Political News

The Democrats won the Senate. Here's why they aren't in charge yet

Posted February 2, 2021 11:15 a.m. EST

— Democrats won the Senate, but they're not yet in charge until the chamber's party leaders strike a power-sharing agreement.

The stalemate has prevented Democrats from taking control of key committees since the chamber is operating under the rules of the last Congress, when the GOP was in charge.

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden is working to push his agenda through Congress and confirm his Cabinet nominees, and the Senate impeachment trial against former President Donald Trump is set to start on February 9.

Democrats hold the majority in the chamber since Vice President Kamala Harris has the power to break tie votes, so once an agreement is reached, Democrats will hold the chairmanships of the committees, giving them power to set the agenda.

The organizing resolution was held up for more than a week over a disagreement about whether or not Democrats had to promise in writing that they wouldn't blow up the filibuster. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he was done holding up that process after moderate Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, said they had no plans to vote to eliminate the filibuster anytime soon.

While the talks have been productive and they are close to an agreement, they have dragged on among staff. The initial fight over the filibuster delayed important talks over other procedural and weedy negotiations. The hope and expectation was that the agreement would look very similar to the power sharing agreement of 2001, but that 2001 agreement only lasted a few months and there are some operational changes that had to be made. It's taking time, maybe even longer than it should, but aides say they are close. It could be finished as soon as Tuesday.

The lack of an agreement is beginning to affect the way the Senate is run.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican who is technically still the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, refused a request from incoming chair of the committee, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat, to allow a hearing to go forward on Biden's Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland on February 8. Graham said in a letter Monday night that a "one-day hearing" starting the day before Trump's impeachment trial was "insufficient," arguing that previous attorney general nominees received two-day hearings.

"When the Senate's focus is required to consider whether to bar a former president from being reelected, other business must stop," Graham wrote. "Proceeding with the confirmation of an attorney general and the impeachment of a former president at the same time would give neither the attention required."

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