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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 McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBipartisan infrastructure deal takes fire from left and right Jayapal to Dems: Ditch bipartisanship, go it alone on infrastructure The Hill's 12:30 Report: Sights and sounds from Biden's European trip 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 Sidney McCainMeghan McCain: Harris 'sounded like a moron' discussing immigration Arizona AG Mark Brnovich launches Senate challenge to Mark Kelly Arizona Democrats launch voter outreach effort ahead of key Senate race MORE (R-Ariz.).

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

Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  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 Congress, what goes on behind closed doors? Jayapal to Dems: Ditch bipartisanship, go it alone on infrastructure Harris discusses voting rights with advocates in South Carolina 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 HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampEffective and profitable climate solutions are within the nation's farms and forests Bill Maher blasts removal of journalist at Teen Vogue Centrist Democrats pose major problem for progressives 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 DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyRepublicans fret over divisive candidates Everybody wants Joe Manchin Centrist Democrats pose major problem for progressives MORE (Ind.) said he would back him.

Republicans need 60 votes to overcome the filibuster backed by Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerIn Congress, what goes on behind closed doors? Senate Judiciary begins investigation into DOJ lawmaker subpoenas America needs a stable Israeli government MORE (N.Y.), who on Sunday said it is “highly, highly unlikely” that Republicans will get there.

Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Jan. 6 commission vote delayed; infrastructure debate lingers into June Missouri Republicans move to block Greitens in key Senate race Democratic Kansas City, Mo., mayor eyes Senate run MORE (D-Mo.) on Friday and Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterPelosi: 'No intention' of abandoning Democrats' infrastructure goals McConnell seeks to divide and conquer Democrats Progressives want to tighten screws beyond Manchin and Sinema 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 Joseph LeahyBipartisan lawmakers want Biden to take tougher action on Nicaragua Biden budget expands government's role in economy House narrowly approves .9B Capitol security bill after 'squad' drama MORE (D-Vt.), a former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has sent mixed signals over whether he’d back the filibuster.

Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetSenate panel advances nominations for key Treasury positions Democrats blast Biden climate adviser over infrastructure remarks Colorado lawmakers invite Harris to tour state's space industry MORE (D-Colo.), who represents Gorsuch’s home state, is an unknown, as are Sens. Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsBiden prepares to confront Putin Concerns grow over China's Taiwan plans Progressives want to tighten screws beyond Manchin and Sinema MORE (D-Del.), Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerOutrage grows as Justice seeks to contain subpoena fallout The Hill's Morning Report - Biden-Putin meeting to dominate the week The tale of the last bipartisan unicorns MORE (D-Va.) and Angus KingAngus KingProgressives want to tighten screws beyond Manchin and Sinema Senior Biden cyber nominees sail through Senate hearing Pentagon chief: Military has already started 'over-the-horizon' operations in Afghanistan 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 SalmonMatthew (Matt) James SalmonOn The Trail: Arizona is microcosm of battle for the GOP COVID-19's class divide creates new political risks Arizona voters like Kyl but few think he'll stick around 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 Mason ReidBiden fails to break GOP 'fever' Nevada governor signs law making state first presidential primary Infighting grips Nevada Democrats ahead of midterms 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.