A fight over the future of the filibuster stalled the Senate on the second day of the new Democratic majority, threatening to throw the chamber into disarray for the foreseeable future.
Democrats are rejecting a demand from Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that they pledge to maintain the legislative filibuster as part of an overall organizing agreement that would set the rules for the now evenly divided Senate.
“Unfortunately, we are not going to give him what he wishes,” Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, told reporters in the Capitol on Thursday.
McConnell is not backing down on his demand that Democrats maintain the filibuster, which sets a 60-vote threshold to pass most legislation.
On the floor Thursday, the Kentucky Republican reminded Democrats they, too, sought to preserve the filibuster during their time in the minority, and he will continue to hold out on an organizing agreement.
“If the talk of unity and common ground is to have meaning … then I cannot imagine the Democratic leader would rather hold up the power-sharing agreement than simply reaffirm that his side won’t be breaking this standing rule of the Senate,” McConnell said.
The parties have yet to strike a deal on governing in an evenly divided Senate.
Democrats hold a majority thanks to the tiebreaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris, but as of Thursday, the GOP remained in charge of committees because no deal between McConnell and Schumer has been reached. The two parties are also in negotiations on quickly confirming President Biden’s Cabinet nominees and the terms for conducting an impeachment trial for former President Donald Trump. None of that has been resolved.
McConnell described “good faith discussions” with Schumer and said he “looks forward to finding the solution together,” on power-sharing.
Durbin, speaking to reporters, said Democrats will not agree to a deal that would prohibit ending the filibuster at some future point because McConnell and Republicans would block every bill without fear that the 60-vote threshold could be eliminated.
“If you did that, then there would be just unbridled use of it,” Durbin said. “I mean, nothing holding him back.”
Both parties complain about the filibuster when they control the majority. It essentially provides the minority party with the power to block most legislation.
McConnell, on Thursday, pointed to a 2017 letter signed by 27 current Senate Democrats and Vice President Kamala Harris, “insisting this long-standing rule should not be broken.”
But Schumer, speaking to reporters Thursday, said Democrats are eager to reconstruct the power sharing agreement the two parties reached in 2001, which is the last time the Senate split 50-50. At that time, the accord made no mention of the filibuster, although neither side was seriously weighing a plan to eliminate it.
Schumer said he doesn’t want a filibuster demand included in the new power-sharing deal.
“Our caucus is strongly opposed to any extraneous provisions,” Schumer said. “And so we’re going to keep working to try and get a bipartisan agreement.”