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Schumer, McConnell near deal to transfer Senate committee power to Democrats

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (L) and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer are seen during a joint session of Congress after they reconvened to certify the Electoral College votes of the 2020 presidential election in the House chamber in Washington, U.S. January 6, 2021.

Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

Senate leaders moved closer Tuesday to a deal on how to share power in an evenly split Senate, which will allow Democrats to take control of committees as they try to advance President Joe Biden‘s agenda.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., grappled over the Senate rules for days after Democrats formally took control of the chamber Wednesday. A breakthrough did not come until two of the chamber’s most conservative Democrats said they would vote against getting rid of the legislative filibuster.

“There has been notable progress in my discussions with the Republican leader,” Schumer said Tuesday, adding that “we’re finally able to get the Senate up and running.”

Though Schumer has control over what goes to the Senate floor, Democrats will not take control of committees where lawmakers start the legislative and nominations processes until the chamber passes a resolution setting guidelines. Generally, the Senate approves the measure through unanimous consent, giving McConnell the power to stall it.

The Republican leader aimed to ensure Democrats would not scrap the legislative filibuster to allow legislation to pass with only a majority of support rather than 60 votes. Schumer sought to leave the option on the table as Democrats try to enact their agenda with little or no Republican support.

However, two Democratic senators made the debate moot. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona said they would not vote to get rid of the filibuster, effectively ending the standoff between Schumer and McConnell.

On Tuesday, McConnell said Sinema “informed me directly last night that under no circumstances would she reverse course” and scrap the filibuster. He argued pursuing the power to pass bills with a majority vote “would not speed the Democrats’ ambitions,” but “delay them terribly.”

Schumer and McConnell said they plan to model the deal after the agreement reached in 2001, the last time the Senate was split 50-50. It gave the parties the same number of seats on committees, but allowed the majority to break ties.

Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris holds the tiebreaking vote in the full chamber.

A deal will set the stage for Democratic senators to take the reins of committees. They will include:

  • Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with Democrats, at the Budget Committee
  • Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden at the Finance Committee
  • Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown at the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee
  • Washington Democrat Patty Murray at the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee

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