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Will Playing Nice Pay Off for GOP in Filibuster Fight?

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call
McCain, ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said Nov. 29 that he and Chairman Carl Levin made a conscious decision to prove to others that the Senate can still function without cutting off some avenues for filibusters in January.

Arizona Sen. John McCain served as a voice of reason on the Senate floor last week, seeking compromises from Democrats while imploring fellow Republicans to set a good example and help deflate Democratic cries to alter filibuster rules.

McCain, ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said Nov. 29 that he and Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., made a conscious decision to prove to others that the Senate can still function without cutting off some avenues for filibusters in January. Levin has been a vocal critic of deploying the “constitutional” or “nuclear” option to change the Senate rules with a simple-majority vote next January, as Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., may attempt.

“The senator from Michigan and I had two goals in mind: one, to achieve conclusion of the defense authorization bill, which is vital to our national security on which I think we would all agree,” McCain said on the floor. “But we also wanted to show our colleagues, and maybe the country, that we could move forward in a normal fashion with legislation, amendments, and final votes without cloture motions, without blocking things, without objecting to other people’s amendments.”

The comment came in the middle of a standoff between Sens. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., about an amendment that Coburn wanted to offer about access to firearms by veterans with mental health issues. Schumer would not permit an agreement to grant Coburn a vote on that measure. McCain criticized Schumer for blocking the vote but encouraged his colleagues to move forward nonetheless.

Republicans, such as Sen. Marco Rubio, generally liked the example of comity, even without the messaging votes that they sometimes seek to offer.

“In essence, the Senate would work better if we had more bills like we have now, where everyone got to file their amendments, the managers got to work through it and figure out which ones they wanted to let a vote on, and so forth,” the Florida Republican said. “I think it just works better. That’s what we came here to do.”

The work on the fiscal 2013 defense authorization (S 3254), which is on track to pass the Senate for the 51st consecutive year, represents how senators in both parties would like the Senate to operate. There was skepticism that one or two good weeks, or even passage of the defense bill in the days ahead, would change Reid’s plans, however.

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