Two can play that game: Republicans threaten takeover of Senate floor with votes on Keystone XL pipeline, abortion and the border if Dems kill filibuster to push through voting rights legislation
Senate Republicans are threatening to force votes on a slew of bills designed to split the Democratic caucus and take over the floor agenda should Majority Leader Charles Schumer carry out his threat to push through a change in Senate filibuster rules for voting rights.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has been leading a Republican filibuster against the bills, threatened to use Senate rules to call up a raft of legislation in response – including bills that might peel off a vote a or two from vulnerable Democrats.
'Since Sen. Schumer is hellbent on trying to break the Senate, Republicans will show how this reckless action would have immediate consequences,' McConnell vowed.
He reiterated his threat on the Senate floor Tuesday morning.
'I want to make something very, very clear. Fifty Republican senators – the largest possible minority – have been sent here to represent the many millions of Americans whom leader Schumer wants so badly to leave behind,' McConnell said. 'So, if my colleague tries to break the Senate to silence those millions of Americans, we will make their voices heard in this chamber in ways that are more inconvenient for the majority and this White House than what anybody has seen in living memory.'
McConnell's planned virtual takeover of the floor agenda would not result in new laws – Democrats could block them and President Biden could veto them anyway. But it could put pressure on Democrats while also tying up the floor with procedural votes.
On tap would be legislation including a bill on the Keystone XL pipeline, a project President Joe Biden blocked at the start of his term. An amendment to revive it drew support from Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) early last year.
McConnell's threat came on Monday in a comment to the Wall Street Journal. He has scheduled a press conference on Tuesday where he will continue to beat the drum.
'We have a lot of bills, actually, that have bipartisan support that Democrats have expressed support for previously,' said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the party's Number Two leader.
The minority party has traditionally vowed to carry out harsh delaying tactics when the majority threatens to change the rules to its advantage – one reason changes to the Senate filibuster have been termed the 'nuclear option' over the years.
Republicans are able to try to bring up the legislation in the 50-50 Senate through provisions of Rule 14 – which allows a senator to place legislation directly on the Senate calendar.
It still would be subject to a filibuster, so Democrats could prevent the bills from becoming law. But the procedural move could force Democrats to cast votes out of step with the majority of their colleagues, turning up the heat on senators like Manchin, and targets including Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Mark Kelly (Ariz.) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.)
Schumer, in remarks to colleagues Monday evening, tried to call McConnell's bluff.
He offered a 'unanimous consent' motion to bring up all the bills on McConnell's wish list, plus the two Democratic voting rights bills, but McConnell objected.
President Joe Biden is making a push for voting rights legislation with a speech in Atlanta Monday, and is expected to call for changes to filibuster rules in the chamber where he served for more than three decades.
Schumer has said the Senate will vote on a change to the filibuster rules by MLK Day this coming Monday if the chamber doesn't take action on voting rights. The legislative filibuster allows a minority to block debate on a measure unless then majority can muster 60 votes.
Other legislation on McConnell's list would codify Trump Administration water policy rules, Yahoo News reported. Another would block American Rescue Plan funds for schools that aren't conducting in-person learning. Still another would block settlement payments to illegal immigrants – following reports the Justice Department was planning payouts to parents who were separated from their children.
Other votes could target hot-button issues like abortion and a border wall.
Current rules require 60 votes to cut off debate on legislation, allowing a minority to block action by the majority.
They have been modified on occasion, including in 2013, when Democrats ended the requirement for administration and lower court nominees. Republicans took a similar action for Supreme Court nominees in 2017. Both those changes came on a simple majority vote.
The threshold for changing the requirement for 'closure' to cut off debate also has been changed, with a two-thirds majority of those present put in place in 1917 and a three-fifths majority of those 'chosen and sworn' in 1975.