Joe Biden’s most progressive promises are about to be squeezed through a Senate panel where the new president and his Democratic allies have little room to maneuver.
The Judiciary Committee will play a pivotal role over the next two years in determining whether Democrats can make good on an agenda that helped them take full control of Washington. The panel’s to-do list is long, encompassing everything from immigration to voting rights to criminal justice reform to gun violence to expanding LGBTQ rights — and its mission is complicated by a roster of senators on both sides of the aisle with bigger national ambitions.
Senate Democrats are acutely aware that given their narrowest of majorities, they’re short on time to get things done and in need of some GOP support to steer past the still-intact filibuster. That task is especially challenging on the Judiciary panel, whose chair, Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), acknowledged in an interview that the first year of a president’s first term is “when you get the most done.”
Durbin, who is also the No. 2 Senate Democrat, named the topic he’s led years of painstaking talks on as his first priority: “I’m looking for the first opportunity I can find for a timely presentation of an issue near and dear to me — immigration.” He added a note of candor about the partisan energy working against him, saying that “the fact that we probably have the A-team for Trump Republicans sitting across from us… it’s hard.”
The Judiciary Committee has hosted some of Washington’s most bruising political battles in recent years, peaking with the confirmation fight over Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. It’s unlikely to get more harmonious this year, with at least four GOP members considered potential 2024 presidential candidates and several younger Democrats with higher aspirations. That means achieving bipartisanship on Biden’s top priorities could prove challenging at best and impossible at worst.
“The committee has changed, like the Senate has changed,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). “It’s become more partisan… and there should be no surprises that it’s followed the trend line of the Senate.”