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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 McConnellTrump ramps up battle with Republican leadership RNC fires back at Trump, says it 'has every right' to use his name in fundraising appeals Blunt retirement shakes up Missouri Senate race 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 McCainGraham: Trump can make GOP bigger, stronger, or he 'could destroy it' Former Trump Defense chief Esper to join McCain Institute We need an independent 1/6 commission that the whole country can have confidence in MORE (R-Ariz.).

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

Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerRoy Blunt won't run for Senate seat in 2022 It's time for Biden's Cuba GOP lawmaker patience runs thin with Trump tactics 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) ManchinBiden against making changes to filibuster, Psaki says Goldman Sachs projects jobless rate falling to 4.1 percent Natural gas and America's clean energy transition 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 HeitkampCentrist Democrats pose major problem for progressives Harrison seen as front-runner to take over DNC at crucial moment Biden to tap Vilsack for Agriculture secretary: reports 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 DonnellyEverybody wants Joe Manchin Centrist Democrats pose major problem for progressives Biden and Schumer face battles with left if Democrats win big MORE (Ind.) said he would back him.

Republicans need 60 votes to overcome the filibuster backed by Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerManchin firm on support for filibuster, mulls making it 'a little bit more painful' to use Biden takes victory lap after Senate passes coronavirus relief package Lawmakers demand changes after National Guard troops at Capitol sickened from tainted food MORE (N.Y.), who on Sunday said it is “highly, highly unlikely” that Republicans will get there.

Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillBlunt retirement shakes up Missouri Senate race McCaskill responds to Blunt retiring: 'I will never run for office again' Roy Blunt won't run for Senate seat in 2022 MORE (D-Mo.) on Friday and Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterDemocrats near pressure point on nixing filibuster  Progressives' majority delusions politically costly Senate approves sweeping coronavirus measure in partisan vote 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 LeahyBottom line Senate inches toward COVID-19 vote after marathon session COVID-19 relief debate stalls in Senate amid Democratic 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 BennetSenators introduce bill creating technology partnerships to compete with China Democrats push Biden to include recurring payments in recovery package Democrats: Minimum wage isn't the only issue facing parliamentarian MORE (D-Colo.), who represents Gorsuch’s home state, is an unknown, as are Sens. Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsSenate approves sweeping coronavirus measure in partisan vote The eight Democrats who voted 'no' on minimum wage Justice Democrats call moderates' votes against minimum wage hike 'unconscionable' MORE (D-Del.), Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerGOP votes in unison against COVID-19 relief bill Senate inches toward COVID-19 vote after marathon session Hillicon Valley: YouTube to restore Trump's account | House-passed election bill takes aim at foreign interference | Senators introduce legislation to create international tech partnerships MORE (D-Va.) and Angus KingAngus KingProgressives' majority delusions politically costly Senate approves sweeping coronavirus measure in partisan vote The eight Democrats who voted 'no' on minimum wage 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 ReidNevada looks to shake up presidential primary calendar Biden turns focus to next priority with infrastructure talks How to pass legislation in the Senate without eliminating the filibuster 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.