Politics

GOP Senators Tell Pence They Aren't Changing Filibuster

McConnell reiterates opposition to changing legislative filibusters

Republican senators talked about their support for legislative filibusters with Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

By NIELS LESNIEWSKI AND JOE WILLIAMS

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday ruled out, yet again, the possibility that the chamber would attempt to get rid of the legislative filibuster, and he did so to Vice President Mike Pence.

“Folks just emphasized that we think the Senate as a consensus building organization was what our founding fathers envisioned and is important to the culture of the institution,” Sen. Bill Cassidy told reporters.

The Republican from Louisiana confirmed that McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, made it clear to Pence that the Senate opposes the change to reduce the vote threshold to 51 to limit debate as President Donald Trump suggested in a Tuesday morning tweet.

The tweet came in the context of Democrats praising the bipartisan omnibus spending deal that will fund the government through the end of September.

“There is an overwhelming majority on a bipartisan basis not interested in changing the way the Senate operates on the legislative calendar and that will not happen,” McConnell told reporters after the weekly conference lunch attended by Pence. “It would fundamentally change the way the Senate has worked for a very long time. We’re not going to do that.”

Sixty-one Republican and Democratic senators wrote to McConnell earlier this year expressing a desire to maintain the legislative filibuster, and Trump’s position predictably does not have support among Senate Republicans.

“It doesn’t have any from me,” Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander said.

“The Senate is for the purpose of forcing consensus on important issues. It has worked very in well doing that on difficult issues like civil rights,” the Tennessee Republican told CQ Roll Call. “It’s the single most important consensus-building institution in the country, and we don’t need to change that.”

Alexander cited bipartisan negotiations he led last Congress on reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and on medical research funding as examples of where the Senate’s role worked.

That’s not to say there are no fears the Senate may be inching toward looking more like the House, which operates strictly along majority rule.

“It’s not going anywhere,” Sen. John McCain said of the legislative filibuster. “But when Harry Reid broke it on the judges, and we broke it on [the] Supreme Court, we’re on a slippery slope. I’m glad we did Gorsuch, but I’m embarrassed about the way we did it.”

The Arizona Republican was a reluctant supporter of McConnell’s move to use the so-called nuclear option to effectively change the Senate rules to allow for a majority of senators to cut off filibusters of nominations to the Supreme Court. The move allowed Justice Neil M. Gorsuch to be confirmed.

McCain’s Arizona colleague Sen. Jeff Flake was not the least bit surprised that Trump would make such a call after negotiators from both chambers struck a bipartisan deal that would keep the government funded with an omnibus spending bill for the rest of fiscal 2017.

“I’ve known it would come. I mean it’ll come from the House when they start passing legislation that we can’t pass here,” Flake said. “I assumed that the president would talk about it as well, but it’s not going to happen.”

Dating back to his own time as a House member, Flake has been a longtime thorn in the side of members of the Appropriations Committee, and when asked if he was a fan of omnibus spending bills, he gave a rather predictably negative response.

“No, not at all. But I am a fan of unlimited debate,” Flake said. “The filibuster obviously is frustrating at times when you’re trying to reform or whatever. But, if you believe in limited government, it’s a friend more than it’s a foe.”

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas however, warned that continued attempts by Democrats in the Senate to obstruct the chamber’s efforts would only serve to increase support for removing the current 60-vote threshold.

“I think the desire to limit their abuse will only grow over time,” Cruz, a former Trump campaign rival, said Tuesday. 

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