Talk about your longest day. Under Democrats’ controversial plan to change Senate rules, the first day of the 112th Congress will last about two and a half weeks.
With Democrats in disarray but determined to change the chamber’s filibuster rules, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) plans to use a procedural trick that will allow him to hold open the first legislative day of the session until the Senate returns from a two-week recess on Jan. 24.
The two-and-a-half-week “day” is intended to buy the party some time to come up with a rules change proposal they can actually get behind while simultaneously trying to avert a major partisan showdown. Republicans agree that Reid has the power to hold the legislative day open, noting their quarrel is really with what he will want to do when that day comes to an end.
“If they want to get this Congress off on the wrong footing from the get-go, the exact wrong thing to do is to try to do some kind of significant rules change,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told Roll Call on Tuesday. “We are having some conversations [with Democrats]. But I can tell you that main problem is we need to quit acting the way we acted the last two years. I hope they will do that on their own, because, as I said, any advantage they might achieve by ... changing the rules ... leads to nothing.”
Senate Democratic aides said Reid’s preferred resolution would be to reach an agreement with McConnell that would avert the use of a rarely used precedent in which Senate rules are altered by a simple majority, rather than the 67 votes traditionally required. That precedent must be invoked during the first legislative day, according to rules experts. Members in both parties have cautioned that using the option could open a Pandora’s box in which new majorities change Senate rules every few years, rather than adhering to time-honored traditions that have made the Senate a “cooling saucer” for the country’s political debates.
While Democrats have squabbled among themselves, secretive talks have been ongoing between Reid and McConnell for weeks, and Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) has met at least four times with GOP Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) to talk about a potential bipartisan resolution to the standoff.
Following a speech Tuesday at the Heritage Foundation in which he criticized Democrats for entertaining the rules changes, Alexander said Republicans are “listening carefully to the suggestions” from Members, but that no agreement had been reached.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.