Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., doesn’t favor getting rid of the filibuster — even if the GOP takes the majority next year. But he stressed that Democrats have set a precedent for changing the Senate rules on a simple majority vote.
“I think the supermajority requirement in the Senate has been important to the country,” McConnell said, adding that he believe Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has done “a lot of damage” to the institution. His comments, delivered to a gathering at the American Enterprise Institute Thursday, amounted to a pitch to voters that if Republicans were returned to the majority the Senate would work longer days and weeks, take more votes, including on minority amendments, and be a generally more transparent and happier place.
“A Senate majority under my leadership would break sharply from the Reid era in favor of a far more freewheeling approach to problem solving,” McConnell said.
He acknowledged that some Republicans may not like having to take a lot of votes, including ones on Democratic proposals, but he said we “came to the Senate to cast votes.”
The GOP needs to win six seats in the November midterms to take over the chamber. Republican leaders also had a good night in primaries Tuesday night where establishment candidates, including McConnell, beat back tea party opponents.
“If things would have turned out differently in Kentucky Tuesday this would have been a fairly awkward presentation,” a confident McConnell joked.
The GOP has chafed at what it calls “the Reid gag rule” blocking Republican amendments, as well his detonation of the "nuclear option" to effectively get rid of the filibuster for all nominations expect for the Supreme Court.
Democrats contend that Republicans own Senate gridlock — part of their plans to thwart the president.
“With 540 filibusters under his leadership, Senator McConnell — the self-declared ‘proud guardian of gridlock’ — has done more to bring gridlock and obstruction to Washington than any single individual in Senate history,” said Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson. “Under Sen. Reid’s leadership, the Senate has voted on more amendments and on minority amendments at a higher rate than under either of his Republican predecessors.
“By contrast, Sen. McConnell’s legacy is one of blind, knee-jerk obstruction against any and all efforts to help the middle class, regardless of the merits,” Jentleson continued. “Sen. McConnell’s desperate plea of, ‘this time I’ll change, I swear,’ is belied by his long record as the leading force for gridlock and obstruction in Washington.”
McConnell agrees that blocking legislation is an important Senate prerogative, but he also stressed that the requirement under current Senate rules to find 60 votes to overcome a filibuster has the effect of fostering consensus.
“It is of course more frustrating when you are in the majority, but short of 60,” McConnell said. “But if you think back over the history of the country I think probably the biggest service the Senate’s provided to America is the things it has not passed.”
“Some of the proudest moments I can think of in my own career have been the things that I have stopped rather than the other,” McConnell continued. “So the ability to require the kind of consensus you need to have when you have to have 60 votes ... be it ever so frustrating, when you are setting the agenda and still can’t get to 60, if you could detach yourself from the momentary problem you have with that and look at it in terms of what the Senate’s done for America I think its important not to change that fundamental role.”
But McConnell was quick to point out that Democrats have set a precedent for changing the rules, also known as nuclear option. They did so by overturning the ruling of the chairman with a simple majority vote.
“That precedent will always be there, it’s hard to un-ring a bell,” McConnell said.
He would not say if he intends to use the nuclear option to make any changes, including reinstating the 60-vote rule for nominations.
“My advice to my colleagues is that’s a discussion for December if we are fortunate enough to be given by the American people the opportunity to set the agenda in the Senate,” McConnell said.
McConnell also warned Republicans that if they win the majority, it would likely be a slim one and that expectations on what could be accomplished should reflect that.
“Don’t assume that everything we want to do will get 60 votes, it still will be a challenging experience,” McConnell continued. “I will remind you is that the Senate is, by nature and by design, an extremely frustrating institution."