Feb. 14, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

McCain Looks to Defuse 'Nuclear' Threat

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo
McCain and Rubio disagree over how hard the GOP should push debt limit restrictions when allowing the appointment of budget agreement conferees.

Sen. John McCain finds himself once again pushing his colleagues to avoid giving fodder to Democrats seeking to use the “nuclear option” to change Senate rules with a simple majority.

The Arizona Republican’s latest endeavor is to persuade GOP senators to allow the appointment of conferees to hammer out a House- Senate budget agreement without binding instructions against raising the debt limit.

But his efforts have yet to win over the GOP’s tea party wing.

“This is not a trivial objection. I’m not asking that the key lime pie be made the official pie of the United States. I’m not asking for some ridiculous thing. This is the debt limit,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said on the floor, splitting with McCain.

Floor debates over budget procedure are revealing division among GOP senators over how to operate in the minority, with McCain clearly playing a different game from Rubio and other colleagues, including Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Mike Lee, R-Utah.

“The same people planned on filibustering the gun bill and not moving forward with it for debate,” McCain said in reference to a bid by some conservatives to block the motion to proceed to an ill-fated background check measure. “Finally, there [were] enough of us that prevailed that we moved forward with debate.”

McCain told reporters he’s trying to convince his colleagues that such maneuvers will only embolden Democrats seeking to clamp down on the ability to launch filibusters.

“It’ll give more momentum to those who want to go to 51 votes, there’s no doubt about that,” McCain said. “These people that are objecting to appointing conferees are a minority in the Republican Party.

“The House of Representatives, when I was there in the minority, basically had no power,” McCain warned, suggesting that was one of the reasons he wanted to become a senator.

Deal Unraveling

The deal brokered in January involving McCain and Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., was supposed to diffuse any possibility of a nuclear rules change during the 113th Congress, but it may not hold.

“Despite the agreement we reached in January, Republican obstruction on nominees continues unabated,” Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “I want to make the Senate work again — that is my commitment. Republicans and Democrats will have our differences over policy, but the American people expect better from their elected leaders than constant gridlock and obstruction.”

Reid echoed remarks made in 2005 by then-Majority Leader Bill Frist when the Tennessee Republican pondered an effort to reinterpret the rules to eliminate filibusters of nominations with a simple majority vote.

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