The last time Senate Democrats and Republicans were split 50-50 was two decades ago. As the chamber’s party leaders, it was our responsibility to accommodate this unusual situation. Coming to an agreement was a thorny process then, and it will be even harder now, with nerves made raw by the fatal Jan. 6 Capitol riot and President Trump’s second impeachment.
From the outside, many of the procedural challenges can seem trivial, but as in any organization, providing a clear road map for conducting business is the only way for the Senate to function effectively; any ambiguity about process can derail legislation. Back in 2001, it took us several weeks to negotiate rules for committee structure and resources in a 50-50 chamber. It was one of the most difficult undertakings either of us faced in all the years we served in leadership.
The circumstances are more complicated today: The country is more polarized. Social media and ideologically inclined 24/7 cable news channels, not nightly network news broadcasts, dominate the conversation. As senators, we had already built not only a solid working relationship but a friendship based on communication and trust. That chemistry between the Senate’s leaders — or many of the members of their respective party caucuses — is not as evident now.
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