6 min read

Wake Up To Politics - January 26, 2021

Wake Up To Politics: McConnell relents in filibuster standoff
Wake Up To Politics - January 26, 2021

Good morning! It’s Tuesday, January 26, 2021. Election Day 2022 is 651 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,379 days away. Have questions or comments? Email me.

McConnell relents in standoff over Senate rules

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Monday that he would allow a resolution organizing the divided Senate to move forward, ending a brief skirmish with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

McConnell had demanded that the resolution include a pledge from Schumer that he would not tamper with the legislative filibuster, a Senate rule that requires 60-vote supermajorities for most bills, while Democrats control the Senate majority. (The Senate is tied 50-50, but Democrats control the chamber because Vice President Kamala Harris can break ties).

Schumer refused to make such a commitment — and eventually, McConnell found an escape route, citing statements from Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) that they would not support efforts to end the filibuster as proof that the procedural tool would remain alive. “With these assurances, I look forward to moving ahead with a power-sharing agreement,” McConnell said in a statement.

The final resolution is expected to be modeled off of the power-sharing agreement inked in 2001, the last time that the Senate was evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. During that session, each committee was equally split between the two parties, but the party in the White House (then Republicans) was considered the majority. Bills and nominations were also allowed to advance to the floor even if committee votes on them were tied.

“We’re glad Senator McConnell threw in the towel and gave up on his ridiculous demand,” Schumer spokesperson Justin Goodman responded. “We look forward to organizing the Senate under Democratic control and start getting big, bold things done for the American people.”

Manchin and Sinema, along with other centrists such as Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), had long made their support for the filibuster clear, meaning McConnell extracted nothing new from the episode. He did not receive a similar commitment from Schumer, as he had hoped, and he received nothing permanent. As before, the fate of the filibuster is left to the whims of Manchin, Sinema, and their moderate colleagues — which could always change as the winds in Washington shift.

However, the standoff was instructive as a sign of whether President Joe Biden was correct in his prediction that bipartisanship would quickly return to D.C. under his leadership. Instead of fostering “unity,” the Senate took almost a week to hash out one of its most basic functions: organizing its own committees. Without the power-sharing accord in place, Democrats were unable to formally claim the committee gavels they had received when Harris became vice president and the majority became theirs.

McConnell’s eventual capitulation also offered an indication of his diminished power in Congress, after ceding the Senate majority for the first time in six years. “He is not majority leader,” Schumer said in an MSNBC interview on Monday. “He is the minority leader, and he is not going to get his way.”

However, McConnell remains hugely influential in Biden’s Washington. An acknowledged master of Senate rules and procedures, he has the ability to slow-walk the new president’s nominees and agenda, and has already poured cold water on Biden’s proposed coronavirus relief package. McConnell’s vote will also be crucial in deciding former President Donald Trump’s fate during the upcoming impeachment trial.

And at the end of the day, the filibuster remains intact — just as McConnell wanted — likely placing vast parts of the Democratic agenda out of reach even as the levers of power come under their control.

The Rundown

ELECTION 2022: Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) announced Monday that he would not seek re-election to a third term in 2022. “It has gotten harder and harder to break through the partisan gridlock and make progress on substantive policy, and that has contributed to my decision,” he said in a statement.

  • A former congressman and White House budget director, Portman has long been seen as one of the most effective legislators in the Senate. His exit also could have huge implications for the Senate map in 2022, as he joins two other Republicans retiring in battleground states: Sens. Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Richard Burr (R-NC).

CORONAVIRUS: As the number of coronavirus cases in the United States hurtles past 25 million, a variety of new and dangerous strains are appearing across the country. The first report in the U.S. of a highly transmissible Brazillian strain surfaced in Minnesota on Monday; a pernicious variant from the United Kingdom is already spreading throughout the 50 states.

  • President Joe Biden signed restrictions on Monday prohibiting most non-U.S. citizens from traveling into the country from Brazil and much of Europe. He also banned travel into the U.S. for non-citizens who have recently been in South Africa, home to another quickly-spreading strain of COVID-19.

BIDEN ADMINISTRATION: The Senate voted 84-15 on Monday to confirm Janet Yellen as Secretary of the Treasury. Yellen, who served as chairwoman of the Federal Reserve from 2014 to 2018, is the first woman to lead the Treasury Department in its 232-year history.

  • Biden overturned another Trump administration action on Monday, repealing his predecessor’s ban on transgender Americans serving in the military.

Photo of the Day

In a formal procession, the House impeachment managers march to the Senate on Monday to transmit the article of impeachment against former President Donald Trump. Senators will be sworn in today as jurors in the upcoming trial. (Photo by Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images)


All times Eastern.

President Joe Biden will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9:45 a.m. in the Oval Office. At 2 p.m., he will deliver remarks in the State Dining Room outlining his racial equity agenda and sign related executive actions. Here is a summary of those actions, via The Hill:

  • “The president is likely to establish a policing commission and reinstate Obama-era rules on the transfer of military-style equipment to local law enforcement. He is also expected to sign an executive order directing the Department of Justice to improve prison conditions and begin to eliminate the use of private prisons.”
  • “Other executive actions lined up for Tuesday include a memorandum directing agencies to strengthen engagement with Native American tribes, a memo ordering the Department of Housing and Urban Development to promote equality in housing, and an order disavowing discrimination against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.”

Vice President Kamala Harris will join Biden for the President’s Daily Brief and his racial equity remarks. She will also swear in former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen as Secretary of the Treasury at 12 p.m. at the White House.

  • At 4 p.m., Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff will receive the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will hold a press briefing with Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice at 12:30 p.m.

White House senior staff members will receive the COVID-19 vaccine in a vaccination clinic at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building today, according to CNN.

The Senate will convene at 10 a.m. Following Leader remarks, the chamber will begin consideration of the nomination of former Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken to be Secretary of State. After debate on the nomination (with time equally divided between the two parties), the Senate will vote at 12 p.m. on Blinken’s confirmation.

  • Following the confirmation vote, the Senate will be in a period of morning business with senators permitted to speak for up to 10 minutes each. The chamber will then recess until 2:15 p.m. to allow for weekly party conference meetings. The chamber will return at 2:15 p.m. for a live quorum.
  • At 2:30 p.m., the Senate will proceed to consideration to the Article of Impeachment for former President Donald Trump. All 100 senators will be sworn in as jurors and Senate president pro tempore Pat Leahy (D-VT) will be sworn in as the trial’s presiding officer. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) may also make a point of order on the constitutionality of the trial, which will be voted on.

The Senate Commerce Committee will hold a confirmation hearing at 10 a.m. on the nomination of Gov. Gina Raimondo (D-RI) to be Secretary of Commerce.

The Senate Homeland Security Committee will meet at 11 a.m. to vote on the nomination of former Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to be Secretary of Homeland Security.

The House is not in session.

The Supreme Court is not in session.

Thanks for reading! If you aren’t already subscribed to Wake Up To Politics, you can sign up and learn more here.

You can also support my work by sending a donation, buying WUTP merchandise, or listening to my podcast.