Tensions are reaching a boiling point in the Senate over the fate of legislative obstructionism as Democratic support grows to remove the procedural hurdle.
Senators traded picks on Tuesday, heralding the likely political firestorm that awaits Democrats if they decide to go ahead with filibuster reform, something they don’t yet have the votes to do. The exchanges occurred just hours earlier. President BidenJoe Biden Biden and Congress Must Take Bold Action to Prevent Violent Extremism The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – Biden Tackles Republican Party Immigration and Obstruction Crackdown Democrats Fight Back in Border Crisis MORE He added fuel to the debate by saying for the first time that he supports changing the obstruction rules.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnell The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – Biden Tackles GOP Filibuster and Immigration Offensive Tensions Rise Over Senate Filibuster Biden Says Supports Return to ‘Filibuster Talk’ MORE (Ky.) He warned that eliminating the need for 60 votes to advance most legislation would have dire consequences.
“Let me say this very clearly to all 99 of my colleagues: No one serving in this chamber can even begin, not even begin, to imagine what a completely bulldozed Senate would look like,” McConnell said from the Senate floor.
He added that Republicans would retaliate by making even mundane tasks, which normally take seconds to accept from each senator, “harder, not easier.”
“It would not open a fast lane for the Biden presidency to rush into the history books. The Senate would be more like a 100-car crash, nothing moving, ”McConnell said.
Democrats largely ignored the Republican leader’s predictions, arguing that he has already mocked the Senate.
“The fact that Senator McConnell and other Republicans step into the room and beg to hold on to this tradition is really pleading that the Senate continue to do less and less each year. Some of us are now in control of the majority side … that we really believe that there is much more to be done in the Senate. The American people expect us to respond, ”said Sen. Dick durbinDick Durbin The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – Biden Tackles Republican Party Obstruction and Immigration Crackdown Democrats Fight Back in Border Crisis Tensions erupt over Senate obstructionism MORE (Dill.).
Biden seems to agree.
“It’s almost getting to the point where democracy is having a hard time functioning,” he said of the obstructionism during an interview with ABC News on Tuesday.
Biden said he supports changing the rules to bring back the so-called “talking filibuster,” when senators were supposed to be on the floor talking to block bills.
Senate Republicans are accusing their fellow Democrats of hypocrisy for talking about reforming or getting rid of obstructionism after using the same procedural tool to block multiple Republican bills during the previous Congress.
“The funny thing is, I don’t remember them saying anything like that for the last four years. So whatever they’ve said in the last four years, I’m happy to adopt now. But, as I recall, in the last four years, they were very comfortable with the way that obstructionism worked, ”the Senator said. Mitt romneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt Romney Tensions flare over Senate obstructionism Several Republican lawmakers are saying no to COVID-19 vaccines Top 5 Republican presidential contenders, and 2 on the verge of disappearing MORE (R-Utah).
The back and forth comes amid growing support within the Senate Democratic Conference to reform the rules on concerns that Republicans will use filibuster to block proposals that have the support of the majority of Americans.
Durbin, who has been involved in behind-the-scenes talks on rule reform, offered his strongest rebuke to obstructionism to date earlier this week, likening it to a “weapon of mass destruction” that is holding the Senate “hostage.”
“Obstructionism is still mocking American democracy. Some senators are still misusing obstructionism to block urgently needed legislation that has the support of a large majority of the American people, ”Durbin said during a speech Monday.
Supporters of the reforms argue that unchanged, many of Biden’s biggest campaign promises are effectively dead by the time he reaches the Senate 50-50. Although Democrats control the majority, they still need the support of at least 10 Republican senators to pass most of the bills.
Eli Zupnick, a spokesman for the pro-reform group Fix Our Senate, said Tuesday that McConnell is “clearly desperate” as support grows for rejecting obstructionism.
Democrats were able to use reconciliation, a mysterious budget process that allows the majority to avoid filibuster, to pass the recent $ 1.9 trillion coronavirus bill.
Democrats are also likely to use budget reconciliation to pass a comprehensive infrastructure and jobs package based on Biden’s Build Back Better plan amid deep divisions with Republicans over the scope of the legislation and how to pay for it.
But without filibuster reform, Democrats will need the support of the Republican Party to pass any of their other big priorities: immigration reform, the right to vote, anti-discrimination measures, and background checks, just to name a few.
The ideas being discussed by the caucus include everything from smaller changes that would leave filibuster intact to reinstating the talking obstructionism now endorsed by Biden, or gutting it entirely by putting it into a simple majority.
“I support discussing any proposal that ends the misuse of the filibuster as a weapon of mass obstruction. If the Senate maintains obstructionism, we must change the rules so that a senator who wants to paralyze our government can endure at least some hassle in the process. We need new rules that really promote debate, ”Durbin said.
Senate Majority Leader Charles schumerChuck Schumer Biden: Cuomo should resign if harassment investigation confirms allegations Half of New Yorkers say Cuomo should not resign immediately: Stacey Abrams poll: ‘I don’t think obstructionism needs to be completely eliminated’ MORE (DN.Y.) has not pointed out where the fate of the obstructionism lies. Pressured Tuesday, he objected.
“We Democrats … believe we need big, bold change. We hope that our Republican colleagues will work with us to bring about that change. We will try to get them to work with us. But if not, we will put our heads together and figure out how to go, and everything will be on the table, “he told reporters.
It’s not the first filibuster fight to hit an increasingly partisan Senate in recent years.
In 2011, McConnell and the then Senate Majority Leader Harry reidHarry Mason Reid Tensions flare over Senate filibuster McConnell offers scathing warning about ‘scorched earth’ filibuster Oregon senator takes center stage in Democratic filibuster debate MORE (D-Nev.) He reached a “gentlemen’s agreement” in which Republicans would limit their filibusters if Reid agreed to open the space to more amendment votes.
In 2013, Democrats used the “nuclear option” to crack down on filibusters in the lower courts and most executive nominations amid a Republican bottleneck. Four years later, Republicans in the GOP-controlled Senate ended the use of the 60-vote filibuster in Supreme Court nominations, a move that helped the former President TrumpDonald Trump The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – Biden Tackles Republican Immigration Crackdown and Obstructionism Democrats Play Defense in Border Crisis Biden’s Big Difference? Diversity MORE add three judges to the court.
Trump repeatedly called on McConnell to get rid of obstructionism during his four years in the White House, as it emerged as a roadblock to conservative priorities.
This time, part of the problem for reform advocates is the narrow margin in the Senate. To go nuclear, Schumer would need the support of all the legislators in his 50-member group.
But several are considered cautious and Sens. Joe manchinJoe Manchin The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – Biden Tackles GOP’s Immigration Crack and Obstructionism Tensions rise over Senate filibuster Biden says he supports a return to ‘filibuster talk’ MORE (DW.Va.) and Kyrsten sinemaKyrsten Sinema Legislators warn of funding risk if 144 cities are reclassified as ‘micropolitan’ areas McConnell offers scathing warning of ‘scorched earth’ obstruction Oregon senator takes center stage in Democratic obstruction debate MORE (D-Ariz.) They are on the registry as recently as this month in opposition to such a move.
Manchin indicated Tuesday that he was not receiving pressure from the caucus, saying they “know who I am” and that his position has not changed.
“Everybody is talking, there are so many different ideas out there. Everyone is talking. And that’s it, there is nothing wrong, it is healthy when you want to talk about everything. But the bottom line is that you can’t get rid of the shoulder. “
When asked what his conclusion is, Manchin added: “You cannot get rid of obstructionism unless your intention is to destroy the Senate.”