Leading proponent of filibuster reform claims he has 51 votes

Sen. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallOvernight Energy: Trump temporarily lifts shipping restrictions for Puerto Rico relief New Mexico Gov: GOP health care bill 'still needs some work' Dems ask FEC to create new rules in response to Russian Facebook ads MORE (D-N.M.), a leading proponent of filibuster reform, said Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidChris Murphy’s profile rises with gun tragedies Republicans are headed for a disappointing end to their year in power Obama's HHS secretary could testify in Menendez trial MORE (Nev.) has the 51 votes he needs to change Senate rules with the "nuclear option."

The maneuver would be controversial, however, and could heighten partisan tensions at the start of the 113th Congress in January. Republicans say using 51 votes to change Senate procedures — and to prevent the minority party in the Senate from blocking a majority-vote — amounts to breaking the rules to change them.

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“The crucial thing for all of you to know is Harry Reid’s got 51 votes to do the Constitutional option at the beginning of the Congress,” Udall said. “My sense is if he can’t get agreement on the other side, then he’s going to go forward.”

Changing rules with a simple majority vote is considered so controversial it is sometimes called the nuclear option. Democrats backing the maneuver have described it as the “Constitutional option.”

A bipartisan group of senators including Senate Rules Committee Chairman Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOvernight Health Care: Schumer calls for tying ObamaCare fix to children's health insurance | Puerto Rico's water woes worsen | Dems plead for nursing home residents' right to sue Crying on TV doesn't qualify Kimmel to set nation's gun agenda Trump knocks ‘fake’ news coverage of his trip to Puerto Rico MORE (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderChildren’s health-care bill faces new obstacles Overnight Health Care: Schumer calls for tying ObamaCare fix to children's health insurance | Puerto Rico's water woes worsen | Dems plead for nursing home residents' right to sue Schumer calls for attaching ObamaCare fix to children's health insurance MORE (R-Tenn.), the ranking Republican member of the Rules panel, are meanwhile working on a bipartisan compromise to change filibuster rules under regular order, which requires 67 votes.

Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), John McCainJohn Sidney McCainRubio asks Army to kick out West Point grad with pro-communist posts The VA's woes cannot be pinned on any singular administration Overnight Defense: Mattis offers support for Iran deal | McCain blocks nominees over Afghanistan strategy | Trump, Tillerson spilt raises new questions about N. Korea policy MORE (R-Ariz.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamDurbin: I had 'nothing to do' with Curbelo snub Republicans jockey for position on immigration Overnight Health Care: House passes 20-week abortion ban | GOP gives ground over ObamaCare fix | Price exit sets off speculation over replacement MORE (R-S.C.), Mark PryorMark PryorMedicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 Cotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm MORE (D-Ark.), Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinOvernight Cybersecurity: Equifax CEO faces outraged lawmakers | Dem presses voting machine makers on cyber defense | Yahoo says 3 billion accounts affected by 2013 breach Key Dem: Did Kushner use private emails to talk with foreign governments? Dem senator pitches ideas for gun control after shooting MORE (D-Md.) and Carl LevinCarl LevinPresident Trump, listen to candidate Trump and keep Volcker Rule Republicans can learn from John McCain’s heroism Trump and GOP wise to keep tax reform and infrastructure separate MORE (D-Mich.) are part of the ad-hoc group working on a compromise to avoid the nuclear option.

The bipartisan group of senators floated their plan Friday afternoon.

It stops far short of the broader weakening of the filibuster that Udall, Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyOvernight Energy: Dems take on Trump's chemical safety pick Dem senator slams Trump for dedicating golf trophy to hurricane victims Dem senator compares Trump to Marie Antoinette MORE (D-Ore.) and other Democrats are pushing to adopt with the “nuclear” or “constitutional” option.

Under the bipartisan plan, the Senate would adopt an order at the opening of the next Congress that would give the majority leader more tools to overcome procedural barriers to debating bills.

“The key, number one part is to give the majority leader options to overcome the filibuster and the threat of a filibuster on a motion to proceed. That has been the greatest problem around here in terms of getting to the business of working on bills,” Levin said at a press conference.

The plan, according to a summary, would limit and substantially expedite debate on a “motion to proceed” to legislation, and seek to ensure that both parties have the option to offer amendments to bills.

Elsewhere, the plan would consolidate motions to go to conference on bills with the House, and expedite action on some judicial nominations, among other features.

It also calls on the respective Democratic and Republican leaders to less formally press their caucuses not to hold up bills.

For instance, it states that leaders and bill managers should not honor requests to object or threats to filibuster on another senator’s behalf “unless that senator comes to the floor and exercises his or her rights himself or herself,” according to the summary.

Udall said the plan falls short of requiring actual, talking filibusters. “I don’t think it stops the gridlock,” he said.

But McCain, at the press conference with Levin, defended the proposal and suggested the Democrats pressing for more sweeping changes to the filibuster lack the perspective of veteran lawmakers.

“Most of them, in all due candor and honesty, have never been in the minority,” McCain said.

“The proposal that was circulated in there, which I assume you could all get a copy of, the basic thing is that you would still be able to continue down the path of filibusters that are hidden,” Udall said of the ad-hoc group’s work.

Udall said the ad-hoc group’s framework would rely on a gentleman’s agreement that would still allow senators to filibuster legislation without actually holding the floor and debating it.

“You wouldn’t have responsibility, you wouldn’t have people stepping forward,” he said. “It’s more in a gentlemen’s agreement, which we’ve already done that, it failed.”

Ben Geman contributed.

Updated at 4:01 p.m.