Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell threatened Thursday to delay an agreement on organizing the Senate unless Democrats commit to keeping the filibuster rule intact.
In remarks on the Senate floor, McConnell said GOP senators were prepared to push back against many of President Joe Biden’s priorities and blasted the president’s executive orders on immigration, energy and climate. He also said Democrats should commit to keeping the filibuster, a procedure that means most legislation needs 60 votes to pass.
The Senate now has a 50-50 split, and Vice President Kamala Harris can cast a tie-breaking vote. The 60-vote threshold for ending filibusters gives Republicans the power to cripple much of Biden’s agenda, and was deployed repeatedly by McConnell to stymie President Barack Obama.
“If the talk of unity and common ground is to have meaning, and certainly if the rules from 20 years ago are to be our guide, then I cannot imagine the Democratic leader would rather hold up the power-sharing agreement than simply affirm that his side won’t be breaking this standing rule of the Senate,” McConnell said.
McConnell and new Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have been meeting, given the narrow Democratic majority, to work out a power-sharing agreement for the new Congress.
Schumer has said the Senate should adopt the same power-sharing deal the Senate adopted the last time the chamber was split 50-50, including even numbers of members on committees but with Democrats holding the gavels and controlling the agenda.
McConnell wants more, given the talk among some Democrats of ending the longstanding practice, which is not in the Constitution.
“The legislative filibuster is a crucial part of the Senate,” McConnell said. “Leading Democrats like President Biden himself have long defended it.”
McConnell noted Democrats had employed the tactic frequently while in the minority to block Republicans and former President Donald Trump.
McConnell also argued the narrow 2020 election was not a “sweeping mandate for ideological transformation” and he sharply criticized Biden’s opening executive actions, which stop construction of the wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, rejoin the Paris climate accord and kill the Keystone XL pipeline.
While the two sides are still talking, no deal appears imminent, potentially slowing work on Biden’s agenda.
Schumer’s No. 2, Dick Durbin of Illinois, said Thursday they would not give in to McConnell’s demand, lest Republicans take that as license to obstruct.
And Democratic Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii was incensed at McConnell’s demand.
“McConnell is threatening to filibuster the Organizing Resolution which allows Democrats to assume the committee chair positions,” he complained on Twitter. “It’s an absolutely unprecedented, wacky, counterproductive request. We won the Senate. We get the gavels.”
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