WASHINGTON (AP) — In one of his final acts as majority leader, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell is pressuring Democrats to keep the filibuster — the procedural tool that liberals and progressives are eager to to do away with so President-elect Joe Biden’s legislative priorities can be approved more easily over GOP opposition.
McConnell has told Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer that retaining the legislative filibuster is important and should be part of their negotiations for a power-sharing agreement in the narrowly divided Senate.
Schumer and McConnell met Tuesday to begin hammering out the details of organizing the chamber, which will be split 50-50, with Democrats holding the majority once three new senators are sworn in Wednesday and Kamala Harris is inaugurated as the vice president.
“Leader McConnell 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,” McConnell spokesman Doug Andres said.
Andres said discussions on “all aspects” of the arrangement will continue.
Normally, a divided chamber would produce a resolution to equally share committee seats and other resources. But McConnell is driving a harder bargain by inserting his demand that Schumer keep the filibuster procedure in place.
Schumer faces pressure from the progressive flank to end the filibuster, but he has not committed to doing so.
A Schumer spokesman, Justin Goodman, said that the Democratic leader “expressed that the fairest, most reasonable and easiest path forward” was to adopt an organizing agreement similar to a 2001 consensus between the parties, the last time the Senate was evenly divided, without “extraneous changes from either side.”
The group Fix Our Senate criticized McConnell for trying to prevent procedural changes. The group said in a statement that McConnell wants to keep the filibuster because he knows it is “the best weapon he has” to prevent Democrats from delivering on Biden’s priorities.
“Senate Democrats must swat away this absurd attempt to undermine their majority and kneecap the Biden agenda before it even has a chance to get started,” the group said in a statement.
The modern filibuster rules essentially require a super-majority threshold, now at 60 votes, to cut off debate in the Senate and bring legislative bills or other measures to a vote.
The practice was changed as a way to wind down long-running speeches and debates, notably during the start of World War I, but quickly became a tool employed by minority factions to halt legislation that had majority support.
Opponents of civil rights staged several filibusters, including the longest in modern Senate history. Sen. Strom Thurmond, D-S.C., spoke against a 1957 civil rights bill for 24 hours and 18 minutes.
McConnell gutted the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees in 2017, a breathtaking move that enabled the Senate to easily confirm the first of three justices that President Donald Trump nominated to the high court with simple majority votes.
It’s unclear the Democrats would even have support from their ranks to undo the legislative filibuster, which would require a vote in the Senate.
But McConnell is not willing to take any chances and is forcing Schumer into a negotiation that could delay organizing the Senate.
The Republican leader has also been talking privately with Republican senators about the importance to resolving the issue now, as part of the power-sharing talks with Democrats. McConnell sent an email Monday to senators outlining his concerns, as first reported by National Review.
Without agreement on this and other matters, the Democrats’ ability to control committees and other aspects of Senate business may also be delayed as talks between McConnell and Schumer drag on.
Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.