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Sahil Kapur

Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at sahil@talkingpointsmemo.com and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.

Articles by Sahil

Updated: 2:05 P.M.

The filibuster reform endgame is coming into focus.

Reformers are closing ranks behind a more modest proposal by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) that they believe could pass with a 51-vote threshold when the Senate returns next week and chip away at the minority party's power to obstruct. It represents a concession that the full "talking filibuster" they want may not happen. But accepting the emerging Reid proposal would ward off a competing plan that they consider weaker than Reid's.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) says he's still fighting for the talking filibuster and believes it can pass. His aide said he isn't convinced the Reid plan would take on the core problems of the Senate, but Merkley didn't rule it out.

"I believe that when Majority Leader Reid says, 'Here is my package and I need you all to back it,' he will have 51 votes behind him," Merkley told TPMPrime members during a live chat Wednesday.

Leaders of Fix The Senate Now, an outside pro-reform coalition, also prefer a more robust talking filibuster, but have signaled openness to embracing the Reid plan, wary of seeing the whole effort to reform the filibuster collapse.

"We're optimistic that some good changes are going to happen," said Shane Larson, the legislative director for Communications Workers For America, whose group has already spent more than $300,000 on TV ads in the D.C. area pushing filibuster reform. "We're very optimistic that we're going to get there, that we'll have 51 votes to put this through."

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Fix The Senate Now, a coalition of advocacy groups supportive of weakening the filibuster, hasn't given up on pushing for a full "talking filibuster" plan but is keeping its options open, a spokesperson for the coalition told TPM late Wednesday.

"While we await the actual package of reforms proposed by Senator Reid, the Fix the Senate Now coalition believes a post-cloture ‘talking filibuster’ provision would not go far enough to cut down on silent obstruction," said the spokesperson, Michael Earls. "However, we remain optimistic that Senator Reid’s ultimate reform proposal will acknowledge these concerns, also expressed by reform-minded leaders like Senator Merkley, and will advance Senate changes that raise the costs of Senate obstruction, while speeding up the legislative and confirmation processes."

The coalition, like other reform advocates, isn't ruling out supporting a less far-reaching version of filibuster reform.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) praised President Obama's push for new gun proposals Wednesday.

"If you look at the combination of likelihood of passage and effectiveness of curbing gun crime, universal background checks is at the sweet spot," he said in a statement. "We’re glad the President put such emphasis on it, and we look forward to working with him on this and other proposals to make our nation safer from the scourge of gun violence."

The public option is back ... sort of.

House Democrats on Tuesday introduced the "Public Option Deficit Reduction Act," which would provide consumers the choice to opt into a government-run health insurance plan in the Obamacare exchanges.

The bill, which almost certainly cannot pass in the Republican-controlled House, is a mostly symbolic effort meant to keep the public option alive as a policy prescription. It is sponsored by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), who is on the Energy & Commerce health subcommittee, along with Energy & Commerce Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) and 43 other lawmakers.

"The Public Option Deficit Reduction Act will give health care consumers more choice and lower their premiums," said Schakowsky. "And, by providing a lower-cost alternative to private insurance, it would put pressure on all insurers to lower their premiums in order to compete."

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House Speaker John Boehner's (R-OH) spokesman Michael Steel responded Wednesday to President Obama's newly unveiled proposals for gun control.

"House committees of jurisdiction will review these recommendations," Steel said in a statement. "And if the Senate passes a bill, we will also take a look at that."

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), a leading champion of filibuster reform, told TPMPrime members during a live chat Wednesday that Democrats will have the votes to weaken the minority party's power to obstruct when the Senate returns next week.

"There are a number of folks who are working to get their hands around how these proposed changes would work in practice," he said. "Senator Udall -- my core partner throughout this battle -- and I both believe that when Majority Leader Reid says 'here is my package and I need you all to back it,' he will have 51 votes behind him."

He said the only clear holdout among the 55 Democrats is Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI).

"News reports have had a reasonably accurate list of the Senators who are solidly there and those who are still working out the details," Merkley said. "As of this point, the only person who has said that he will definitely oppose Reid's package if it is to be done with 51 votes is Senator Levin." He added that Levin has held his views for many years.

The Oregon Democrat, who has enlisting outside allies for the cause, said the competing proposal by Levin and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) would be a step backward.

"I don't see Levin/McCain as a step forward because it doesn't address the silent secret filibuster that the minority uses to kill legislation. In addition, it introduces the poison pill problem," Merkley told TPMPrime. "It is important to recognize, however, that Senator Levin is being completely consistent with the position he took in 2005 when the Republicans threatened to change the rules to eliminate the filibuster on judges. The Republicans only agreed to pull back from changing the rules, however, when the Democrats essentially agreed to what the Republicans wanted making changing the rules unnecessary."

The senators from New York and New Jersey praised House passage of the Sandy relief aid Tuesday evening.

Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) said in a joint statement:

"It's great news for families, communities and small businesses in our region that the House – after weeks of delay - finally passed an emergency relief bill for Superstorm Sandy.  Our region extends a helping hand any time another community suffers from a major disaster, and we're pleased that the House voted to provide this emergency relief for New Jersey and New York.  As we rebuild, we are committed to making smart investments to ensure that our transportation networks, beach communities, businesses and local neighborhoods can rebuild stronger so that they are better prepared for future storms."

The House voted 241-180 on Tuesday to pass some $50 billion in relief for victims of superstorm Sandy, the second of a two part package after it recently passed the first $10 billion.

Just 49 Republicans voted for it. 179 Republicans and 1 Democrat voted against the bill.

It's the second time this year that Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has brought legislation to the floor without the support of a majority of Republicans -- the so-called Hastert Rule.

The Senate is on board with the full $60 billion. Prior to the vote the House killed an amendment to include offsets in the package.

The Republican-led House defeated an amendment by Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) to offset some $17 billion in aid for victims of superstorm Sandy.

The vote on the amendment was 162-258. Republicans supported it by a 157-71 margin but Democratic opposition helped strike it down. It would have imposed a 1.63 percent across-the-board cut to discretionary spending.

Republican opponents fret that it would cut into defense and veterans' programs.

The vote split GOP leaders: Majority Leader Eric Cantor (VA) and Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA) voted for the amendment, while Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (CA) voted against it.

UPDATE: Via spokeswoman Stephanie Faile, Mulvaney issued a statement following the vote:

“While I certainly hoped my amendment to offset the cost of the Hurricane Sandy Supplemental Relief Bill would have passed, I was very encouraged that 162 Members, including several Democrats, agreed that we should find a way to pay for the relief the folks in the Northeast so desperately need. I believe this bodes well for future discussions about how to deal with emergency spending. I am especially pleased with the atmosphere of the debate, as it was respectful and reasonable on all sides. Even opponents of my amendment recognized that this amendment was not about denying assistance to anyone in need. I hope that we will use this experience to be even better stewards of taxpayer dollars going forward.”

Shortly after Chuck Hagel was nominated to be next secretary of defense, TPM asked a Senate Republican leadership aide what their opposition strategy was going to be.

The aide's response in full: "Schumer."

New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, a leadership Democrat, was seen as the GOP's best hope of chipping away at support for Hagel's confirmation, in part because of the former Nebraska senator's occasional critiques of U.S. foreign policy toward Israel. Schumer initially hedged on whether he'd support Hagel but there was no reason to believe he would mount a fight against President Obama over the confirmation.

On Tuesday, Schumer dashed Republican hopes by announcing his intention to support Hagel for the Pentagon's top job. In a statement, the New York Democrat said he was reassured after a 90-minute White House meeting on Monday with Hagel where the two discussed his views regarding Israel and the Middle East, Iran and a past anti-gay slur. Schumer declined an offer last week to speak with Hagel by phone, according to a Senate aide. Instead the two men met in the West Wing, according to the aide. It was Hagel's first in-person meeting with any senator about his nomination, the aide said, noting that Schumer is not even on the Armed Services Committee that has jurisdiction over the confirmation of the secretary of defense.

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