McConnell Threatens ‘Nuclear Winter’ If Dems Eliminate Filibuster

TPM Illustration/Getty Images

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said during an interview that aired Tuesday that the Senate would turn into “a sort of nuclear winter” if Democrats succeeded in eliminating the filibuster.

“If they turn the Senate into a simple majority body, the Senate is lost,” McConnell said during a conservative podcast interview with “Ruthless.”

“It may not be the panacea that they anticipate it would be, it could turn the Senate into sort of a nuclear winter, where the aftermath of the so-called nuclear option is not a sustainable place,” McConnell added.

The comments come after McConnell issued a dire threat as a growing number of Senate Democrats in recent weeks signaled interest in filibuster reform. 

“Nobody serving in this chamber can even begin, even begin to imagine what a completely scorched-earth Senate would look like,” McConnell said last week.

Senate aides told Axios that McConnell would be very strategic in taking advantage of other Senate rules to frustrate Democrats and stall progress in the chamber, among them, unnecessary quorum calls, pausing business to ensure all 100 senators are on the floor, lengthy debates about motions, and introducing long amendments to stretch out proceedings.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) had previously brushed off McConnell’s threats during an interview with CBS’ Stephen Colbert.

“We’re not going to be deterred. We’re going to go forward because we know the American people demand, need, want bold change,” Schumer said on “The Late Show” last week. “And we’re going to do it. Mitch McConnell can do all the threatening and bluster he wants. It’s not going to stop us.” 

McConnell further accused Democrats during the Tuesday interview of having no interest in compromise.

“These folks are not interested in compromise, they’re interested in passing all of their bills to remake America,” he said.

The call for compromise follows efforts by McConnell in 2017 to set a new precedent that lowered the threshold on Supreme Court nominations to end debate from 60 to 51 votes to confirm then-President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. The change did not affect the legislative filibuster, but it certainly bucked compromise.

“This will be the first, and last, partisan filibuster of a Supreme Court justice,” said McConnell in a closing floor speech at the time.

The threat last week and the one echoed on Tuesday have not been the only occasions that the top Senate Republican has threatened Democrats with all-out gridlock should they take away his best tool to obstruct legislation from the minority. He issued a similar threat of a “nightmare” scenario in January saying he would use unanimous consent to slow down all Senate business. 

President Joe Biden last week pushed for filibuster reform during an ABC interview, saying that the chamber should return to a “talking filibuster.” 

“I don’t think that you have to eliminate the filibuster; you have to do it what it used to be when I first got to the Senate back in the old days,” Biden said last week. “You had to stand up and command the floor. You had to keep talking.”

Any movement on the filibuster would need to include the Senate caucus’ two public filibuster supporters. 

“It looks like we’re down to two brave Democrats, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona preserving the institution,” McConnell said.

Dear Reader,

When we asked recently what makes TPM different from other outlets, readers cited factors like honesty, curiosity, transparency, and our vibrant community. They also pointed to our ability to report on important stories and trends long before they are picked up by mainstream outlets; our ability to contextualize information within the arc of history; and our focus on the real-world consequences of the news.

Our unique approach to reporting and presenting the news, however, wouldn’t be possible without our readers’ support. That’s not just marketing speak, it’s true: our work would literally not be possible without readers deciding to become members. Not only does member support account for more than 80% of TPM’s revenue, our members have helped us build an engaged and informed community. Many of our best stories were born from reader tips and valuable member feedback.

We do what other news outlets can’t or won’t do because our members’ support gives us real independence.

If you enjoy reading TPM and value what we do, become a member today.

Latest News
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Associate Editor:
Investigations Desk:
Director of Audience:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front End Developer:
Senior Designer: