Senate

McConnell vows retaliation if Democrats change filibuster

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) vowed on Tuesday that Republicans would retaliate if Democrats change the legislative filibuster, threatening to gum up the chamber and cause major headaches.

McConnell, speaking from the Senate floor, argued that changing the requirement that most legislation needs 60 votes to advance would “silence the voices of millions and millions of Americans” represented by GOP senators.

“We will make their voices heard in this chamber in ways that are more inconvenient for the majority and this White House than what anybody has seen in living memory,” McConnell said.

“What would a post-nuclear Senate look like? I assure you it would not be more efficient or more productive. I personally guarantee it,” he added.

The Senate operates throughout the day on unanimous consent — meaning deals that have buy-in from the entire chamber. But McConnell warned that Republicans would be willing to block those routine agreements, making it more painful for Democrats to accomplish day-to-day steps like setting the schedule or allowing committee meetings.

“Do my colleagues understand how many times per day the Senate needs and get unanimous consent for basic housekeeping? Do they understand how many things would require roll-call votes, how often the minority could demand lengthy debate? Our colleagues who are itching for a procedural nuclear winter have not even begun to contemplate how it would look,” McConnell said.

“If the Democratic leader tries to shut millions of Americans and entire states out of the business of governing, the operations of this body will change. Oh yes, that much is true. But not in a way that rewards the rule-breakers. Not in ways that advantage this president, this majority or their party,” he added.

McConnell’s warning comes as Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has vowed that he will bring up election-related legislation this week and, if Republicans block it from getting the 60 votes needed to change the filibuster, bring up a proposal to change the rules.

Democrats haven’t yet settled on what that proposal would look like. They are floating several ideas, including moving to a talking filibuster that would let opponents delay a bill for as long as they could hold the floor, but the bill would be able to pass by a simple majority. Another idea would be to create a carveout that would exempt voting rights from the filibuster. They are also looking at smaller ideas including getting rid of the 60-vote hurdle currently required to start debate or shifting from needing 60 votes to break a filibuster to needing 41 votes to sustain it.

McConnell’s comments come after Republicans sent a warning shot over Democrats enacting even the smaller rules change of lowering the threshold needed to start debate. Under such a change, 60 votes would still be needed to end debate, meaning Republicans could still block a bill.

Republicans got several bills on the Senate calendar, which makes them available for a vote but doesn’t guarantee one, to show what sort of legislation they would want to force Democrats to vote on if they moved forward with a rules change. Among the 18 bills were immigration legislation and proposals on President Biden’s vaccine mandate. Schumer offered a deal to McConnell allowing for simple-majority votes to pass the bills as well as the two Democratic election proposals, but McConnell rejected that offer.

To change the rules without GOP support, Democrats would need total unity from all 50 of their members, something they don’t currently have.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have both been supportive of the 60-vote filibuster. Manchin doubled down on that support on Tuesday morning.

“We need some good rules changes. We can do that together. But you change the rules with two-thirds of the people that are present so … Democrats, Republicans changing the rules to make the place work better. Getting rid of the filibuster doesn’t make it work better,” Manchin said.

Tags Charles Schumer Filibuster filibuster reform Joe Biden Joe Manchin Kyrsten Sinema Mitch McConnell voting rights legislation

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