Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) came out with his strongest threat about abolishing the filibuster yet on Tuesday, warning that he will use procedural delays to turn the Senate into a “100-car pileup” if Democrats go nuclear.
“Nobody serving in this chamber can even begin, even begin to imagine what a completely scorched-earth Senate would look like,” he said.
If Democrats torch the filibuster on legislation, or at least torch the 60-vote threshold part of it, McConnell said he’d use Senate rules to slow down and force votes on every single small piece of Senate operations. Much of Senate business runs on unanimous consent, a quick way to dispense with unobjectionable and housekeeping tasks.
“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,” he said.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) shrugged off the threat.
“He has already done that,” he told reporters of McConnell’s threat to grind the chamber to a halt. “He’s proven he can do it and they’ll do it again, I assume.”
This isn’t the first time McConnell has threatened Democrats with all-out gridlock should they take away his best tool to obstruct legislation from the minority. In January too, he threatened a “nightmare” scenario where he uses unanimous consent to slow down all Senate business. He made the comments towards the end of his maneuver to hold the Senate’s organizing resolution hostage — preventing Democrats from taking over committee chairmanships — where, again, he threatened to stop Senate business in its tracks if Democrats didn’t promise to sustain the filibuster.
On Tuesday, McConnell added another threat to his spiel.
He painted a hellscape for Democrats in which, as soon as Republicans take back the majority in the Senate, they ram through policy deeply opposed by Democrats like defunding Planned Parenthood, loosening gun restrictions and expanding anti-abortion legislation.
In McConnell’s hypothetical, apparently, Republicans have seized a few more seats in the Senate so as to stop Democrats from using those same procedural rules against them.
“Trading this for the ability to actually pass bills like voting rights seems like an easy call,” Adam Jentleson, a former Harry Reid staffer and current anti-filibuster activist, wrote on Twitter. “If McConnell’s tactics become truly onerous, Dems can always pass further reforms to end obstruction. McConnell’s goal is to make government fail, Dems’ goal should be to make it work.”
McConnell’s tone seems to be escalating apace with Democratic inching towards filibuster reform.
Durbin told reporters recently that there’s been “a lot of work done behind the scenes” that will soon come to the fore, adding that he doesn’t want to take credit for it.
Any movement on the filibuster has to include Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), the Senate caucus’ two public filibuster supporters. Both of them have indicated possible flexibility on reform, Manchin specifically expressing his desire for “pain” to be infused back into the filibuster, seemingly referring to a resurrection of the talking filibuster where a lawmakers has to actually hold the floor while holding up legislation.
This fight, which has been looming over the Senate for months, is likely coming soon — nearly all of President Joe Biden’s ambitious legislative goals can, at the moment, be killed by Republican filibusters.