Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell threatened on Tuesday to turn the Senate into a “100-car pileup” and block “even the most basic aspects” of its business if Democrats get rid of the legislative filibuster as progressives are asking.
McConnell, R-Ky., made the comments in a floor speech on Tuesday that was similar to others he’s previously made during times of increased chatter about getting rid of the filibuster.
“So let me say this very clearly for all 99 of my colleagues. Nobody serving in this chamber can even begin to imagine what a completely scorched-earth Senate would look like,” McConnell said. “None of us have served one minute in a Senate that was completely drained of comity and consent. This is an institution that requires unanimous consent to turn the lights on before noon, to proceed with a garden-variety floor speech.”
McConnell added: “I want our colleagues to imagine a world where every single task, every one of them, requires a physical quorum. Which, by the way, the vice president does not count in determining a quorum. This chaos would not open up an express lane for liberal change … The Senate would be more like a 100-car pileup, noting moving.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., walks to speak on the Senate floor on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Jan. 25, 2021. (AP)
McConnell made similar threats in January while he was negotiating an organizing resolution with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. McConnell was demanding that the agreement include a written commitment to protect the filibuster, but he relented after multiple Democratic senators committed to preserving the 60-vote threshold for bills.
Now, progressives are again pushing Democrats to get rid of the practice, which some see as a key to forcing collaboration in the Senate but some Democrats say is a relic of the Jim Crow era. Notably, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., whose support of the filibuster was key to reassuring McConnell that it would remain in place, said on “Fox News Sunday” earlier this month that while he still supports the filibuster, he wants to make it “more painful” politically to use.
“Maybe you have to stand there,” Manchin said, apparently opening the door to removing the filibuster in its current form and imposing a “standing” filibuster. The filibuster in its current form forces the Senate to have 60 votes to end debate on a piece of legislation and only forces the filibustering senators to vote against ending debate.
A “standing” or “talking” filibuster would essentially require the minority party trying to block legislation to constantly hold the Senate floor in order to block a vote to end debate on a bill. But if they do cede the floor, the majority party could schedule a simple-majority vote to end debate, paving the way for a bill’s passage.
Pressure to get rid of the filibuster is not only coming from progressive activists but even from top Democrats in the Senate. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., on the Senate floor Monday attacked the filibuster in a speech.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., arrives for the impeachment trial of President Trump on Capitol Hill January 30, 2020, in Washington, D.C. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)
“Today, nearly 65 years after Strom Thurmond’s marathon defense of Jim Crow, the filibuster is still making a mockery of American democracy. The filibuster is still being misused by some Senators to block legislation urgently needed and supported by strong majorities of the American people,” he said. “This is what hitting legislative rock bottom looks like. Today’s filibusters have turned the world’s most deliberative body into one of the world’s most ineffectual bodies.”
Durbin said he preferred to return to the “standing filibuster.”
“If a senator insists on blocking the will of the Senate, he [or she] should have to pay some minimal price of being present. No more phoning it in,” Durbin said. “If your principles are that important, stand up for them, speak your mind, hold the floor, and show your resolve.”
This proposal would end the wholesale ability of a minority to stop any legislation and essentially set up a test of wills between the minority and majority over whether a certain piece of legislation passes.
McConnell on Tuesday quoted Durbin from a 2018 interview with ABC, in which he said the filibuster is essential to the Senate.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., speaks before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the fourth day of hearings on Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, Pool)
“I can tell you that would be the end of the Senate as it was originally devised and created going back to our Founding Fathers,” Durbin said of getting rid of the filibuster. “We have to acknowledge our respect for the minority, and that is what the Senate tries to do in its composition and in its procedure.”
McConnell also quoted Schumer calling the filibuster the “most important distinction between the Senate and the House.” He also warned that “majorities are actually never permanent” and said that Republicans, when they are back in control of the Senate, [they] wouldn’t just erase every liberal change” but implement a litany of their preferred policies with “zero input for the other side.”
“My colleagues and I have refused to kill the Senate for instant gratification. In 2017 and 2018 I was lobbied to do exactly what Democrats want to do now. A sitting president leaned on me to do it. He tweeted about it,” McConnell said. “I said no repeatedly. Because becoming a U.S. senator comes with higher duties than steamrolling any obstacles to short-term power.”
He added: “I meant it. Republicans meant it. Less than two months ago, two of our Democratic colleagues said they mean it too. If they keep their word, we have a bipartisan majority that can put principle first and keep the Senate safe.”