“Chuck Schumer is the majority leader and he should be treated like the majority leader. We can do shit here and we should be focusing on what we’re doing, ”said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.). “If we don’t, the inmates will be running this boat.”
“That would be exactly the wrong way to start,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). “We need to have the kind of strong position that will allow us to get things done.”
Four years ago, as McConnell himself came under pressure from former President Donald Trump to clear the filibuster, 61 senators signed a letter to Senate leaders stressing the importance of protecting the requirement of the supermajority. And even now Democrats like Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia say they want to maintain the filibuster, pointing out that it leads to compromise.
Because of this, filibuster looks safe for the immediate future, no matter what happens in the next few days. If Democrats were to change it, it would likely be in response to Republicans repeatedly blocking their bills. And there is a lot of pent-up angst within the Democratic Party, which now controls both houses of Congress and the White House for the first time in more than a decade.
Republicans say the time to commit to continued filibustering is now, not a time of political fury over legislation that the minority is blocking. Senator Lindsey Graham (RS.C.) said the GOP just wants to hear Schumer say “we are not going to change the legislative obstruction.”
“You want to do it before there is an emotional, difficult and controversial issue. So that it is not problem-oriented, but institutions-driven, ”said Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), who organized the 2017 letter from grassroots senators to Schumer and McConnell.
The fight for filibuster has major consequences, both immediate and future. McConnell and Schumer met for half an hour on Tuesday on how to organize the Senate, but did not come to any resolution. McConnell spoke of filibustering at that meeting, while Schumer argued that the Senate should adopt the same rules as the last 50-50 Senate in 2001, which did not touch the 60-vote threshold.
The longer the stalemate on the organization package persists, the more bizarre the Senate will become. New senators were not added to committees and the ratios did not change, leaving the GOP in the majority on some panels. This is already complicating the Senate’s ability to confirm some of President Joe Biden’s candidates.
“This is the exact opposite of the conversation we should be having today,” said Senator Martin Heinrich (DN.M.). “Making a sort of jade on the day of the inauguration and swearing-in of three new senators with some sort of political hostage-taking is, I think, an indication of how Machiavellian politics here have become.
Democrats could change Senate rules by a simple majority with the support of the Senate’s 50 Democrats as well as Vice President Kamala Harris via the “nuclear option,” or a unilateral rule change. The rules have been changed by majority three times since 2013, once by Democrats and twice by Republicans – first on removing filibuster on most appointments, then on Supreme Court picks and finally to shorten the debate time for certain candidates. Changing legislative obstruction would in effect make the Senate much more like the House, a majority institution.
Democrats have yet to discuss the filibuster standoff with McConnell as a caucus, although they are expected to hold a party meeting by phone as early as Thursday. And several Democrats have said they’re not sure exactly how Schumer would thread the needle with his GOP counterpart. Schumer has repeatedly declined to comment on the talks with McConnell and the filibuster. Notably, McConnell was keen to keep the filibuster rule in place even as Trump repeatedly attacked him on Twitter.
But Democrats have strong feelings on the matter that will be difficult to reconcile with McConnell’s request. As Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) Put it: “I don’t think Democrats find it acceptable to invoke new rules that McConnell certainly never offered to abide by himself.”
“It’s usually up to the majority to decide whether they want to continue a conversation about changing the rules. And we should reserve that right, ”added Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). “I am a supporter of filibuster reform, obviously I want to make my point in caucus when and if that moment comes.”
Schumer may be able to satisfy McConnell with something less than a written pledge, perhaps a Senate speech or verbal acknowledgment that his preference is not to invoke the nuclear option. But even some Republicans are skeptical that Democrats will give up their influence so easily and just believe Republicans will work with them on the legislation.
“McConnell’s reasoning is to do it now while we’re all in this management mode rather than under fire when there’s a burning issue,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (RN.D.). “I am skeptical of the result. I think Mitch’s effort is noble, but I don’t think it ends there.
Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.