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McConnell caves on filibuster after holding Senate hostage for a week

McConnell refused to allow the transfer of power over a demand that Democrats let him block every bill.

By Emily Singer - January 26, 2021
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Mitch McConnell

Mitch McConnell lost his first battle as Senate minority leader on Monday, caving on his demand that Democrats agree to keep the filibuster — a procedure that would allow Senate Republicans to block every single piece of legislation Democrats put on the floor.

McConnell had been holding up the transfer of power to Democrats for nearly a week, saying he would not agree to sharing power with Democrats unless they agreed to preserve the filibuster.

A power-sharing agreement is necessary, as both parties each have 50 seats, with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as the tie-breaking vote that gives Democrats control of the chamber. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer had been seeking a vote on the same power-sharing agreement the Senate used in 2001, the last time the chamber was split 50-50.

Yet McConnell was refusing to sign off on that agreement, demanding that Schumer agree to keep the filibuster — which requires legislation to receive the support of 60 senators before advancing to a full vote. Given Democrats have 50 seats in the Senate, the filibuster would allow McConnell to block every piece of legislation, assuming he could prevent nine Republicans from voting with Democrats.

That refusal has paralyzed the Senate, with Democrats unable to assume control of committees — a move that has led to a slowed confirmation of Biden’s nominees.

But in the end, Schumer did not agree to preserve the filibuster, keeping his option open to change the rules if McConnell obstructs everything Democrats and President Joe Biden wish to achieve — something McConnell has said he is prepared to do.

“We will not let Mitch McConnell dictate to us what we will do and not do,” Schumer told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow in an interview on Monday.

McConnell claimed that assurances from Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona that they don’t currently plan to get rid of the filibuster were enough to get him to drop his demand and finally let Democrats assume the majority they rightfully won.

“With these assurances, I look forward to moving ahead with a power-sharing agreement modeled on that precedent,” McConnell said in a statement late Monday night.

Yet those assurances could easily be broken if McConnell blocks every piece of legislation Democrats seek to pass.

If and when the filibuster is eliminated, the politics of such a move will be based on the popularity of the underlying bill. The debate happening now is not very telling because the filibuster is being discussed in the abstract,” Brian Fallon, a Democratic strategist who is pushing for the filibuster’s elimination, tweeted after McConnell caved. 

Even some Democrats who currently support the filibuster say they are open to nixing it if McConnell obstructs every bill.

“I feel pretty damn strongly, but I will also tell you this: I am here to get things done,” Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) told the New York Times. “If all that happens is filibuster after filibuster, roadblock after roadblock, then my opinion may change.”

McConnell has been demanding Democrats preserve the filibuster even though he got rid of it for Supreme Court nominees in 2017 — which allowed him to confirm Trump’s picks to the highest court in the country with a simple majority of votes.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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