Filibuster reform is a headache for Reid

Filibuster reform has become a headache for Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidSenate Republicans eye rules change to speed Trump nominees Harry Reid knocks Ocasio-Cortez's tax proposal: Fast 'radical change' doesn't work Overnight Defense: Trump rejects Graham call to end shutdown | Coast Guard on track to miss Tuesday paychecks | Dems eye Trump, Russia probes | Trump talks with Erdogan after making threat to Turkey's economy 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. 

ADVERTISEMENT

“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 MerkleyDem senator requests FBI investigate Nielsen for potential perjury Trump officials discussed ‘deterrent effect’ of prosecuting migrant parents: report Senate Democrats hold talkathon to protest partial shutdown 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 McConnellSunday shows preview: Shutdown negotiations continue after White House immigration proposal Senate to take up Trump's border-immigration plan next week Trump pitches new plan to reopen government amid Dem pushback 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 UdallSchumer wants answers from Trump on eminent domain at border Senate in last-minute talks to find deal to avert shutdown  House-passed stopgap measure in Senate limbo MORE (D-N.M.) and Tom HarkinThomas (Tom) Richard HarkinIowa’s Ernst will run for reelection in 2020 California primary threatens to change 2020 game for Dems Mellman: Dems’ presidential pick will be chosen in a flash 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 LevinHouse Democrats poised to set a dangerous precedent with president’s tax returns The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — White House to 'temporarily reinstate' Acosta's press pass after judge issues order | Graham to take over Judiciary panel | Hand recount for Florida Senate race Congress must use bipartisan oversight as the gold standard MORE (Mich.), Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinBuzzFeed story has more to say about media than the president The Hill's Morning Report — Shutdown fallout — economic distress Feinstein grappling with vote on AG nominee Barr MORE (Calif.), Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusOvernight Defense: McCain honored in Capitol ceremony | Mattis extends border deployment | Trump to embark on four-country trip after midterms Congress gives McCain the highest honor Judge boots Green Party from Montana ballot in boost to Tester MORE (Mont.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSenate rejects government-wide ban on abortion funding Centrist efforts to convince Trump to end shutdown falter Bipartisan group of senators will urge Trump to reopen government for 3 weeks 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 FrankenBill Maher defends Bernie Sanders campaign over sexual harassment allegations Gillibrand defends calling for Franken to resign during stop in Iowa Dem voters split on importance of women atop the ticket in 2020 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 McCainOvernight Defense: Trump unveils new missile defense plan | Dems express alarm | Shutdown hits Day 27 | Trump cancels Pelosi foreign trip | Senators offer bill to prevent NATO withdrawal Bipartisan senators reintroduce bill to prevent Trump from withdrawing from NATO Mark Kelly considering Senate bid as Arizona Dems circle McSally 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.