In an early effort keep the GOP in a position to cripple President Joe Biden's agenda, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is threatening to block a must-pass organizing resolution that establishes the rules for the new session and sets committee assignments if Democrats don't agree to hamstring themselves by promising to keep the 60-vote legislative filibuster in place.
Senate Democrats—who won narrow control of the chamber with a pair of runoff victories in Georgia earlier this month—have thus far refused to accept McConnell's demand, but the Kentucky Republican's stonewalling of the organizing resolution is already causing problems for the new Biden administration and delaying legislative work as the pandemic rages and mass layoffs continue nationwide.
"McConnell was fine with getting rid of the filibuster to a United States Supreme Court nominee for a lifetime appointment, but he's not okay getting rid of the filibuster for unemployment relief for families that are out of work because of Covid-19."
—Sen. Elizabeth Warren
"The longer the standoff over the organizing package persists, the weirder the Senate will become," Politico reported Thursday. "New senators have not been added to committees and the ratios have not changed, leaving the GOP in the majority on some panels. That's already complicating the ability of the Senate to confirm some of President Joe Biden's nominees."
In a floor speech Thursday, McConnell signaled that he does not intend to drop his demand any time soon, calling the legislative filibuster "a crucial part of the Senate."
Rejecting McConnell's "extraneous provisions," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is pushing for an organizing resolution that sets the same rules that governed the 50-50 Senate in 2001.
Given that the organizing resolution is itself subject to the filibuster, McConnell is effectively using the archaic 60-vote requirement—which progressives have taken to calling a " Jim Crow relic"—to protect it from future elimination by the new Democratic majority. Scrapping the filibuster would require just 51 votes, meaning Democrats would need the support of their entire Senate caucus and a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Kamala Harris.
"McConnell is threatening to filibuster the organizing resolution which allows Democrats to assume the committee chair positions," Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) tweeted Thursday. "It's an absolutely unprecedented, wacky, counterproductive request. We won the Senate. We get the gavels."
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) told CNN Thursday that "Mitch McConnell was fine with getting rid of the filibuster to a United States Supreme Court nominee for a lifetime appointment, but he's not okay getting rid of the filibuster for unemployment relief for families that are out of work because of Covid-19."
"I've just had enough of Mitch McConnell," Warren added.
Progressives argued that the early stand-off over the filibuster is an illustrative example of why the 60-vote rule must be abolished if the Democratic majority hopes to pass coronavirus relief, climate legislation, democracy reform, and other key priorities.
"The solution is obvious," said Brian Beutler, editor-in-chief at Crooked Media. "McConnell is already abusing the filibuster to block the constitution of the new majority. Nuking the filibuster is the appropriate response... The alternative—cave to McConnell on this basic question of which party won the majority, and ratify his plan to set a 60-vote threshold for everything of consequence—would be a profound, irrevocable betrayal right off the bat."
"McConnell is basically trying to overturn the Senate election," Beutler tweeted.
In an appearance on MSNBC late Thursday, Heather McGhee of Color of Change said that "Democrats have the high ground" in the fight over the filibuster, which she called a "McConnell minority veto."
"[Democrats] represent 40 million more people than the Republicans do in the Senate," said McGhee. "Their agenda is wildly popular and the Republican Party barely has an agenda, and that which they do is barely even popular with the base of their own party."
"Democrats will say: you know, what if we are in the minority again?" McGhee continued. "The best thing you can do to not be in the minority again is to kill the minority veto and get things done for the American people that are popular. And then, people will send you back to Washington."
New York magazine's Eric Levitz argued Thursday that "for the moment, Senate Republicans have some leverage to drive a hard bargain on the power-sharing agreement: Until a new resolution is worked out, the GOP will retain its existing majorities on Senate committees."
"But the GOP only has such leverage for as long as Democrats allow them to," Levitz added. "The Senate is governed by a dizzying mess of procedural precedents. But as a constitutional matter, Senate majorities are sovereign over the body's internal affairs. Chuck Schumer's caucus has the power to simply rewrite all of the Senate's rules on a party-line basis, whenever it wants. They are just reluctant to do so."