An impasse ends in the Senate as Democrats win a filibuster battle.

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An impasse ends in the Senate as Democrats win a filibuster battle.


Senator Mitch McConnell on Monday dropped his demand that the new Democratic Senate majority promise to preserve the filibuster — which Republicans could use to obstruct President Biden’s agenda — ending an impasse that had prevented Democrats from assuming full power even after their election wins.

But as in past fights over the filibuster, the outcome is likely to be only a temporary solution. As they press forward on Mr. Biden’s agenda, Democrats will come under mounting pressure from activists to jettison the rule, which effectively requires 60 votes to advance any measure, should Republicans use it regularly to stall or stop the administration’s priorities.

In his negotiations with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the new majority leader, Mr. McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, had refused to agree to a plan for organizing the chamber without a pledge from Democrats to protect the filibuster, a condition that Mr. Schumer had rejected.

But late Monday, as the stalemate persisted, Mr. McConnell found a way out by pointing to statements by two centrist Democrats, Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, that said they opposed getting rid of the procedural tool — a position they had held for months — as enough of a guarantee to move forward without a formal promise from Mr. Schumer.

“With these assurances, I look forward to moving ahead with a power-sharing agreement modeled on that precedent,” Mr. McConnell said in a statement.

Democrats had been anticipating a capitulation by Mr. McConnell and said they believed he had overreached in the negotiation.

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

Even some lawmakers who have backed the filibuster strongly said they could change their minds if Republicans engaged in constant obstruction.

“I feel pretty damn strongly, but I will also tell you this: I am here to get things done,” said Jon Tester, Democrat of Montana. “If all that happens is filibuster after filibuster, roadblock after roadblock, then my opinion may change.”

Mr. McConnell’s demand for a pre-emptive surrender on the filibuster had infuriated Democrats who regarded it as evidence that the Republican leader intends to obstruct Mr. Biden’s proposals on pandemic relief, immigration, climate change, health care and more.

The stalemate created a bizarre situation in which most Senate committees were frozen under Republican control and new senators could not be seated on the panels even though Democrats now command the Senate majority.

Beyond the immediate logistical effects, the feud reflected a challenging dynamic in the 50-50 Senate for Mr. Biden. By holding out against Democrats eager to take charge, Mr. McConnell was exercising what leverage he had. But he also foreshadowed an eventual clash in the chamber that might otherwise have taken months to unfold over how aggressive Democrats should be in seeking to accomplish Mr. Biden’s top priorities.

Democrats say they must retain at least the threat that they could one day end the filibuster, arguing that bowing to Mr. McConnell’s demand now would only have emboldened Republicans to deploy it constantly, without fear of retaliation.

At issue is a rule that is at the heart of the consensus-driven Senate, which effectively mandates that any legislation draw 60 votes to advance. But like everything else in the chamber, the rule itself is subject to change if senators agree. As the majority party, Democrats could move to eliminate the filibuster and force through a change to the rules on a simple majority vote — a move known as detonating the “nuclear option” — if all 50 of their members held together and Vice President Kamala Harris cast the tiebreaking vote.



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