Senators fear fallout of nuclear option

Senators in both parties are speculating that a blowup over President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court could lead not only to the end of the filibuster for such nominations, but for controversial legislation as well.

While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellSenate feels pressure for summer healthcare vote Republicans give Trump's budget the cold shoulder Senate GOP focused on killing Medicaid expansion MORE (R-Ky.) said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the legislative filibuster is safe, lawmakers fear that pressure will grow to get rid of it if Democrats block Neil Gorsuch’s nomination this week.

McConnell has all but promised to change the Senate’s rules to allow Gorsuch to be confirmed in a majority vote if Democrats filibuster him.

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The showdown will take place later this week after a Senate Judiciary Committee vote on Monday.

Senators in both parties are worried about how the fight over Gorsuch will affect the filibuster.

“The thing I worry most about is that we become like the House of Representatives. What’s the next step? Legislation?” said Sen. John McCainJohn McCainManchester attack will change focus of Trump’s NATO meeting Republicans give Trump's budget the cold shoulder Overnight Defense: Trump budget gets thumbs down from hawks | UK raises threat level after Manchester attack | Paul to force vote on 0B Saudi arms deal MORE (R-Ariz.).

“I’m convinced it’s a slippery slope.”    

Sen. Bob CorkerBob CorkerOvernight Tech: FCC won't fine Colbert over Trump joke | Trump budget slashes science funding | Net neutrality comment period opens Clinton administration official knocks 'soap opera' of Trump White House Trump's steps on Iran show cooperation with Congress is possible MORE (R-Tenn.) warned last week on the Senate floor that growing pressure from the right and the left will make it difficult to withstand calls to eliminate the legislative filibuster.

“If we continue on the path we’re on right now, the very next time there’s a legislative proposal that one side of the aisle feels is so important they cannot let their base down, the pressure builds, then we’re going to vote the nuclear option on the legislative piece,” he said.

“That’s what will happen. Somebody will do it.”

Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinIn the politics of healthcare reform, past is prologue Dem senator: UK attack shows importance of US intelligence community Heitkamp, Manchin under pressure over GOP regs bill MORE (D-W.Va.), one of only three Democrats who have explicitly said they’d oppose a filibuster of Gorsuch, warns the Senate is in danger of becoming a smaller version of the House, where the minority party has few rights.

“People who have been here for a long time know that we’re going down the wrong path here. The most unique political body in the world, the United States Senate, will be no more than a six-year term in the House,” he said.

“I’m doing whatever I can to preserve he 60-vote rule,” he said.

Sen. Heidi HeitkampHeidi HeitkampSeparating fact from fiction in the Regulatory Accountability Act Heitkamp, Manchin under pressure over GOP regs bill Overnight Energy: Senate panel advances regulatory reform bills MORE (D-N.D.), who like Manchin says she will vote to allow Gorsuch’s nomination to move forward, said she is also concerned about the legislative filibuster.

“This erosion that seems to be happening, of course I’m worried about it,” she said.  

Gorsuch picked up a third Democratic vote on Sunday when Sen. Joe DonnellyJoe DonnellyUpdated fuel regulations would modernize options at gas pumps Mnuchin mum as Dems press for answers on tax reform, Dodd-Frank Overnight Defense: Senate passes funding bill | Trump to get Afghan war plan next week | Concerns grow over Army nominee MORE (Ind.) said he would back him.

Republicans need 60 votes to overcome the filibuster backed by Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles SchumerCongress urges Trump administration to release public transit funding Overnight Tech: FCC begins rolling back net neutrality | Sinclair deal puts heat on regulators | China blames US for 'Wanna Cry' attack Sasse dominates Twitter with Schumer photo, 'reefer' caption MORE (N.Y.), who on Sunday said it is “highly, highly unlikely” that Republicans will get there.

Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire McCaskillTechnology's role in human trafficking cannot be ignored Five things to know about Joe Lieberman Senate GOP short on ideas for stabilizing ObamaCare markets MORE (D-Mo.) on Friday and Sen. Jon TesterJon TesterSenators introduce lifetime lobbying ban for lawmakers A lifeboat for flood insurance: Roll back out-of-date government ‘safety net’ McConnell promises women can take part in healthcare meetings MORE (D-Mont.) on Sunday said they would oppose Gorsuch and back a filibuster. The decisions by the two senators, who both face reelection next year in states won by Trump, seem to back Schumer's words up.

Republicans need to find another six votes to invoke cloture, and they have few options left. 

Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahySessions postpones Senate testimony on DOJ funding GOP talks of narrowing ‘blue-slip’ rule for judges GOP bill would create mandatory minimums for crimes against police MORE (D-Vt.), a former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has sent mixed signals over whether he’d back the filibuster.

Sen. Michael BennetMichael BennetSenators introduce lifetime lobbying ban for lawmakers Undocumented activist living in church gets stay of removal Overnight Regulation: Senate confirms SEC pick | House GOP passes 'comp time' bill | MORE (D-Colo.), who represents Gorsuch’s home state, is an unknown, as are Sens. Chris CoonsChris CoonsOvernight Defense: Trump hits back over special counsel | US bombs pro-Assad forces | GOP chairman unveils proposed Pentagon buying reforms Special counsel appointment gets bipartisan praise Dem lawmakers voice shock, outrage on Comey memo MORE (D-Del.), Mark WarnerMark WarnerFive takeaways from a busy day of Russia hearings Senate Intel panel issues subpoenas to Flynn businesses Overnight Cybersecurity: Flynn refuses to comply with Senate subpoena | Chaffetz postpones hearing with Comey | Small biz cyber bill would cost M | New worm spotted after 'Wanna Cry' MORE (D-Va.) and Angus KingAngus KingIntel chief has not talked with Trump about reported disclosure of classified info Angus King: Russia probe ‘a duty,’ not ‘witch hunt’ Will McConnell and Ryan put party over country in defense of Trump? MORE (I-Maine).

There are some in both parties who would like nothing more than to see the filibuster bite the dust.

Former Rep. Matt SalmonMatt SalmonConservative activists want action from Trump Senators fear fallout of nuclear option Western Republicans seek new federal appeals court MORE (R-Ariz.) said the filibuster was created to protect the minority party “in extreme circumstances” but it has now become so common that it’s almost impossible to pass individual appropriations bills before the end of the fiscal year.

“It’s become so common place to block just about everything including even appropriation bills so that the Congress can’t get its work done. The filibuster as it’s currently used has really worn out its welcome,” he said in an interview.

The large class of Senate Republican freshmen elected in the 2014 midterm elections pushed for rules reform in the last Congress, but it didn’t lead to any changes. They favored more narrow reform, however, such as curbing the power to block motions to begin consideration of new business on the Senate floor.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) called on Republicans immediately after Trump won the presidency to ditch the filibuster.

“My biggest concern is that they not allow some of these arcane rules that have nothing to do with the Constitution,” he said in a radio interview the day after the election.

McConnell, a Senate traditionalist, tried to ease concerns about the fate of the filibuster Sunday when he told NBC’s Chuck Todd that the power to block legislation with 41 votes retains strong support in the Senate.

“I don’t think the legislative filibuster is in danger. It’s a longstanding tradition of the Senate. The business of filibustering judges is quite new,” he said.

Schumer, also appearing on “Meet the Press,” said he also wants to preserve the 60-vote threshold for controversial legislation.

“I don’t think there’s any thirst to change the legislative rule, 60 votes for that. Most Democrats and most Republicans who have served in both the minority and the majority knows what it means,” he said.

But his predecessor, former Senate Democratic Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidThis week: Congress awaits Comey testimony Will Republicans grow a spine and restore democracy? Racial representation: A solution to inequality in the People’s House MORE (Nev.), predicted in a December interview, shortly before retiring from Congress, that the days of the legislative filibuster are numbered. 

He said the Senate rules protecting minority rights are “going to erode, it’s just a question of when.”

“You can’t have a democracy decided by 60 out of 100, and that’s why changing the rules is one of the best things that has happened to America in a long time,” he told Politico.