Congress

Senate Fully Transfers Power to Democrats by Passing Organizing Resolution

Al Drago | Reuters
  • The Senate has passed an organizing resolution in an evenly split chamber, fully transferring power to Democrats.
  • For two weeks since Democrats took control of a 50-50 Senate, the lack of a power sharing agreement left Republicans in control of committees.
  • Lack of full Senate control threatened to delay confirmation of some of President Joe Biden's Cabinet nominees and potentially passage of legislation.

The Senate transferred control of committees to Democrats on Wednesday, two weeks after the party took control of the chamber.

The Senate passed a so-called organizing resolution, which establishes how to share power in a Senate split 50-50. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., wrangled for weeks over how to structure Senate rules, technically leaving Republicans in control of committees that decide when to move ahead with nominations and legislation.

Schumer announced a power-sharing deal earlier Wednesday. Approval means "committees can promptly set up and get to work with Democrats holding the gavels," Schumer said.

Republicans worked with Democrats to confirm several of President Joe Biden's nominees while they still held committee power. The Senate approved Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Tuesday, giving Biden six Cabinet members confirmed by the chamber.

Even so, GOP control threatened to delay approval of at least one of Biden's nominees. The top Republican and Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Dick Durbin of Illinois, respectively, had disagreed over when to hold a confirmation hearing for Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland.

McConnell had sought assurances that Democrats would not scrap the filibuster, which would allow any legislation to pass with a majority vote. The disagreement became moot when Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona said they would not vote to get rid of the tool.

The leaders modeled the agreement after a deal reached in 2001, the last time the Senate was split 50-50. Each party held an even number of committee seats, but the majority had the ability to break ties.

The power transfer comes as Democrats attempt to approve a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package to buoy the health-care system and economy. They have started the budget reconciliation process, which will allow them to approve a bill with only Democratic votes in the Senate.

A budget resolution, which the chamber hopes to pass this week, instructs committee chairs to draft provisions in the rescue package. Schumer and the incoming committee leaders met with Biden on Wednesday about pandemic aid.

New Senate committee chairs include:

  • Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio at the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont at the Budget Committee
  • Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon at the Finance Committee
  • Sen. Patty Murray of Washington at the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee
  • Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington at the Commerce Committee
  • Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia at the Energy and Natural Resources Committee
  • Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois at the Judiciary Committee

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