“It’s a majority that comes and goes. Kind of like the tide,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (DR.I.). “I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, but I was definitely expecting a bit more clarity.”
Now nearly 16 months and running, it’s easily the longest 50-50 Senate in history. And Democrats had a big success confirming President Joe Biden’s nominations, punctuated this week by the installation of a new FTC commissioner who gave Democrats the majority and the first black woman on the Federal Reserve Board. . But the day-to-day job of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is an excruciating task based on whether one of his members has Covid, whether Republicans are feeling cooperative and where a handful of democrats.
And sometimes Schumer’s tactics expose his own party’s divisions, like when Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) rejected an effort to dump the filibuster for electoral reform or during the vote on abortion. of Wednesday. Manchin pleaded with his colleagues at a private lunch Tuesday to consider a narrower abortion rights bill than the expansive measure that failed.
But Schumer and the caucus pushed ahead, and Manchin joined 50 Senate Republicans in voting no on a bill that would have preserved and, in some cases, expanded abortion rights if the Court supreme invalidated Roe vs. Wade next month. It left Manchin isolated in his caucus again – just as he was on filibuster reform and the $1.7 trillion social spending bill known as ‘Build Back Better’. “.
In an interview, Manchin said he asked Democrats to write a bill that only codified Deer, rather than going further by prohibiting states from enacting certain new abortion restrictions and protecting the right to an abortion later in pregnancies.
“I would vote for the codification [of] Roe vs. Wadebecause we had 50 years of precedent,” Manchin said before calling the bill his party leaders had chosen “ridiculous.”
He said he said “to the 49 members of my caucus in [Tuesday’s] lunch” where he came out in favor of simple codification and essentially said his party was misleading.
“They want people to believe that it just codifies Roe vs. Wadeadded Manchin. “He does not just codify Roe vs. Wade.”
Manchin’s colleagues aren’t thrilled with either his vote or his rhetoric. In an interview, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (DN.Y.) said, “We just have a different take on what the legislation is trying to do. We try to codify not only roe deerbut also [Planned Parenthood v.] Casey and all case law.
“This is a state-of-the-art piece of legislation,” Gillibrand said. “I disagree with Senator Manchin and his team’s interpretation of what this represents. I also disagree that Sen. [Susan] Collins and [Lisa] Murkowski’s bill codifies Deer. … It’s a good effort, but they left vague definitions.
Large Senate majorities can hide differences: Manchin has always walked at his own pace, but in the past that often didn’t matter because Democrats had votes to spare. When Manchin opposed changing Senate rules in 2013 to remove the 60-vote requirement for most nominations, Democrats had 55 seats and moved forward without him.
Even when Republicans were in the majority, Manchin’s departure from party orthodoxy was rarely decisive and often viewed by his colleagues as the simple cost of having a red state Democrat in the caucus.
But with 50 seats, the defections of Manchin and Sinema, as well as the senses. Mark Kelly (D-Arizona) or Jon Tester (D-Mont.) hit very differently.
“It’s hard, we have the responsibility of being in the majority, without being able to count on all the votes in our column. And it’s tough,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). “The good news is that even a 50-50 Senate gives Democrats control over the votes that come up, that means we can move judges and other candidates around.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi also faces tight margins but can still afford to lose a handful of votes from her own party and doesn’t need to rely on Republicans given House majority rules. Along with Schumer, the two Democratic leaders passed the coronavirus bailout, a new infrastructure law, reformed the postal system and are set to agree on a competitiveness bill. Yet many in the party are more focused on the big promises Democrats have yet to deliver on climate change, tax reform and new social programs.
Senate Democrats can confirm nominees by a simple majority, which means getting all of their members and the deciding vote of Vice President Kamala Harris. It gave the caucus some of its biggest wins recently, including confirming Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court and filling the Federal Reserve and FTC.
But Democrats are more interested in legislating than Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose relentless focus on confirming justices has helped keep his majorities unified while policy debates have often caused bitter division. And Democrats’ interest in successful legislation makes a 50-50 Senate all the more difficult for them.
Most Democrats want to scrap the filibuster, but sometimes the caucus can’t even get 50 votes on major issues. The traditional legislative route and its 60-vote threshold isn’t as simple as picking a few Republicans — getting 10 GOP votes requires major concessions.
Biden’s demand for billions more dollars for Covid vaccines and treatments is a perfect example of this: Republicans bottled it up by demanding a vote on keeping former President Donald Trump’s border policies in place at the times of the pandemic. Some Democrats are now admitting they may need to allow a vote on the immigration measure in order to pass a bill Biden says is essential to combat a future coronavirus surge.
Democrats passed the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill last March, avoiding the filibuster through the party line’s budget reconciliation process. But Democrats haven’t used the tool since, partly because Manchin dropped Build Back Better and the party has yet to find a replacement.
When asked if he felt like the Democrats were still in control of the chamber, Tester replied, “Oh my God, no.” He said he can often learn more about the Senate’s cadence from Republicans, since it’s GOP demands that dictate much of the Senate’s rhythms on a weekly basis.
“I don’t feel bad about it. We chair committees…we help set the agenda. That’s how it is,” Tester said. “But no, it’s tenuous at best.”