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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) in the House Chamber on Tuesday, February 4, 2020.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) in the House Chamber on Tuesday, February 4, 2020. (Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images)

McConnell Caves on Filibuster After Democrats Manchin and Sinema Reiterate Opposition to Scrapping 'Jim Crow Relic'

"McConnell engaged in the most blatant, ridiculous act of obstructionism imaginable, and instead of telling him that if he kept it up, they'd take that power from him, key Dems reassured him that they'd never take that power from him."

Jake Johnson

After holding up a must-pass organizing resolution and delaying Democrats' takeover of the Senate for nearly a week, Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell late Monday dropped his demand that the majority party preemptively commit to keeping the 60-vote legislative filibuster intact following new statements from Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema reiterating their opposition to killing the archaic rule.

While McConnell did not obtain anything concrete from his standoff with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) over the organizing resolution—which establishes the rules of the new Senate and sets committee assignments—the Kentucky Republican claimed victory in a statement Monday night, pointing to Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Sinema's (D-Ariz.) comments in defense of the filibuster.

"Today two Democratic senators publicly confirmed they will not vote to end the legislative filibuster," said McConnell. "They agree with President Biden's and my view that no Senate majority should destroy the right of future minorities of both parties to help shape legislation. The legislative filibuster was a key part of the foundation beneath the Senate’s last 50-50 power-sharing agreement in 2001."

"Bringing them around to reform is and was always going to be a process that likely requires repeated GOP obstruction."
—Adam Jentleson, Democracy Forward

"With these assurances," the Kentucky Republican added, "I look forward to moving ahead with a power-sharing agreement modeled on that precedent."

Manchin and Sinema's opposition to eliminating the legislative filibuster—which progressives have taken to labeling a "Jim Crow relic"—is hardly new, but Republicans quickly seized upon the right-wing Democrats' fresh comments Monday as proof that Schumer does not have the 50 votes he needs from his caucus to eliminate the 60-vote rule, should he opt to try such a move.

"I will not vote to bust the filibuster under any condition, on anything that you can think of," Manchin told the Washington Post's Greg Sargent. "If you can't sit down and work with your colleagues on the other side and find a pathway forward, then you shouldn't be in the Senate."

Sinema's office voiced a similar position to the Post's Seung Min Kim, saying, "Kyrsten is against eliminating the filibuster, and she is not open to changing her mind about eliminating the filibuster."

Adam Jentleson, a former Senate aide and public affairs director at Democracy Forward, noted on Twitter that "Manchin and Sinema said the same thing they've said before," emphasizing that McConnell "didn't get anything" from his threat to blow up the organizing resolution.

"Bringing them around to reform is and was always going to be a process that likely requires repeated GOP obstruction," Jentleson said of Manchin and Sinema. "McConnell picked this fight, lost, and is now doing a little CYA [cover your ass]."

But New York Times columnist Ezra Klein—who argued last week that Democrats have no chance of passing the agenda they've promised if they don't kill the filibuster—wrote late Monday that he is "less certain" than others that Democrats came away victorious from the early fight over the organizing resolution.

"Sinema and Manchin simply said what they've said before on the filibuster. On that level, McConnell got nothing new," Klein noted. "But another way of looking at it is this: McConnell engaged in the most blatant, ridiculous act of obstructionism imaginable, and instead of telling him that if he kept it up, they'd take that power from him, key Dems reassured him that they'd never take that power from him."

"I'd have much preferred to see this end by Manchin, Sinema, and other Democrats saying they didn't want to get rid of the filibuster, even on organizing resolutions, but if McConnell didn't cut it out, they'd have no choice."

In a statement, Schumer spokesperson Justin Goodman said that "we're glad Senator McConnell threw in the towel and gave up on his ridiculous demand," adding, "We look forward to organizing the Senate under Democratic control and start getting big, bold things done for the American people."

But with the filibuster intact, Democrats will have a hard time passing legislation without some Republican support unless they are willing to aggressively use the budget reconciliation process, which requires just a simple majority. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the incoming chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, has repeatedly indicated in recent days that he is prepared to utilize reconciliation to pass coronavirus relief and other key priorities.

"Want to end the filibuster? Pass good bills in the House, send them to the Senate, and make Sinema/Manchin choose between the filibuster and those bills."
—Ezra Levin, Indivisible

In an interview with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow that aired late Monday, Schumer said that "we can get a lot of the Covid bill done with reconciliation," referring to the $1.9 trillion relief package President Joe Biden proposed earlier this month.

"That is something we certainly will use if they try to block this immediate Covid bill," said the majority leader.

Without using reconciliation and with the legislative filibuster intact, Democrats would need the support of at least 10 Republicans to pass coronavirus relief or any other legislation. But many Republicans—including self-styled "moderates" such as Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Susan Collins (R-Maine)—have publicly criticized Biden's relief proposal and signaled opposition to the nearly $2 trillion price tag.

Following McConnell's cave on the organizing resolution late Monday, progressives voiced hope that continued Republican obstruction in the face of a devastating pandemic and ongoing economic collapse will force Manchin, Sinema, and other skeptical Democrats to reverse their view on the filibuster.

"When conditions change, politicians' positions change," Ezra Levin, co-executive director of progressive advocacy group Indivisible, tweeted late Monday. "Want to end the filibuster? Pass good bills in the House, send them to the Senate, and make Sinema/Manchin choose between the filibuster and those bills."

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), an opponent of eliminating the filibuster, signaled Monday that he could adjust his stance if Senate Republicans use the 60-vote rule to stonewall necessary legislation.

"I feel pretty damn strongly, but I will also tell you this: I am here to get things done," Tester told the New York Times. "If all that happens is filibuster after filibuster, roadblock after roadblock, then my opinion may change."

Biden has expressed a similar view on the filibuster during the presidential campaign last year, telling Klein, "I think it's going to depend on how obstreperous [Republicans] become, and if they become that way."

"I have not supported the elimination of the filibuster because it has been used as often to protect rights I care about as the other way around," Biden added. "But you're going to have to take a look at it."


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