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 McConnellGraham: GOP will confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election Trump puts Supreme Court fight at center of Ohio rally The Memo: Dems face balancing act on SCOTUS fight 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 McCainBiden's six best bets in 2016 Trump states Replacing Justice Ginsburg could depend on Arizona's next senator The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Washington on edge amid SCOTUS vacancy MORE (R-Ariz.).

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

Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerHas Congress captured Russia policy? Tennessee primary battle turns nasty for Republicans Cheney clashes with Trump 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 ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinTrump meets with potential Supreme Court pick Amy Coney Barrett at White House Names to watch as Trump picks Ginsburg replacement on Supreme Court Momentum growing among Republicans for Supreme Court vote before Election Day 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 HeitkampCentrists, progressives rally around Harris pick for VP 70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents Susan Collins set to play pivotal role in impeachment drama 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 DonnellyTrump meets with potential Supreme Court pick Amy Coney Barrett at White House Names to watch as Trump picks Ginsburg replacement on Supreme Court Momentum growing among Republicans for Supreme Court vote before Election Day MORE (Ind.) said he would back him.

Republicans need 60 votes to overcome the filibuster backed by Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerJacobin editor: Primarying Schumer would force him to fight Trump's SCOTUS nominee CNN's Toobin: Democrats are 'wimps' who won't 'have the guts' to add Supreme Court seats Republican senator says plans to confirm justice before election 'completely consistent with the precedent' MORE (N.Y.), who on Sunday said it is “highly, highly unlikely” that Republicans will get there.

Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillMomentum growing among Republicans for Supreme Court vote before Election Day Democratic-linked group runs ads in Kansas GOP Senate primary Trump mocked for low attendance at rally MORE (D-Mo.) on Friday and Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterPence seeks to boost Daines in critical Montana Senate race This World Suicide Prevention Day, let's recommit to protecting the lives of our veterans Filibuster fight looms if Democrats retake Senate 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 LeahyBattle over timing complicates Democratic shutdown strategy Hillicon Valley: Russia 'amplifying' concerns around mail-in voting to undermine election | Facebook and Twitter take steps to limit Trump remarks on voting | Facebook to block political ads ahead of election Top Democrats press Trump to sanction Russian individuals over 2020 election interference efforts 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 BennetOVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats tee up vote on climate-focused energy bill next week | EPA reappoints controversial leader to air quality advisory committee | Coronavirus creates delay in Pentagon research for alternative to 'forever chemicals' Senate Democrats demand White House fire controversial head of public lands agency Next crisis, keep people working and give them raises MORE (D-Colo.), who represents Gorsuch’s home state, is an unknown, as are Sens. Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsMurkowski: Supreme Court nominee should not be taken up before election Battle lines drawn on precedent in Supreme Court fight Sunday shows - Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death dominates MORE (D-Del.), Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerIntelligence chief says Congress will get some in-person election security briefings Overnight Defense: Trump hosts Israel, UAE, Bahrain for historic signing l Air Force reveals it secretly built and flew new fighter jet l Coronavirus creates delay in Pentagon research for alternative to 'forever chemicals' House approves bill to secure internet-connected federal devices against cyber threats MORE (D-Va.) and Angus KingAngus KingShakespeare Theatre Company goes virtual for 'Will on the Hill...or Won't They?' On The Trail: How Nancy Pelosi could improbably become president Angus King: Ending election security briefings 'looks like a pre-cover-up' 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 SalmonCOVID-19's class divide creates new political risks Arizona voters like Kyl but few think he'll stick around Former Sen. Jon Kyl to replace McCain in Senate 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 ReidOn The Trail: Battle over Ginsburg replacement threatens to break Senate Democrats fear Russia interference could spoil bid to retake Senate Graham signals support for confirming a Supreme Court nominee this year 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.