defense secretary.

Democrats are hoping to also confirm Janet YellenJanet Louise YellenRepublicans open new line of attack on IRS Why the Democrats need Joe Manchin On The Money: Democrats wary of emerging bipartisan infrastructure deal, warn of time crunch MORE to lead the Treasury Department and Secretary of State nominee Tony Blinken this week, though Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph Thune'The era of bipartisanship is over': Senate hits rough patch Bipartisan talks sow division among Democrats Senate passes long-delayed China bill MORE (R-S.D.) warned that they could be delayed until next week.

A whole swath of other nominations including Merrick GarlandMerrick GarlandMedia leaders to meet with Garland to discuss leak investigations Garland sparks anger with willingness to side with Trump Garland vows fight against voting limits that violate law MORE, Biden’s pick for attorney general, Health and Human Services Secretary nominee Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraNew Alzheimer's drug sparks backlash over FDA, pricing Obama joins Biden to tout record ObamaCare enrollment numbers Biden walks fine line with probe into coronavirus origins MORE and Neera TandenNeera TandenBiden's no-drama White House chief Manchin isn't ready to support Democrats passing infrastructure on their own Republicans target Trump critic's role at DOJ MORE, Biden’s choice to lead the Office of Management and Budget, are in limbo. It’s unclear if they could be confirmed before the start of a Senate trial even if Democrats agree to delay sending over the article of impeachment. 

Moving nominations is complicated by the fact that McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerIt's not just Manchin: No electoral mandate stalls Democrats' leftist agenda DOJ to probe Trump-era subpoenas of lawmaker records Democrats demand Barr, Sessions testify on Apple data subpoenas MORE (D-N.Y.) haven’t yet reached an agreement on how to share power in the 50-50 Senate. It’s set up an unusual dynamic in which Democrats have the majority but Republicans still control many of the Senate committees. 

Another complication emerged when McConnell asked that the organizing deal include language protecting the 60-vote legislative filibuster, which progressives and a growing number of Democratic senators support nixing. 

Supporters warn that the filibuster stands in the way of passing many of Biden and Democrats priorities and that McConnell is making a request that he would never agree to if Republicans were still in the majority. 


Though Biden is hoping to be able to garner broad bipartisan support for his agenda, he’s facing early headwinds on legislative priorities that Republicans could use the filibuster to slow down. 

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP Rep. Vicky Hartzler launches Missouri Senate bid Cryptocurrency industry lobbies Washington for 'regulatory clarity' Bipartisan group prepping infrastructure plan as White House talks lag MORE (R-Mo.), a member of GOP leadership, called his $1.9 billion coronavirus proposal a “non-starter.” 

“I suspect the whole package is a non-starter, but it’s got plenty of starters in it,” Blunt said. “There’s some things in there that aren’t going to happen, there’s some things that can happen.” 

Senate Democratic leadership have stopped short of putting a timeline for when they would try to pivot to reconciliation, a budget tactic that allows some legislation to bypass the higher vote threshold.

But House Democrats say they are ready to pull the trigger on using reconciliation on coronavirus as soon as they get the signal from leadership. 

“I think the objective of both House Democrats and the administration is to get this done as quickly as possible, whatever we need to do,” Rep. John YarmuthJohn Allen YarmuthProgressives rebuff criticism of Biden's budget Democrats see political winner in tax fight McConnell knocks Kentucky Democrat over support for nixing filibuster MORE (D-Ky.) told reporters. “We haven’t made a decision yet to use reconciliation but we are, we are prepared to move very quickly if it looks like we can’t do it any other way.”