Senate Democrats are voicing opposition to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) push to ensure the filibuster endures the next two years, a rule that would allow Republicans to block much of President Joe Biden’s broad legislative agenda.
“Unfortunately, we’re not going to give him what he wishes. If you did that then there would be just unbridled use of it,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told reporters on Thursday.
McConnell’s demand over the filibuster has delayed an agreement from top party leaders on procedures governing how a 50-50 Senate will operate. At the moment, Republicans still control majorities on all Senate committees even though they are now in the minority. The current committee ratios could stymie Biden’s hopes for speedy confirmations of some of his Cabinet nominees.
Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), for example, chaired a committee hearing on Thursday regarding the nomination of Pete Buttigieg to lead the Department of Transportation. Buttigieg’s nomination is uncontroversial and he is likely to be confirmed. But other Biden nominees face GOP opposition, and their path to confirmation could become complicated if Republicans still control majorities at the committee level.
McConnell said he wanted Democrats to “simply reaffirm” the filibuster will remain intact, pointing to a letter that a number of Democrats, including former California Sen. Kamala Harris, who is now vice president, signed in 2017 in support of the chamber’s supermajority requirement on legislation. That letter, signed by 61 senators in total, was circulated after then-President Donald Trump expressed interest in eliminating the filibuster.
Democratic politics have shifted since then, however. Prominent Democrats, including former President Barack Obama, have called for nixing the filibuster. Biden himself said last year that his support for nixing the filibuster would “depend on how obstreperous” Republicans become under his presidency.
For Republicans, locking in an early assurance from Democrats that they won’t go nuclear and ditch one of the Senate’s long-standing traditions, albeit not one found in the Constitution, makes the most sense. Picking a fight over the rule in the abstract is easier to defend than when using it to block popular legislation advanced by Democrats, such as a large coronavirus relief package.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Thursday gave no sign of relenting on the issue, telling reporters that his caucus is “strongly opposed to any extraneous provisions” in the resolution laying out the makeup of committees.
“We won the Senate. We get the gavels,” added Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) in a post on Twitter.
Even Democrats who fiercely oppose eliminating the filibuster are standing with Schumer amid the dispute, maintaining that he is owed deference because of his position as majority leader.
“Chuck has the right to do what he’s doing. He has the right to use that to leverage in whatever he wants to do. I’m not worried about that at all,” centrist Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin told reporters on Wednesday.