- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Senators reached a deal Wednesday morning to share power in the evenly divided chamber, clearing the way for Democrats to take over control of the committees and begin to make progress on their agenda.

The agreement was approved by unanimous consent, and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer said he has already ordered the new committee chairmen to start working on climate change as a top priority.

“It is long past time for the Senate to take a leading role in combating the existential threat of our time: climate. As we all know, climate change touches every aspect of our economy,” the New York Democrat said.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said the deal “will allow the Senate to be run fairly” given the even party split.

Democrats had held control of the chamber since Inauguration Day, thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote, but without a new organizing deal Republicans still held the committee chairs as a carryover from the last Congress.

The power deal gives Democrats the reins and sets the size of the panels for the next two years.

Having control of the committees should speed the path of some of President Biden’s Cabinet nominees, particularly Attorney General pick Merrick Garland, currently a federal appeals court judge.

Sen Richard Durbin, the Illinois Democrat who will take control of the Judiciary Committee, said he is searching for the earliest possible date for a hearing in line with the committee’s rules.

The new deal comes two weeks after Democrats officially gained a majority.

The agreement had been held up over negotiations on the filibuster, with Mr. McConnell trying to get an assurance in the deal that Democrats wouldn’t use the “nuclear option” to change the rules and defang the filibuster as a tool to delay or block legislation.
Democrats already triggered that change in 2013 for presidential nominees.

Mr. McConnell relented on that issue last week, and there is no non-nuclear assurance in the power-sharing deal, but the Kentucky Republican said the firm statements of two Democrats, Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, ruling out a change in the filibuster made him comfortable moving forward without a written guarantee.
Senators said the final sticking points revolved around Mr. Schumer’s power to block amendments during floor debates on bills.

In a colloquy entered into the Congressional Record, Mr. Schumer pledged to avoid using tactics to block amendments and stifle debate, except when he sees “no alternative.”

Mr. McConnell then pledged to tamp down the use of filibusters and delays when taking up bills.

The new power-sharing deal is based on one the last time the Senate was divided 50-50, in the early months of President George W. Bush’s tenure.

In that arrangement, committees were evenly divided in membership, but the majority leader could attempt to spring nominees out of the panel and to the Senate floor even if the committee deadlocked.

Committee staff and budgets were also split fairly evenly in the 2001 deal, and leaders said that’s the case in this year’s agrement.

The 2001 arrangement lasted about five months, until a senator switched party allegiance from Republican to Democrat, delivering firmer control of the chamber to the Democrats.

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