The Senate on Wednesday approved a power-sharing agreement that will allow Democrats to take control of committees after winning a narrow majority in the chamber and flipping it from GOP control.
Democrats won control of the Senate in January after winning a pair of US Senate seats in Georgia and the White House. However, without a power-sharing agreement, a stalemate has prevented the party from taking control of key committees since the chamber was operating under the rules of the last Congress, when the GOP was in charge.
A power-sharing agreement between Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was needed to determine how power would be divided since the Senate has an even partisan split of 50-50 with Vice President Kamala Harris able to break ties. The lack of an agreement had created complications for Democrats and delayed consideration of President Joe Biden’s Cabinet nominees, including attorney general nominee Merrick Garland, who is expected to receive bipartisan support.
“This power-sharing agreement is almost identical to the 2001 agreement and will allow the Senate to be fairly run as an evenly-split body,” McConnell said in a statement after the agreement was approved.
McConnell later announced committee assignments for the 117th Congress, with Senate Republicans who objected to the Electoral College results on January 6 still holding key committee seats, which will give them a powerful and influential platform in the new Congress.
Schumer announced Wednesday morning that a power-sharing deal had been reached in principle on an agreement, and that it would be passed by the Senate later in the day.
“I am happy to report this morning that the leadership of both parties have finalized the organizing resolution for the Senate,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. “We will pass the resolution through the Senate today, which means that committees can promptly set up and get to work with Democrats holding the gavels.”
On Wednesday, Schumer said that with a power sharing agreement in place that will give Democrats committee gavels, they “are ready to hit the ground running on the most important issues that face our country” and “are not going to waste any time.”
It was unclear as of Wednesday morning what had been holding up the deal. Party leaders had been haggling over a final few points, including how to structure committee budgets, before finalizing the power-sharing agreement that will officially allow Democrats to take their chairmanships, Senate officials familiar with the talks told CNN earlier this week.
The delay was already having an impact on Biden’s Cabinet nominees going through the Senate confirmation process. Sen. Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, rejected a Democratic request on Monday to schedule Garland’s confirmation hearing on February 8, arguing that the Senate needs to focus on the impeachment trial of former president Donald Trump, which is set to start the following day.
At one point, the negotiations were held up for more than a week over a disagreement about whether Democrats had to promise in writing that they wouldn’t blow up the filibuster. McConnell ended his request 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.
This headline and story has been updated with additional developments Wednesday.