OPIOID SERIES:

Filibuster reform is a headache for Reid

Filibuster reform has become a headache for Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDems walk tightrope on Pompeo nomination The Memo: Teens rankle the right with gun activism Dems to party: Go on offense with Trump’s alleged affairs MORE (D-Nev.).

Reid is stuck in the middle, between liberal senators pushing hard for drastic reform and senior Democrats balking at changing the culture of the upper chamber. 

Powerful liberal groups and left-leaning lawmakers see filibuster reform as necessary to advancing President Obama’s second-term agenda, which includes immigration reform and gun-control legislation. 

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“The president can’t act on legislation if the Senate can’t act on legislation, and therefore it’s so important that we end the secret silent filibuster that has plagued this body,” said Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyOvernight Energy: Senate confirms Bridenstine as NASA chief | Watchdog probes Pruitt’s use of security detail | Emails shine light on EPA science policy changes 32 male senators back Senate women's calls to change harassment rules Duckworth brings her baby to Senate vote, drawing a crowd MORE (D-Ore.), a leading proponent of reform.

A coalition of liberal groups met at the headquarters of the National Education Association (NEA) shortly after Obama won reelection to set strategy for advancing his second-term agenda. One of the primary goals emerging from the meeting was enacting filibuster reform.

Senate Democrats debated how to proceed during a lunch meeting that stretched for more than an hour Tuesday — and left the room with little resolved. 

Reid has begun to show signs of impatience with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellRepublicans divided over legislation protecting Mueller The Hill's Morning Report: Inside the Comey memos Democrats mull audacious play to block Pompeo MORE (Ky.), with whom he has been negotiating for weeks. He said Tuesday that he and McConnell have made progress, but added, “[W]e’ve got a long way to go.”

The Nevada Democrat said he would give Republicans another 24 to 36 hours to agree to filibuster reform and then trigger the so-called nuclear option. This controversial tactic would allow him to change the Senate rules with a simple majority vote. 

“I hope within the next 24 to 36 hours we can get something we agree on. If not, we’re going to move forward on what I think needs to be done. The caucus will support me on that,” Reid told reporters. 

Although its use has been threatened in the past to spur the minority party to agree to reforms, the nuclear option has never been used to change the standing rules, say parliamentary experts. 

Reid has come under heavy pressure from liberal advocacy groups to drastically limit the minority party’s power to filibuster and delay legislation.

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee on Tuesday launched a 36-hour pressure campaign targeting Democratic senators to back using the nuclear option to implement an ambitious reform package. 

Liberal activists have mobilized to press senior and centrist Democrats to endorse the package crafted by Sens. Merkley, Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallDem senators demand Trump explain ties to Koch brothers Dem senators unveil expanded public option for health insurance Overnight Energy: Watchdogs unveil findings on EPA, Interior controversies | GAO says EPA violated law with soundproof booth | IG says Zinke could have avoided charter flight | GOP chair probes Pruitt's four email addresses MORE (D-N.M.) and Tom HarkinThomas (Tom) Richard HarkinDem Senator open to bid from the left in 2020 Senate GOP rejects Trump’s call to go big on gun legislation Trump should require federal contractors to follow the law MORE (D-Iowa). At the bill’s heart is the talking-filibuster reform, which would require lawmakers who want to block legislation to actively hold the floor and debate for hours. If there is no further debate, the Senate would proceed to a simple majority vote.

Their measure would also prohibit filibusters on motions to proceed to new business, expedite the process for sending Senate legislation to conference negotiations with the House and reduce the amount of floor time needed to move nominees once the Senate has voted to end debate on them. 

Reid, however, has received pushback from senior and centrist Democrats such as Sens. Carl LevinCarl Milton LevinSen. Gillibrand, eyeing 2020 bid, rankles some Democrats The Hill's 12:30 Report Congress needs bipartisanship to fully investigate Russian influence MORE (Mich.), Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinSenate panel punts Mueller protection bill to next week Steyer endorses de León in bid to unseat Feinstein Amid struggle for votes, GOP plows ahead with Cabinet picks MORE (Calif.), Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusGreen Party puts Dem seat at risk in Montana Business groups worried about Trump's China tariffs plan Farmers hit Trump on trade in new ad MORE (Mont.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinDemocrats mull audacious play to block Pompeo Heitkamp becomes first Dem to back Pompeo for secretary of State Trump eyes Cold War statute to keep coal burning: report MORE (W.Va.) and Mark PryorMark Lunsford PryorMedicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 Cotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm MORE (Ark.), who are not fond of the nuclear option.

“I have not favored that approach. I have a lot of troubles with the nuclear option for the same reasons as then-Sen. Kennedy and then-Sen. Biden and a lot of senators have had with amending the rules by majority vote when the rules call for two-thirds vote,” Levin said in reference to former Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Vice President Biden, who served 36 years in the Senate. 

“I have expressed very major concerns with using the constitutional option,” Levin added, using a term favored by Merkley and Udall, who argue the Constitution empowers the majority leader to set the Senate’s rules on the first day of a new Congress. 

Feinstein has also weighed in, hampering Reid’s leverage in talks with McConnell. 

“I would hope that we wouldn’t have to use the nuclear option. I would hope that the two parties can agree, and there’s some indication that that might happen,” she said.

In a statement released Tuesday evening, Merkley said, “Leader Reid has left open two paths to rules changes. … We face big challenges, and we can’t tackle those challenges if we miss this rare opportunity to end the paralysis of the Senate.”

The White House supports filibuster reform, but has not endorsed a specific bill. 

Reid has extended the first legislative day of the 113th Congress indefinitely to prolong the threat of the nuclear or constitutional option and give himself more leverage with McConnell. Extending the first legislative day still allows senators to debate and vote on legislation. 

Faced with resistance from senior Democrats, Reid has attempted to negotiate with McConnell a package of more modest reforms that could be implemented with 60 votes as a standing order of the Senate. 

The package would not include the talking filibuster, and a Democratic aide expressed doubt McConnell would agree to a reform proposed by Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenWhy Smokin' Joe leads the pack of 2020 Democratic hopefuls Pawlenty to announce bid for Minnesota governor Al Franken: Sessions firing McCabe ‘is hypocrisy at its worst’ MORE (D-Minn.) to require the minority party to muster 41 votes to sustain a filibuster. Under current rules, the majority party must gather 60 votes to end dilatory debate. 

Levin said he believes Reid and 

McConnell will negotiate an agreement based on a bipartisan proposal co-sponsored by Levin and Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainThe Hill's Morning Report: Inside the Comey memos Democrats mull audacious play to block Pompeo Overnight Defense: Trump steps up fight with California over guard deployment | Heitkamp is first Dem to back Pompeo for State | Dems question legality of Syria strikes MORE (R-Ariz.). That plan would eliminate the filibuster on the motion to proceed in exchange for guaranteeing the minority leader and the minority bill manager the right to offer one amendment each to pending legislation. 

Proponents of far-reaching filibuster reform have criticized the Levin-McCain proposal.

— Updated at 8:25 p.m.