Sen. Lamar Alexander said he has reached out to Members from both parties and reminded Democrats that procedural tactics such as the filibuster could work in their favor if they are thrust into the minority following the 2012 elections.
With Democrats trying to reach agreement on ways to diminish his power come January, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell surprised the proponents of reform by inviting them to his office to discuss how they plan to change Senate rules.
The Kentucky Republican, GOP Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) on Tuesday morning hosted Democratic Sens. Mark Warner (Va.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Benjamin Cardin (Md.) in an apparent attempt to find out what Democrats are planning and discourage them from following through. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was also invited but had a scheduling conflict, sources said.
One Democratic source who was told about the meeting said McConnell seemed to be on a “fishing expedition” to find out what changes were afoot on the filibuster and other potential rules that many Democrats want to change as soon as the 112th Congress begins Jan. 5.
Corker confirmed a meeting occurred but would only say, “The purpose was to just have a discussion.”
No staff was allowed in the meeting, sources said.
Democrats have been meeting this week to discuss what, if anything, they want to do when the next Congress begins and they are faced with an emboldened 47-member GOP minority and a weakened Democratic majority.
For example, they are talking about whether to eliminate filibusters of bills before they even come to the floor for debate, while preserving the right to filibuster bills that are already on the floor.
One Senate Democratic aide suggested that the meeting with McConnell indicated a willingness of the minority to try to find common ground on the issue.
“I think he senses something’s afoot, and he wants to get in on it,” the aide said.
But Republicans flatly rejected the notion that McConnell or any other Republican would be open to changing Senate rules in a way that prevented them from easily blocking legislation he opposes.
“We are not going to allow changes to happen,” one Senate GOP aide confidently predicted, noting that Democrats appear split on what to do anyway.
It’s not as if Republicans have been open publicly or privately to the changes. Alexander showed a three-and-half-minute video to Conference members last week highlighting Democratic statements made against filibuster reform. The brief video shown at last week’s GOP luncheon includes footage of floor speeches by Reid, Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and even then-Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) made in 2005 when Republicans considered limiting debate on judicial nominees. Alexander also cribbed more recent comments from Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who devoted the bulk of his retirement speech on the floor last week to speaking out against changing Senate rules.
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