GOP tries to take filibuster pressure off Manchin, Sinema

Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)
Greg Nash

Republicans are hoping that a short-term debt extension takes some of the Democratic pressure off Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) to reform the filibuster.

The decision from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to open the door to a two-month extension, which ultimately passed on Thursday night, came as efforts to create a filibuster exemption for the debt ceiling appeared to be gaining momentum as Democrats struggled to figure out how to bypass GOP opposition and suspend the nation’s borrowing limit before a critical Oct. 18 deadline.

Manchin and Sinema have warned for months they would not support nixing the filibuster, but they came under intense scrutiny over the past few days, with Democratic colleagues raising the idea of changing the Senate rules during a closed-door lunch.

McConnell, according to other GOP senators, mentioned both Manchin and Sinema as he outlined his reasoning for offering a short-term extension, which marked a shift in GOP strategy.

“He said, ‘I think I’ve come up with a solution that could work and that I think Joe and Kyrsten will allow,’” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.).

“That’s really important. Because if not they could, you know, carve out this one thing … to blow up the filibuster over. And I think he wanted to protect them from that and protect the Senate from that eventuality,” Cramer added.

Asked if concerns about the pressure Manchin and Sinema were feeling on the filibuster impacted GOP thinking, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), McConnell’s No. 2, said, “No doubt.”

Republicans view the two moderates as key allies and are in constant contact with them.

McConnell privately has urged Republicans to say nice things about Manchin and Sinema, two of the most conservative members of the Democratic caucus.

And he noted during several stops in Kentucky recently that they were at the top of his thoughts, as Republicans hope the two senators will slim down a sweeping $3.5 trillion spending bill they’ve raised concerns with.

“I’m praying for Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, the two Democratic senators that seem to have some resistance to all this. I pray for their good health and wise judgment every night,” McConnell said during one of the stops.

Republicans had wanted to force Democrats to raise the debt ceiling through reconciliation, a lengthy budget process that lets the majority party bypass a filibuster.

But Democrats continued to rule out that path, instead focusing on potentially creating a filibuster exemption for the debt ceiling as the potential for default threatened to derail the economic recovery.

Sens. Angus King (I-Maine) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) have long been viewed as wary of a rules change, but both indicated that they could support some sort of limited carveout if it was the only way to raise the debt ceiling. And in a significant move, President Biden appeared to put a carveout on the table.

Manchin reiterated on Thursday that he was not moving toward embracing a rules change.

“That wasn’t gonna happen. I don’t know what the desires were to some people thinking it might happen. But it was never going to happen, they knew that,” Manchin told reporters.

His remarks, however, did little to tamp down the chatter in the Capitol about whether Democrats would need to create a limited exception from the filibuster for the debt ceiling.

“We’ve got 51 votes, we should use our 51 votes to make it happen,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), about Democrats creating a carveout to resolve the debt stalemate.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) added that “if there’s anything on which I think we might get all 50 Democrats … this might be it.”

Amid the public push, Republicans said they wanted to ensure Democrats didn’t unintentionally trigger a rules change that would have consequences far beyond just the debt ceiling fight.

“I think for anybody that respects the institution, you don’t want to cause something that would exorcise the filibuster,” said Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.).

A GOP member of leadership said it was “safe” to say pressure from Manchin and Sinema impacted the GOP’s debt thinking.

“There’s a lot of appreciation … for the fact that they’ve been willing to stand up for what they say they were for,” the senator said.

The senator added that Republicans were “trying to look for ways for this not to be needlessly more difficult.”

But the strategy didn’t sit well with every GOP senator.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, argued that he and his GOP colleagues shouldn’t be “held hostage” by speculation that Democrats could deploy the so-called nuclear option to change filibuster rules.

“You either believe in Senate rules and procedures or you don’t. When we had control of the White House, House, and Senate, we were under pressure to change the rules to enact the Republican agenda. I thought it would be bad for the country and I said ‘No,’” Graham said in a lengthy statement slamming the GOP strategy.

“It never crossed my mind to go to Democrats and say if you don’t do these two or three things I may have to change the rules. The bottom line is that’s extortion. It’s not healthy for the Senate and I’m not going to live that way,” he added.

Tags Angus King Chris Coons Chris Van Hollen debt ceiling Filibuster Infrastructure Joe Biden Joe Manchin John Thune Kevin Cramer Kyrsten Sinema Lindsey Graham Mark Warner Mike Braun Mitch McConnell Reconciliation Senate
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