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House Conservatives Call on Senate to Change Filibuster Rules for DHS

Labrador and other conservatives are calling for changes in Senate rules. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Well, that didn't take long.  

As House Republicans grapple with how they can force Senate Democrats to take up their version of a Department of Homeland Security funding bill, some conservatives are calling on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to turn toward the so-called nuclear option. "Mitch McConnell can change the rules of the Senate," Rep. Raúl R. Labrador said Thursday at a panel discussion with conservative lawmakers. "And this is important enough for Mitch McConnell to change the rules of the Senate."  

Senate Democrats used the nuclear option to change the rules in the last Congress for "low-level appointments," Labrador noted. "We're talking about a constitutional crisis," he said.  

Labrador was referring to President Barack Obama's executive action on immigration, which Republicans are attempting to block through the DHS funding bill.  

The Idaho Republican is frustrated with GOP senators who insist the House should send them a clean funding measure because they can't reach 60 votes on a procedural motion to take up the bill.  

That advice is not sitting well with conservatives, nor with Speaker John A. Boehner and others in House GOP leadership.  

Labrador wondered why Republicans would let a small bloc of Senate Democrats thwart their legislative propositions, and he said if that was the plan, there was no point to being in D.C.  

"Why don't they all just go home?" Labrador asked.  

But that's not Labrador's real position. He believes the House and Senate should stay in session next week — they're scheduled to have a "district work period" — and he said the Senate should try every tactic at its disposal to get the House-passed DHS bill to the floor. "Forget about recess," Labrador said.  

Labrador seemed to have the support of his conservative colleagues sitting on the dais at the monthly "Conversations with Conservatives" event. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., said he didn't think McConnell should let the Senate stand in the way of the Constitution, while South Carolina Republican Rep. Mick Mulvaney noted the filibuster rule was not in the Constitution.  

Mulvaney was not opposed to setting a new Senate precedent for simple majority votes. "The rule is by tradition," he said. "And the rule not been sacrosanct since the beginning — the rule has been changed from time to time."  

He also noted that short of the "nuclear option," which he said he didn't like as a phrase — "it's a little strange," he explained — McConnell could make Democrats actually resort to a talking filibuster, which would require senators attempting to block a bill to actually talk while holding the Senate floor.  

Other conservative Senate Republicans, however, were reluctant to join the call for rule changes.  

At a separate news conference Thursday, GOP Sens. Dan Sullivan of Alaska and Ted Cruz of Texas suggested they weren't planning to push the nuclear option any time soon.  

"I don't think that's an option we're looking at right now," said Sullivan.  

"I think the Senate rules wisely protect the minority," Cruz piped in. "The answer is not to change the Senate rules. The answer is for Senate Democrats not to be obstructionist. And even more so, the answer is for Senate Democrats to be held accountable if they are simultaneously being hypocritical."  

Cruz and other Republicans are fond of noting that a handful of Senate Democrats now voting against the motion to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to the DHS bill were publicly opposed to Obama's executive action on immigration before the November elections.  

Cruz has also floated the idea of blocking the president's nominations until Senate Democrats agree to move to the DHS funding bill — an idea that had the enthusiastic support of House conservatives on the panel Thursday.  

But, ultimately, conservatives seem to think there's a distinct possibility GOP leaders will give in on the executive action. Asked to imagine a world where leaders do cave on the DHS bill, Mulvaney couldn't wait for the question to end before interjecting, "Oh, we can imagine."  

The rest of the question was what would — what could? — conservatives do in retaliation for leadership surrendering on the DHS-immigration battle.  

Labrador didn't seem to think that was the right question.  

"The question is," he said, "what will the American people do?"  

Emma Dumain contributed to this report.    

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