A chaotic Senate is stuck in limbo amid a standoff on a power-sharing agreement with Republicans.
“Things are on hold. I’ve got a lot of things I want to do,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said of the impact of not having a power-sharing deal on Biden’s agenda.
In a potential sign of the hurdles to come, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sent a warning shot during one of his first floor speeches back in the minority. Republicans, he warned, were willing to work with Biden but also wouldn’t be shy about blocking bills they don’t support. Because of the 60-vote legislative filibuster, Democrats will need at least 10 GOP senators to pass most things.
Biden’s problems are twofold: His Cabinet nominees appear poised to move at a sluggish pace and two of his legislative priorities – coronavirus relief and immigration reform – are already being panned by top Republicans.
Once an impeachment trial starts, it’s expected to sideline anything else in the Senate.
Democrats and Biden have floated the idea that the Senate could vote on nominations and legislation in the morning and then conduct Trump’s historic second trial in the afternoon.
But Republicans have shot that down, saying Democrats must choose between trying to get more of Biden’s nominations confirmed or holding an impeachment trial.
The Speaker and the House impeachment managers are keeping a tight lid on their plans. But McConnell told Republicans during a conference call that he wants to delay the trial until February, something he needs Democratic buy-in for.
Sharing Senate power
Moving nominations is complicated by the fact that McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) haven’t yet reached an agreement on how to share power in the 50-50 Senate. It’s set up an unusual dynamic in which Democrats have the majority but Republicans still control many of the Senate committees.
Another complication emerged when McConnell asked that the organizing deal include language protecting the 60-vote legislative filibuster, which progressives and a growing number of Democratic senators support nixing.
Supporters warn that the filibuster stands in the way of passing many of Biden and Democrats priorities and that McConnell is making a request that he would never agree to if Republicans were still in the majority.
Though Biden is hoping to be able to garner broad bipartisan support for his agenda, he’s facing early headwinds on legislative priorities that Republicans could use the filibuster to slow down.