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Filibuster Changes On the Way, but Move Could Be Weakened by Senate Leaders

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Reid is expected to use a procedural trick to ensure that his opportunity for filibuster reform does not slip away after the first day of the 113th Congress.

Senate Democratic and Republican leaders hope to avoid a legislative standoff on the first day of the 113th Congress by delaying any debate on filibuster rules changes until after the president’s inauguration ceremony on Jan. 21.

Instead, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., plan to use the next two weeks to negotiate curbs to perceived filibuster abuse.

Senate Democratic aides said the rules debate is expected to begin Jan. 22, rather than Thursday, but Reid will use a procedural trick to ensure that his options remain open. Instead of adjourning the Senate at the end of the day Thursday, Reid will put the chamber in recess to keep the Senate from closing out the first legislative day of the session. That’s because Democrats believe the first legislative day provides them with the opportunity to change Senate rules by a simple majority vote. The first legislative day could last for months of calendar time if Reid so chooses.

Though Reid will preserve his options, he and McConnell hope to forge a compromise on changing the rules or establishing temporary rules for the 113th Congress only that could avert a floor fight.

Reid has signaled that he could go down the road of making changes with only Democratic votes as an option of last resort, doubtless wary that such a move would further erode Senate comity.

“The details of the packages to be proposed by leadership are still evolving,” a Democratic aide familiar with the discussions said Wednesday.

Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., thinks that if push comes to shove, Reid would have the votes needed to use the constitutional, or nuclear, option. “When the reality sets on the Senate that we have 51 votes, then people start thinking, ‘Well, how do we want to put this together?’” Udall said.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., on Wednesday engaged in a floor colloquy with Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who has expressed concern about even some of the changes proposed by a bipartisan group of senators. Those members have offered a plan to pare down the number of motions that can be filibustered in exchange for guaranteeing the minority a set number of amendments to all bills.

Whitehouse rejected Sessions’ position that Reid and other Democrats would be breaking the rules to impose filibuster changes with 51 votes, but he conceded the parliamentary concerns.

“The senator makes a fair point that from a point of view of precedent, very different than breaking the rules but from the point of view of precedent, it sets a new standard that we should be very cautious about going to,” Whitehouse said.

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