Confusion surrounds Sen. Mitchell’s status in DFL caucus

Republicans say the DFL caucus no longer has a majority in the Minnesota Senate.

Earlier this week, the Democratic majority in the Minnesota Senate announced that Sen. Mitchell had been removed from caucus meetings and committee assignments. (Minnesota Senate Media Services)

Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, sought to clarify Wednesday that Sen. Nicole Mitchell, DFL-Woodbury, remains a member of the DFL caucus in the Minnesota Senate. This explanation came just a day after the majority leader indicated that Sen. Mitchell had been removed from the caucus.

Earlier this week, the Democratic majority in the Minnesota Senate announced that Sen. Mitchell had been removed from caucus meetings and committee assignments after the Woodbury legislator was charged with felony first-degree burglary. Allegedly, Sen. Mitchell broke into her stepmother’s home to retrieve her late father’s ashes and other belongings.

Since Mitchell’s arrest, the Senate has been thrown into uncertainty, and legislators have faced tough questions about how the chamber should proceed. Given the Senate’s makeup (34 Democrats and 33 Republicans), an official Senate DFL caucus decision to remove a lawmaker from their caucus could dramatically change how the chamber operates.

During a Tuesday floor session, Sen. Karin Housley, R-Stillwater, twice sought clarification on whether Sen. Mitchell had been removed from the DFL caucus. First, Housley asked Majority Leader Murphy if Sen. Mitchell had been removed from the DFL caucus. Answering the question, Murphy said, “I have been clear that Sen. Mitchell is not participating in our caucus.”

Seeking a specific answer on caucus removal, not caucus participation, Sen. Housley asked again, “Has Sen. Mitchell been removed from your caucus, Sen. Murphy?”

Sen. Murphy responded to the question saying, “Yes.”

When Wednesday’s Senate session began, Republican senators immediately drew attention to the majority leader’s answer.

According to GOP lawmakers, Mitchell’s removal from the DFL caucus would officially shift the balance of the Senate to 33 Democrats, 33 Republicans, and Sen. Mitchell — an evenly split Senate. Additionally, Rule 10.1 of the Minnesota Senate states that committee assignments amongst majority and minority groups must be “in proportion to their numbers in the Senate.”

As such, GOP senators argued that the makeup of the Senate Rules Committee must be adjusted to feature an equal number of Republicans and Democrats since the GOP and DFL caucuses are now equal in number. Failure to make this change, Republicans said, would result in a situation where the Senate is in violation of its own rules.

Senate Majority Leader Erin Murphy speaks to reporters after Wednesday’s floor session. (Minnesota Senate Media Services)

The Senate Rules Committee currently has a Democratic majority and possesses the power to determine how the Minnesota Senate operates. As such, a split Senate Rules Committee could allow Republicans to keep Democrats from controlling the Minnesota Senate outright. In turn, total Democrat control of state government would cease.

On Wednesday, Republican senators endeavored to make the aforementioned changes to the Senate Rules Committee. However, a GOP motion to that end was defeated. Needing support from two-thirds of the Senate, the motion was voted down along party lines, 34 Democrats opposed, 33 Republicans in favor.

During debate on that motion, Majority Leader Murphy stated that Mitchell is a member of the DFL caucus, but is not participating in caucus meetings. The majority leader reiterated this point when speaking to reporters after Wednesday’s Senate session.

When asked why she had previously indicated that Sen. Mitchell was removed from the DFL caucus, the majority leader appeared to reference the back-to-back questions from Sen. Housley.

“I was answering a question that I understood, I was answering the same question twice, so I thought I was answering the same question about what I had already said — that she was a member but not participating in our caucus,” said Majority Leader Murphy.

Two other Democratic senators previously said Mitchell was removed from the DFL caucus.

Speaking on the Senate floor on Tuesday, Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, said, “The Senate DFL caucus has already removed the senator in question from our caucus.” Additionally, Sen. Rob Kupec, DFL-Moorhead, told a news program that “we removed her from our caucus, so she does not meet with us when we are behind closed doors, talking about our agenda.”


Luke Sprinkel

Luke Sprinkel previously worked as a Legislative Assistant at the Minnesota House of Representatives. He grew up as a Missionary Kid (MK) living in England, Thailand, Tanzania, and the Middle East. Luke graduated from Regent University in 2018.