Senate leaders reach power-sharing deal

By Laura Litvan and Steven T. Dennis
Bloomberg News/TNS

WASHINGTON - Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he’s reached a two-year power sharing deal with GOP leader Mitch McConnell formally giving Democrats committee chairmanships and setting other ground rules, allowing the chamber to begin fully functioning after weeks of procedural limbo.

The agreement is based on a 2001 deal reached the last time the 100-member chamber was divided 50-50. That setup allowed for the same number of Republicans and Democrats on committees, though Democrats controlled committee gavels and the majority leader set the agenda on the floor.

Schumer said the agreement will spur committee work on President Joe Biden’s priorities and his cabinet-level nominations as Democratic chairmen will be in place and ground rules will be set for committee structure.

“I’ve already instructed the incoming Democratic chairs of all relevant committees to begin holding hearings on the climate crisis in preparation for enacting President Biden’s build back better agenda, which includes major climate legislation,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.

While confirmations need just a simple majority vote, Republicans will still have significant sway on policy matters as long as the legislative filibuster remains intact. They are already that signaling they will oppose key parts of Biden’s agenda, including climate-change legislation and an overhaul of immigration policy.

McConnell agreed to drop his demand that Schumer promise not to end the filibuster rule requiring 60 votes for most legislation after two moderate Democrats - Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona - said they don’t support changing current Senate practice. Progressive Democrats are still pushing to erode the filibuster rule to allow the majority party to pass legislation with just 51 votes.

Democrats only have the majority by virtue of Vice President Kamala Harris‘s tie-breaking vote.

The Senate has only been evenly divided three times before: in 1881, 1953 and 2001.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), left, and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) walk side-by-side to the Senate Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC in 2018.