McConnell offers scathing ‘scorched earth’ filibuster warning
Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) offered a scathing warning to Democrats on Tuesday, amid growing pressure to nix the legislative filibuster.
“Let me say this very clearly for all 99 of my colleagues: Nobody serving in this chamber can even begin, can even begin, to imagine what a completely scorched-earth Senate would look like,” McConnell said.
He added that in a chamber that functions on a day-to-day basis by consent, meaning all senators sign off on an action, “I want our colleagues to imagine a world where every single task, every one of them, requires a physical quorum.”
McConnell’s remarks come a day after Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, offered a scorching rebuke of the 60-vote legislative filibuster, comparing it to a “weapon of mass destruction” that was holding the Senate “hostage.”
Nixing the legislative filibuster or reverting it back to a “talking filibuster” — which would force senators to physically be on the floor — has momentum both with outside groups and Democratic senators.
But Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) hasn’t tipped his hand on if he supports it and Democrats don’t currently have the votes to invoke the “nuclear option” to get rid of the filibuster on a party-line vote. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) are both on the record opposing it and others are viewed as wary.
But supporters of invoking the rules change argue that with the 60-vote legislative filibuster in place many of President Biden’s big campaign promises are dead on arrival in the Senate because they need the support of 10 GOP senators.
McConnell warned that nixing the filibuster wouldn’t result in a “fast-track” for Biden’s agenda but instead would spark more gridlock with Republicans vowing to cause big headaches for Democrats on even the most mundane Senate tasks.
“So this is not a trade-off between trampling etiquette but then getting to quickly transform the country. That’s a false choice. Even the most basic aspects of our colleagues’ agenda, the most mundane task of the Biden presidency, would actually be harder not easier,” McConnell said.
“This chaos would not open up an express lane to liberal change. It would not open up an express lane for the Biden presidency to speed into the history books. The Senate would be more like a 100-car pile up, nothing moving,” he added.
In 2011, McConnell and then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) reached a “gentlemen’s agreement” where Republicans would limit their filibusters if Reid agreed to open up the floor to more amendment votes.
In 2013, Democrats did use the nuclear option to end filibusters on lower courts and most executive nominations.
Four years later, with they had a majority, Republicans in the Senate ended the use of the 60-vote filibuster on Supreme Court nominations, a move that helped former President Trump add three justices to the court.
McConnell has previously shot down talk from within his own caucus, as well as public calls from then-President Trump, to nix the legislative filibuster.
But, in a warning shot to Democrats, he outlined a laundry list of conservative policies that could pass the next time Republicans control the chamber: Defunding Planned Parenthood and so-called “sanctuary cities,” anti-abortion legislation and nationwide concealed carry reciprocity.
“So the pendulum … would swing both ways, and it would swing hard,” he added.
—Updated at 1:27 p.m.