Senator Mitch McConnell – Getty
Mitch McConnell, the US Senate Republican leader, said on Monday he would agree to a power-sharing agreement with Democrats, dropping demands that had held up the basic organisation and daily work of the 50-50 chamber for days.
Democrat Chuck Schumer, now the majority leader thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote, and Mr McConnell had been at odds over the Republican’s request that Democrats promise to protect the filibuster, which requires a 60-vote supermajority to advance most legislation.
Mr Schumer has refused to guarantee the filibuster would stay. But in a statement, Mr McConnell cited comments from moderate Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who said they would not favour eliminating the filibuster.
“The legislative filibuster was a key part of the foundation beneath the Senate’s last 50-50 power-sharing agreement in 2001,” Mr McConnell said. “With these assurances, I look forward to moving ahead with a power-sharing agreement modeled on that precedent.”
A spokesman for Mr Schumer, Justin Goodman, said in a statement, “We’re glad Senator McConnell threw in the towel and gave up on his ridiculous demand. We look forward to organising the Senate under Democratic control and start getting big, bold things done for the American people.”
Some liberal Democrats have suggested killing the filibuster to help advance President Joe Biden’s agenda, though Mr Biden has not signaled support for such a move. In recent years, the 60-vote threshold has brought the Senate nearly to a halt on major legislation.
With Ms Harris unable to attend every Senate session, the two party leaders have been discussing an arrangement to govern day-to-day operations, similar to one struck the last time the Senate was equally split two decades ago.
Senate committees have still not been reorganised under Democratic control.
Democrats could unilaterally change the rules to require only a simple majority to approve bills, a move sometimes called the “nuclear option”, if all 50 members voted together and Ms Harris provided the tie-breaking vote.
By declining to guarantee as part of the deal that the filibuster will be protected, Mr Schumer preserves the threat as leverage in negotiations over Mr Biden’s priorities, such as a new round of coronavirus relief.