GOP senators wary of nuking filibuster
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Senate Republicans are wary of making a historic move to nix the filibuster despite growing pressure from conservatives.

Roughly two weeks after Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpAccuser says Trump should be afraid of the truth Woman behind pro-Trump Facebook page denies being influenced by Russians Shulkin says he has White House approval to root out 'subversion' at VA MORE's White House win, GOP lawmakers are already facing calls to overhaul Senate rules and help push through the real estate mogul's agenda.

The calls to go "nuclear" are only likely to intensify next year when Democrats begin to carry out their pledge to fight Trump's agenda on areas where they disagree.

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But Senate Republicans are openly skeptical about making a rules change they believe could come back to bite them, when they are inevitably back in the minority.

Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderOvernight Health Care: Trump health chief backs CDC research on gun violence | GOP negotiators meet on ObamaCare market fix | Groups sue over cuts to teen pregnancy program GOP negotiators meet on ObamaCare market fix 30 million people will experience eating disorders — the CDC needs to help MORE (R-Tenn.), who led a task force to review potential rule changes, said there isn’t “very much” of an appetite to overhaul the filibuster.

“I think most Republicans understand that the Senate is not an institution to impose the majority's will on the country. It’s the one institution in the country that’s capable of developing consensus,” he said. “The Obama administration found that when you try to cram things down people's throats in a partisan way they don’t last.”

Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchOvernight Finance: NAFTA defenders dig in | Tech pushes Treasury to fight EU on taxes | AT&T faces setback in merger trial | Dems make new case against Trump tax law | Trump fuels fight over gas tax What sort of senator will Mitt Romney be? Not a backbencher, even day one Lawmaker interest in NAFTA intensifies amid Trump moves MORE (R-Utah), the chairman of the Finance Committee, argued the filibuster was one of the few tools within the government to protect the rights of the minority.

"If we didn't have the filibuster the minority would be nothing in this country. It would be just like the House where 51 percent vote does everything,” Hatch told a local TV station.

But House conservatives and outside groups are already clamoring for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLawmakers feel pressure on guns Bipartisan group of House lawmakers urge action on Export-Import Bank nominees Curbelo Dem rival lashes out over immigration failure MORE (R-Ky.) to use the “nuclear option" and get rid of the 60-vote threshold.

They argue keeping it will allow Democrats to stymie Trump’s agenda after voters gave Republicans control of both the White House and Congress for the first time in roughly a decade.

McConnell is so far staying mum, while playing up the need for bipartisan cooperation in the Senate.

“That’s the way the Senate operates. It’s the only legislative body in the world where the majority is not enough. So we don’t have a hammer lock,” he told local reporters. “You need Democratic cooperation to do most things in the Senate ... and I anticipate it.”

McConnell is widely considered an institutionalist loath to change Senate rules. But even if leadership did support going nuclear, it’s unclear if there’s enough support among GOP senators to carry it out.

In addition to Hatch and Alexander, GOP Sens. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCongress punts fight over Dreamers to March Drama surrounding Shulkin — what is the future of VA health care? Blackburn pushes back on potential Corker bid: 'I'm going to win' MORE (Tenn.), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFlake to try to force vote on DACA stopgap plan Congress punts fight over Dreamers to March Outgoing GOP rep: Republican Party 'heading into trouble' in election MORE (Ariz.), Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisPrison sentencing bill advances over Sessions objections Kimmel writer tweets amount NRA has given lawmakers in response to shooting prayers Both sides of immigration fight unhappy with Senate debate MORE (N.C.), Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonTrump spars with GOP lawmakers on steel tariffs Overnight Regulation: Trump unveils budget | Sharp cuts proposed for EPA, HHS | Trump aims to speed environmental reviews | Officials propose repealing most of methane leak rule Trump budget seeks savings through ObamaCare repeal MORE (Wis.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamCongress punts fight over Dreamers to March Pence tours Rio Grande between US and Mexico GOP looks for Plan B after failure of immigration measures MORE (S.C.) are signaling they aren’t inclined to overhaul Senate rules, though they'll likely face a mountain of pressure to change their minds.

Republicans are expected to have 52 seats next year and would need a simple majority to overhaul Senate rules. They could lose only two senators if they wanted to gut the filibuster.

Conservative senators, who frequently clash with leadership, could also oppose giving up one of their top tools for slowing down legislation they oppose.

Erick Erickson, a conservative radio host, echoed that argument, calling the filibuster “often the last tool available for conservatives to stop the worst excesses of their own party.”

“If you gut the legislative filibuster, you are stopping conservatives from being able to fight for limited government,” he added in a recent op-ed.

Conn Carroll, a spokesman for Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeThe 14 GOP senators who voted against Trump’s immigration framework Prison sentencing bill advances over Sessions objections Grassley ‘incensed’ by Sessions criticism of proposed sentencing reform legislation MORE (R-Utah) said he supports keeping the filibuster for the Supreme Court and legislation.

Keeping the filibuster would similarly give Senate GOP leadership — who kept Trump at arm's length for most of the campaign — a failsafe to kill or water down White House-backed proposals they don’t support.

But they’ll likely face immediate pressure to nix the filibuster if there's a fight over Trump’s Supreme Court pick.

Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDemocrats now attack internet rules they once embraced Schumer: Trump budget would ‘cripple’ gun background checks Schumer: Senate Republicans' silence 'deafening' on guns, Russia MORE (D-N.Y.), the incoming Senate Minority Leader, is warning that his caucus will block any pick they don’t agree with, urging Trump to tap a “mainstream” nominee.

“If it's out of the mainstream, yes, we're going to fight that nominee tooth and nail,” he told Fox News Sunday.

Trump is expected to move quickly to fill the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat, and Trump's list of roughly two dozen potential picks, including Lee, has earned praise from Republicans.

Under current Senate rules they’ll need support from at least eight Democrats to overcome the 60-vote threshold. Democrats went "nuclear" on most administration and judicial nominations in 2013, but maintained that threshold for Supreme Court picks.

Pressed if they would back lowering the threshold for high court nominees, GOP senators said only that they expect Trump's judges to get confirmed.

“I would like to see us honor the agreed upon rules, so we’ll see what Democrats choose to do,” Sen. John CornynJohn CornynLawmakers feel pressure on guns Kasich’s campaign website tones down gun language after Florida shooting Murphy: Trump’s support for background check bill shows gun politics ‘shifting rapidly’ MORE (R-Texas) told reporters.

Though top lawmakers — including Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidWATCH: There is no Trump-Russia collusion and the media should stop pushing this The demise of debate in Congress ‘North by Northwest,’ the Carter Page remake MORE (D-Nev.) — openly floated getting rid of the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations, even Democrats who backed easing the Senate rules signaled they don't support going that far.

“We recognize that the Supreme Court is of profound importance. Its integrity is of profound importance to our nation,” said Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyGrassley, Dems step up battle over judicial nominees 2020 Dem contenders travel to key primary states Mulvaney remarks on Trump budget plan spark confusion MORE (D-Ore.). “We did not want to encourage a president and a majority in the Senate of the same party to reach to extremes that would further damage the integrity of the Supreme Court.”

Ten Democratic senators are also up for reelection in 2018 from states carried by Trump. They will likely face political pressure to buck their party and support his nominees and proposals, which could help Republicans get 60 votes.

Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinPavlich: The claim Trump let the mentally ill get guns is a lie Toomey to introduce bill broadening background checks for firearms Scott Walker backs West Virginia attorney general in GOP Senate primary MORE (D-W.Va.) became the first Democratic senator to announce he will back Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsUnder pressure, Trump shifts blame for Russia intrusion Overnight Tech: Judge blocks AT&T request for DOJ communications | Facebook VP apologizes for tweets about Mueller probe | Tech wants Treasury to fight EU tax proposal Overnight Regulation: Trump to take steps to ban bump stocks | Trump eases rules on insurance sold outside of ObamaCare | FCC to officially rescind net neutrality Thursday | Obama EPA chief: Reg rollback won't stand MORE (R-Ala.) to be attorney general.

Not every Senate Republican is shutting the door to changing the rules, though no senator has appeared publicly eager to overhaul the filibuster.

Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonFrustrated Republicans accuse Paul of forcing pointless shutdown Budget deal is brimming with special tax breaks House funding bill includes bipartisan Medicare reforms MORE (R-Ga.), chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, signaled he doesn’t agree with the House-led push to nix the filibuster.

“I was in the House 12 years ago, but I’m on our side now,” he quipped.

But he added that he wouldn’t “pick a fight” over a potential change and would wait to take his cue from McConnell and the GOP leadership team.

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainLawmakers worry about rise of fake video technology Democrats put Dreamers and their party in danger by playing hardball Trump set a good defense budget, but here is how to make it better MORE (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, also declined to predict how the fight over the filibuster would play out, stressing it would require a lot of discussion and depend on multiple “factors.”

“[But] have no doubt it is a major step, just like when Harry Reid ... moved to 51 votes on the judges,” he said. “I was not happy at the time.”