Why the GOP still controls the Senate

Friday - 22/01/2021 13:29
Election results give Democrats the tie-breaking vote, but McConnell is holding out for as much power as possible

Washington (CNN) - 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.
The Senate is operating on the organizing resolution from the last Congress, when the GOP was in the majority. Because of that, for instance, confirmation hearings for President Joe Biden's Cabinet picks this week are being chaired by Republicans.

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.
Schumer's announcement Friday that the impeachment article will be delivered to the Senate on Monday puts a new deadline for the Senate leaders to reach an agreement -- the impeachment logistics are part of a broader negotiation over the Senate's power-sharing agreement that remains stalled over a fight about the filibuster.


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 was 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.


What about the article of impeachment

Schumer said that the House's article of impeachment will be delivered to the Senate on Monday, triggering the start of the Senate's impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump and rejecting McConnell's proposal to start in mid-February.

"I have spoken to Speaker Pelosi who informed me that the articles will be delivered to the Senate on Monday," Schumer said on the Senate floor.
McConnell's last-minute ask on Thursday night had thrown a wrench in Democratic thinking on how to run this trial, because even as of Thursday morning, House impeachment managers were prepared to send the articles as soon as Friday. And by pushing forward with the trial against GOP wishes also threatens to stall the confirmation of Biden's Cabinet nominees.

"We won't be doing any confirmations, we won't be doing any Covid-19 relief, we won't be doing anything else other than impeaching a person who's not even president," said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, a member of Senate GOP leadership.
Short of an agreement to push the trial back, Democratic sources say that the articles would be read and senators and the presiding officer -- it's still unclear whether Chief Justice John Roberts will preside -- would be sworn in on Tuesday afternoon. Then arguments would start on Wednesday. The length of the trial is still an open question, which will depend both on whether the House impeachment managers seek to call witness and the length of senators' questions for the legal teams. But sources say most believe the trial will be shorter than the three-week 2020 impeachment trial for Trump.

This story and headline have been updated with additional developments Friday.

CNN's Jeremy Herb contributed to this report.

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 Keywords: Donald Trump, Covid-19

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