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The Senate is stalled as Schumer and McConnell work out power sharing


A Senate stalled.

That’s how we start the day and end the week. The talks of bipartisanship are quickly getting ensnared by must-move Senate business, not the least of which is getting an agreement on how the Senate will be run over the next two years. It seems simple, but it’s a big deal and it’s proving far harder to secure than anyone had anticipated.

Bottom line: The fight over the organizing resolution, which appeared to be a temporary disagreement on Wednesday, has reared its head as a full-out legislative crisis that could threaten to stall committee business, cast a shadow over talks about when to start the impeachment trial and constrain the first days of Chuck Schumer’s role as majority leader.

Put simply, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is making a play to exert as much power over the Senate in his new role as possible and Schumer is going to have to make some impossible choices about how to go forward.

The challenges

Democrats don’t want to put anything in writing. As we’ve underscored many times, there aren’t the votes to get rid of the filibuster right now. Democratic moderates like Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have made it clear they aren’t for axing the protection for the minority party anytime soon.

But Democratic aides point out that putting that down in writing when you are at the very beginning of your new reign in power in the Senate would be unprecedented. It threatens to weaken Schumer with an invigorated base that would see the move as a massive concession in moving ahead with anything resembling a progressive agenda. It would also take a potential and powerful tool off the table if Republicans put up obstacle after obstacle to pass Biden’s agenda over the next two years. As one Democratic Senate aide put it to me: right now Manchin doesn’t support getting rid of the filibuster, but after eight months of obstruction, would that change his mind?

The next several hours are going to be a critical milestone in learning how Schumer and McConnell operate now that their roles have been reversed. In the past, the interactions between the two leaders have been minimal, largely reserved to talks between their staff and passionate, dueling speeches on the Senate floor. As Majority Leader, McConnell operated swiftly and decisively with consultation from his conference, but rarely from the minority.

This is a unique moment where Schumer has to reach an agreement with McConnell to fully unlock the powers of his new role, and that’s testing a new dynamic we haven’t seen between them. While the negotiations over the organizing resolution remain stuck, discussions over the timing of an impeachment trial are more of an open question right now. As CNN’s Manu Raju reported Thursday night, these two items are inextricably linked, and CNN reports there is far more openness to entertaining McConnell’s plan for delaying the start of the impeachment trial than there was for McConnell’s suggestion that Democrats preserve the filibuster in the organizing resolution.

But Democrats aren’t just going to agree to delay the trial without a laundry list of agreements on how to proceed not just with President Joe Biden’s national security nominees, but his Cabinet at large. Will it work? Who knows, but aides say the hope is that the push and pull of multiple, simultaneous and high stakes negotiations between the two leaders will give the two men plenty of areas to horse trade.

What about the article of impeachment

Look, McConnell’s last-minute ask on Thursday night threw a wrench in Democratic thinking on how to run this trial. As of Thursday morning, House impeachment managers were prepared to send the articles as soon as Friday, but it’s still unclear how Democrats will proceed in the wake of McConnell’s offer. Schumer needs time to see how serious of a proposal this is and whether he can extract concessions in other areas to make agreeing to a delayed trial worth his time. If McConnell doesn’t make commitments to fast-track a series of nominees, you can expect it will be rejected and the trial could start as soon as next week. But, if Republicans make some concessions on approving Biden’s Cabinet — something that could benefit both parties — the trial could be pushed until mid-February.

Remember, this is all a negotiation.

Another reminder: McConnell’s offer to Democrats have said nothing about how a trial would be run once it started. All the offer did was suggest how the “pre-trial” process would unfold. That means McConnell’s offer didn’t suggest when the trial would actually start (although it’s customary for it to begin the day after the House managers submit their pre-trial rebuttal). In this case, that would be February 14. The offer also didn’t lay out any promises to dual-track this process and allow for other Senate business to occur in the morning. It didn’t make promises about how long each side would have to present their case or whether to have witnesses. Those are all major, outstanding questions and you can expect they are important issues that Schumer land might try to iron out as part of these talks.

Article Topic Follows: Politics

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