Updated 6 p.m. | Sen. Luther Strange has changed his position on the 60-vote threshold to advance legislation in the Senate, amid a competitive primary contest for the Alabama Republican’s seat.
Citing conversations with President Donald Trump, Strange announced Tuesday that he wants to eliminate the threshold for ending debate on legislation in the Senate, and that he would send a letter to chamber leaders asking them to lower the threshold to a majority vote. The change puts Strange in agreement with Trump, who has frequently called on GOP Senate leaders to eliminate the high threshold so they could more easily pass legislation.
“While I had hoped that Republicans and Democrats would work together to accomplish the will of the American people, it has become obvious that politics and self-preservation will continue to rule the day,” Strange said in a press release from his Senate office.
Though the announcement came from his congressional office, the change in position will likely come up on the campaign trail. Strange is three weeks away from a primary runoff against Roy Moore, the former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.
Moore’s campaign chairman, Bill Armistead, called Strange’s decision “a blatant flipflop that career politicians do when they’re in trouble.”
Strange has been backed by allies of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He and Moore are locked in a heated race for the GOP nomination. Whoever wins the runoff will face Democratic lawyer Doug Jones in the Dec. 12 general election for the remaining term of former Sen. Jeff Sessions, now the attorney general. (Strange was appointed to the seat in February.)
Moore has the backing of some anti-establishment Republicans, including former White House adviser Steve Bannon. Moore is well-known in the state since he was twice removed from the state Supreme Court — once for defying a federal order to remove a statue of the Ten Commandments from a state courthouse, and again, for directing state judges to not administer same-sex marriage licenses.
The arcane Senate procedure became an issue in the Alabama GOP primary, with Republican Rep. Mo Brooks pitching the elimination of the 60-vote rule to argue that he would be the best ally for Trump, who is popular in the Yellowhammer State.
Brooks did not advance to the primary runoff scheduled for Sept. 26. But his stance prompted Strange to explain his position on the rule to end debate, also known as the filibuster. Strange had previously signed a letter saying he supported the 60-vote threshold for legislation.
Asked at a candidate forum last month about his plan to remove the threshold, Strange said, “Let’s be careful when we look at that.”
“The problem we have is we don’t have 50 Republican senators,” he said, suggesting that even if the threshold was lowered to 50, the GOP might still not be able to pass major legislation. He also said that without the 60-vote threshold, Democrats would also be able make significant policy changes if they take control of the Senate.
Moore supports eliminating the 60-vote threshold to end debate. He said in an interview in August that the rule keeps Congress from voting on difficult pieces of legislation. He also said there is no provision in the Constitution that requires the procedure.
“I think they want to keep it to hide, so they don’t have to vote on anything. That’s what I think,” Moore said. “I don’t care if it’s a liberal majority or a conservative majority, we’ve got to get back to the rule. It’s killing us.”
However, Strange’s campaign sent out a release Tuesday morning highlighting Moore’s previous position on the 60-vote threshold to end debate on a Supreme Court nomination.
Eleven months ago, Moore was asked on the radio show “Here I Stand,” if the Senate should lower the threshold to end debate on the next Supreme Court justice. The former judge said, “I think they should keep the framework they’ve got.”
But Moore’s campaign pointed out in a statement that “all conservatives opposed doing away with the filibuster” at the time.
Senate Republicans, including Strange, eventually decided to lower that threshold to allow Justice Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court to move forward.