Sunday, September 24, 2023

Washington’s new power brokers: fickle senators pull the plug

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There is a new group of political power brokers in Washington.

They will not be found in the White House or in government departments, nor in the ranks of Congressional leaders, but rather in the US Senate, where a handful of centrist lawmakers are poised to exert inordinate influence.

Their new power comes as Democrats prepare to take control of the upper house of Congress by the smallest of margins after winning two. second round elections in Georgia earlier this month. The 100-member Senate will be split 50-50, with Kamala Harris, the new US vice president, able to vote for a tiebreaker.

Given the tight margins, a group of self-proclaimed moderates who don’t always vote along party lines will prove crucial to Joe bidenthe chances of passing a law, the most urgent its Covid-19 of $ 1.9 billion relief package.

The group includes Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Arizona. Kyrsten Cinema, as well as Republicans Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Maine Susan collins.

“They become the dealmakers, or the deal-breakers, depending on what the bill is,” Republican strategist Doug Heye said. “Obviously, they are in a much greater position of influence than they were just a week ago.”

Democrats still control the agenda, with Chuck schumer, the senator from New York, who became the Senate majority leader, and Mitch McConnell, the Republican at the head of the upper house, demoted to the post of minority leader. At a time, Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic president of the House of Representatives, will retain control of the lower house.

The Senate has been split evenly only once before, in 2001, when Dick Cheney, George W. Bush’s vice president, was able to vote for Republicans.

But that changed in June of that year when Jim Jeffords, a senator from Vermont, announced that he was leaving the Republican Party and that he would do a caucus with the Democrats, leaving House 51-49 in the hands of the Democrats. The change made Tom Daschle, the Democratic Senator from South Dakota, the Senate Majority Leader.

Mr Daschle, who left the Senate in 2005, said in an interview with the Financial Times this week that he thought it was a “good thing” that Mr Biden’s agenda would depend on the support of people such as Mr. Manchin, a self-proclaimed. West Virginia’s “Conservative Democrat”, a state Donald Trump won by a margin of nearly 40 points in November.

Mr Manchin has voted in favor of the Trump agenda more times than any other Democratic lawmaker in recent years. He took the party Republicans on abortion and voted in favor of appointing Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. But he voted alongside the Democrats to oppose Mr. Trump’s tax cuts and support Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

“They will be the ones who can ensure that there is at least an effort to reach a compromise,” Mr Daschle said of Mr Manchin and other moderate Democrats such as Ms Sinema and Mark Kelly, another senator from Arizona.

“I have always said that compromise is the oxygen of democracy, and we need a lot more oxygen in the Senate right now. I think they are the ones who can provide it, ”said Daschle.

Others are more skeptical, especially given the partisan division in Washington has become.

Mr. Biden takes office under the shadow of a impeachment trial for Mr. Trump, and it remains unclear whether more than a dozen Republican senators will break with their party and vote to condemn the outgoing president for inciting the violent Jan.6 insurgency on Capitol Hill.

“It’s a very different environment right now,” Heye said. “Given the polarization in the country, which is evident in both the House and the Senate, it’s going to be difficult to get things done.

So far, a handful of Republicans, including a former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who was the only GOP lawmaker to vote to convict Mr. Trump in his first impeachment trial, said they were open to a conviction.

While Mr. Biden can use a process called budget reconciliation to get the bulk of his economic relief plans through the Senate with a simple majority, most of his other legislative proposals will need the support of at least 60 senators under obscure “filibuster” rules.

“Nothing happens in the Senate without it. . . unless you get those 60 very rare and fleeting votes, ”said John Lawrence, a congressional veteran who served as Ms. Pelosi’s chief of staff from 2005 to 2013.“ Ultimately, the Senate is the hole of the lock that any proposal must be able to slot through. “

Progressives have called for the removal of the filibuster so that Democrats can push through everything from aggressive policies to fight climate change to statehood for the District of Columbia. But Mr Manchin has already said he is against filibuster reform, which makes it extremely unlikely.

This means that Mr Schumer will not only have to retain the votes of Mr Manchin and other moderate Democrats, but also convince up to 10 Republicans to pass major legislation – which is no small feat in the current political climate.

Some Democrats are hoping they can count on the backing of certain laws from Ms Murkowski, who said last week that the House acted “appropriately” in impeaching Mr Trump. In a recent interview with the Anchorage Daily News, she said, “If the Republican Party is just Trump’s party, I sincerely wonder if this party is for me.”

But Washington worshipers warn Mr. Biden will need the support of more than one or two Republicans to make his plans “filibuster-proof.”

“Get three or four [Republicans] is reasonably likely, ”said Matt Bennett, co-founder of the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way. “Getting 10 of them is very, very difficult.”

Marsh Notes

Following a historic 2020 election, stay on top of the biggest themes driving U.S. politics, business, and markets from Washington, New York and beyond with Rana Foroohar and Edward Luce. register here


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