Without question, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer needs to get tougher on McConnell if he wants this time in control to be as productive as possible.
The word on the street is that Senate Democrats are losing their patience with Republicans. They’ve spent months trying to work out bipartisan deals, but leadership realizes the party might be on their own when it comes to passing touchier legislation.
Earlier this week, Senate Majority Chuck Schumer, who keeps promising to introduce a comprehensive marijuana bill, told the press that he wants the parties to work together, but isn’t at all afraid to proceed without them. “We always hope that our Republican friends will work with us on things. We hope to move forward with Republicans, but we’re not going to let them saying ‘no’ stand in our way,” said Schumer.
Right now, there is no public fight between the two parties over whether marijuana should be legalized nationwide. But things are heating up in Congress with respect to the Democratic agenda that may show us more about how Senate Republicans will react once pot legislation is made official. Democrats, who have majority rule in Congress this session, are first trying to hash out President Biden’s infrastructure deal and establish a commission on the January 6 attacks on the Capitol. Then they’ll presumably toss in pot reform at some point. But make no mistake, they desperately need some Republican support to be successful in their pursuits.
Marijuana is a bipartisan issue, but just barely. All the Republican support is from the same old pro-pot crew as years back. Still, Schumer seems to think there is enough support from across the aisle to get a pot-related bill pushed through. Last year, Schumer was already confident in his ability to get Republicans on his side. “If I become majority leader, I put this [marijuana bill] on the floor, and it’s likely to pass,” he told Green Enterprise. However, Schumer failed to mention the filibuster and how it was the scythe held by the self-proclaimed grim reaper of Capitol Hill. Enter Mitch McConnell.
The nation rejoiced earlier this year when the Georgia runoff election established that longtime Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was getting a demotion. Since the Democrats won the two seats sealing the majority, Schumer was to step in as Majority Leader while McConnell would be knocked down to the minority level.
Cannabis advocates were jazzed about this development since it meant that McConnell could no longer stand in the way of federal marijuana legalization. But the celebration was premature. Advocates failed to see that McConnell was only getting a demotion in title and that he was (and still is) the most powerful politician on the Hill. The bulk of his power is fueled by the filibuster rule, which demands a 60-vote supermajority.
Americans haven’t heard much about the filibuster being a problem for Democrats this session, mainly because it hasn’t. Not yet. Republicans haven’t needed it. All the deals the Democrats have passed over the past few months have been through budget reconciliation, entirely bypassing Republican input.
But concepts like the capitol riot commission, which also has bipartisan support, is when the filibuster is expected to come out with a vengeance to snuff out all the Democrats’ hopes and dreams. To make matters worse, McConnell has complete control over his colleagues. Last month, McConnell said during a press conference that “one hundred percent of our focus is on stopping this new administration.”
Translation: We’re not working with Democrats. Not on infrastructure. Not on immigration. Not on police reform. And not on marijuana.
It’s the reason that Democrats must destroy McConnell – the political figure who has prevented marijuana legalization from being heard in the Senate for years — if they want an honest chance at pot reform. And the only way they can cripple the grim reaper is to eliminate the filibuster once and for all.
So far, Democrats haven’t gotten too serious about rallying the support needed to end the filibuster and, with it, McConnell. But many members understand that it’s necessary. “He believes that he should have a veto over anything that the president of the United States and the majority elected to Congress want to do. It’s wrong,” Senator Elizabeth Warren said, according to Politico.
Still, some Senate Democrats argue that now is not the time to press the issue. Flexing too hard could ruin the party’s chances of achieving even a sliver of its mission. “They have been careful to not have any major confrontation on the filibuster yet in this session of the Senate, but inevitably as we get into more difficult issues, we may have to face it,” Senator Dick Durbin told The Hill.
Schumer said months ago that a comprehensive marijuana reform bill was a priority in the Senate. It’s conceivable that it’s being kept at bay a while longer as Democrats try to feel out which Republicans are willing to abandon McConnell on the pot issue. Schumer understands that for him to get a marijuana bill to go the Congressional distance, he will need a solid 60 votes. Yet, he can’t even be sure that it’ll attract full support from his own party.
Without question, Schumer needs to get tougher on McConnell if he wants this time in control to be as productive as possible. McConnell’s camp hasn’t indicated any plans for retirement until somewhere around 2023.