Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday delivered a fiery defense of the Senate filibuster – a procedure allowing senators to block legislation from being voted on unless overruled by a 60-vote majority – threatening to use procedural moves to grind the chamber to a halt and make current gridlock look like “child’s play.”
McConnell, in a floor speech, called out Senate Democrats who believe eliminating the rule would be a “tidy tradeoff” that would allow them to pass major legislative priorities free of the need for 10 Republican votes.
Nobody in the Senate, McConnell warned, can “imagine what a completely scorched-earth Senate would look like,” asserting that it would make the partisan gridlock that defined the last three presidencies look like “child’s play.”
McConnell warned he could gum up the works in the minority by requiring at least 51 senators be physically present in order to proceed, which would grind the chamber to a halt given that Democrats have 50 seats and Vice President Kamala Harris wouldn’t count.
The minority leader also laid out a laundry list of policies his party would try to ram through if they retook the majority, including “sweeping” abortion restrictions, a “hardening” of the U.S.-Mexico border, nation-wide right to work, defunding Planned Parenthood and sanctuary cities and passing concealed carry reciprocity in all 50 states.
McConnell made the case that he has exercised restraint in the past when pressured to eliminate the cumbersome rule, revealing that former President Donald Trump “leaned on” him privately to do it, in addition to tweeting about it, but that he “said no repeatedly.”
“The Senate would be like a 100-car pile up. Nothing moving,” McConnell summed up his plans as minority leader in a post-filibuster Senate. In the majority, he said, “the pendulum… would swing both ways. And it would swing hard,” adding that he would take “zero input” from Democrats.
McConnell eliminated the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations in 2017 after Democrats attempted to block now-Justice Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation, but former Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid fired the first shot in 2013 when he nuked it for lower court nominations. Now, some Democrats want Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to do away with it altogether to pass major bills on criminal justice and election reform already passed by the House.
“The Senate has ground to a halt because Sen. McConnell has put 60 vote requirements on everything. And the reason: that’s what the filibuster requires,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, who has vocally criticized the filibuster in recent days, told reporters on Tuesday, according to pool reports. Asked about McConnell’s threat to grind the Senate to a halt, Durbin said “he has already done that… so that’s a threat, yes, we’ve seen it. We know you can do it.”
Schumer has said nuking the filibuster is “on the table,” but President Joe Biden, a 36-year stalwart of the Senate, has long opposed such a move. “The president’s preference is not to get rid of the filibuster,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said earlier this month, adding that he also prefers not to change the filibuster rules either.
What To Watch For
The wholesale elimination of the filibuster is highly unlikely, given stringent opposition to such a move from moderate Democrats and firm commitments from Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) not to do it. However, Manchin has indicated support for making filibusters “painful” by requiring senators who use the procedure to physically stand on the Senate floor and speak, something only done in rare circumstances in modern filibusters.