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 TrumpCorker: US must determine responsibility in Saudi journalist's death Five takeaways from testy Heller-Rosen debate in Nevada Dem senator calls for US action after 'preposterous' Saudi explanation 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 — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Senate blocks Dem measure on short-term health plans | Trump signs bill banning drug price 'gag clauses' | DOJ approves Aetna-CVS merger | Juul ramps up lobbying Trump signs bills banning drug pricing 'gag clauses' Senate defeats measure to overturn Trump expansion of non-ObamaCare plans 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 HatchGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Congress should work with Trump and not 'cowboy' on Saudi Arabia, says GOP senator US to open trade talks with Japan, EU, UK 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 McConnellMeghan McCain calls Russian attacks against her father the 'highest compliment' to her family Schumer: Fight for Senate is 'neck and neck' Nikki Haley powerfully rebuts Trump 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 CorkerCorker: US must determine responsibility in Saudi journalist's death Dem senator calls for US action after 'preposterous' Saudi explanation Schumer: Fight for Senate is 'neck and neck' MORE (Tenn.), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeTrump boosts McSally, bashes Sinema in Arizona Watch live: Trump speaks at Arizona rally Mnuchin to attend anti-terror meeting in Saudi Arabia following Khashoggi disappearance MORE (Ariz.), Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisDems angered by GOP plan to hold judicial hearings in October Kavanaugh tensions linger after bitter fight GOP fractured over filling Supreme Court vacancies in 2020 MORE (N.C.), Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGOP senator seeking information on FBI dealings with Bruce Ohr, former DOJ lawyer Election Countdown: O'Rourke brings in massive M haul | Deal on judges lets senators return to the trail | Hurricane puts Florida candidates in the spotlight | Adelson spending big to save GOP in midterms Senate Homeland chair vents Mueller probe is preventing panel from receiving oversight answers MORE (Wis.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamCorker: US must determine responsibility in Saudi journalist's death Dem senator calls for US action after 'preposterous' Saudi explanation Trump calls Saudi explanation for journalist's death credible, arrests 'good first step' 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 LeeSenators pledge action on Saudi journalist’s disappearance Bernie Sanders: US should pull out of war in Yemen if Saudis killed journalist Senators warn Trump that Saudi relationship is on the line 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 SchumerThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns McConnell says deficits 'not a Republican problem' Medicare for All is disastrous for American seniors and taxpayers 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 CornynFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke debate showdown Live coverage: Cruz faces O'Rourke in Texas debate showdown Trump, Feinstein feud intensifies over appeals court nominees MORE (R-Texas) told reporters.

Though top lawmakers — including Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidFive takeaways from testy Heller-Rosen debate in Nevada Major overhauls needed to ensure a violent revolution remains fictional Senate heads home to campaign after deal on Trump nominees 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 MerkleySanders, Harris set to criss-cross Iowa Dem senator calls for US action after 'preposterous' Saudi explanation Graham: Saudi’s findings on slain journalist not 'credible' 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) ManchinFive takeaways from testy Heller-Rosen debate in Nevada Blankenship endorses ex-W.Va. GOP Senate rival, calls him 'lying' drug lobbyist Conservatives bankrolled and dominated Kavanaugh confirmation media campaign MORE (D-W.Va.) became the first Democratic senator to announce he will back Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsBeto O'Rourke on impeachment: 'There is enough there to proceed' Rosenstein to appear for House interview next week Emmet Flood steps in as White House counsel following McGahn departure 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 IsaksonTrump renews attacks against Tester over VA nominee on eve of Montana rally House conservatives want ethics probe into Dems' handling of Kavanaugh allegations Senate eyes Kavanaugh floor vote next week 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 McCainMeghan McCain calls Russian attacks against her father the 'highest compliment' to her family Arizona Dems hope higher Latino turnout will help turn the state blue McConnell: GOP could try to repeal ObamaCare again after midterms 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.”