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.
Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer announced the deal, which he said will be approved by the full chamber later Wednesday, and he said he’s already ordered the new committee chairs 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,” he said.
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 now 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 nominees, and 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’s 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.
It had been held up over negotiations over the filibuster, with top Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell trying to get an assurance in the deal that Democrats wouldn’t use the so-called “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 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 chance in the filibuster made him comfortable moving forward without a written guarantee.
The new power-sharing deal is said to be 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 floor even if the committee deadlocked.
Committee staff and budgets were also split fairly evenly in the 2001 deal.
That deal lasted about five months, until a senator switched party allegiance from the GOP to Democrats, delivering firmer control of the chamber to the Democrats.
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