David O’Brien, Editor
The seemingly unending election season of 2020 has not only resulted in Joe Biden assuming the presidency, but also in a unique situation not seen in the Senate since 2001. With Kamala Harris’ tie breaking vote, the Democrats have achieved a narrow majority in the Senate, split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans. Despite President Biden’s calls for unity and bipartisanship in the country’s time of crisis, things have begun with a rocky start. Between the Capitol insurrection, claims of election fraud, social media censorship, the pandemic and the partisan divide on major issues, the Senate is already facing major problems. Despite this massive divide, the Senate is currently debating some major issues that will affect the political landscape of America forever.
The new majority leader, moderate democrat Chuck Schumer, is dealing with a logistical nightmare with the progressive wing’s desire to abolish filibuster. Former President Barack Obama and Representative Cortez have called on majority leader Schumer and President Biden to abolish the filibuster. Over forty progressive groups have already begun running ads throughout the state of New York and national media outlets to push this unprecedented legislation, claiming that the filibuster is the largest detriment to passing landmark bills such as: Medicare for all, reform for ex-convicts’ voting rights, COVID relief bills and more. Schumer is also aware of the fact that, if he does not placate the desire of progressives, he is at risk of becoming primaried in his upcoming 2022 re-election. Representative Cortez has refused to make a statement on whether or not she plans to run for his seat, which she would be significantly more likely to attain if Schumer does not answer to progressives within the next two years. As progressives pressure Schumer to abolish the filibuster, minority leader McConnell pressures democrats to stop in the name of bipartisanship. McConnell is currently demanding Schumer to shut down the filibuster issue if he wants a peaceful transition of power within the Senate. The divide between the two parties in the Senate has already resulted in gridlock despite the fact the issue is not even on the floor, since McConnell is refusing to accept the transition until the issue is resolved. This situation has resulted in a very bizarre turn of events where all committees in the senate are currently being led by Republicans, despite the Democratic majority. Of course, it is unlikely for the filibuster to even be abolished since president Biden has actively stated it must remain in place for the sake of bipartisanship, which likely means Vice President Harris will vote against abolishing it, and Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) has stated he will not abolish it unless it is absolutely necessary.
As the transition is halted by filibuster talks, former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial is resulting in even more chaos within the Senate. According to the Constitution, the Chief Justice only presides over current president’s impeachment trials and senators preside over all other impeachment trials; thus, since Trump is no longer president, President Pro Tempore Patrick Leahy will preside over the trial, not Chief Justice John Roberts. The time frame for the trial is currently unknown, but many believe it will not take as long as the previous trial, twenty-one days, to reach a verdict. The trial officially begins Monday, Feb. 8. Ten house republicans voted for impeachment; it is likely Republicans in the Senate will as well. Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) is currently filing seven counter-complaints to the ethics committee against Democratic Senators who requested investigations into Hawley and Cruz’s conduct surrounding the capitol insurrection. Senators Portman (R-OH) and Toomey (R-PA) have also both stated they would not run again in 2022, adding even more discord and discontent among Senate Republicans during this time of struggle for their party. The impeachment trial is just one of the many current issues that demonstrate the collapse of cooperation within the Senate.
Despite the various issues within the senate surrounding procedure, impeachment, ethics and resignation, Majority Leader Schumer and President Biden want a new COVID-19 relief bill by March. With McConnell and other Republicans against the $1.9 trillion bill, it is unlikely it will get the 60-person support necessary for it to pass. If this occurs, Senator Sanders may invoke a rule allowed by the chair of the budget committee to pass fiscal bills with only a 51 person majority. However, he will still need support from across the aisle if he invokes the rule because Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Angus King (I-ME) have already pledged to vote against the $1.9 trillion bill because of the cost and certain statutes within it.
Despite Biden’s inaugural address’ focus on unity among the nation and its two parties, it looks as though the United States will continue to grapple with its polarization and partisanship within the Senate.