WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday warned Democrats that ending a long-standing Senate procedure that can block partisan legislation would bring President Joe Biden’s agenda to a standstill and lead to retribution in years to come.
Top Democrats, including the two highest-ranking party members in the Senate, have stepped up rhetoric in recent days about the future of the filibuster, a parliamentary custom that requires support from 60 of the chamber’s 100 members to pass most legislation.
The filibuster has long been seen as a mechanism requiring bipartisan consensus that distinguishes the Senate from the House of Representatives, where only a simple majority is needed on legislation. With the current Senate split 50-50, Democrats have said they may need to do away with the filibuster to pass Biden’s priorities, including a House-approved bill intended to facilitate voting in elections.
“This chaos would not open up an express lane to liberal change. It would not open up an express lane for the Biden presidency to speed into the history books. The Senate would be more like a 100-car pileup. Nothing moving,” McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said on the Senate floor.
“Nobody serving in this chamber can even begin … to imagine what a completely scorched-earth Senate would look like,” he added, saying Republicans would require votes on all parliamentary moves, drastically slowing the pace of business.
The Senate is currently split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans.
Two moderate Democrats – Senator Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin – have opposed doing away with the filibuster, though Manchin has suggested changing the filibuster rule to make the parliamentary maneuver more “painful.”
McConnell said those lawmakers were now under pressure from their colleagues to reverse course.
But Manchin reaffirmed his position to reporters in comments that could allay the Republican’s concerns. “The bottom line is, you can’t get rid of the filibuster,” the West Virginia Democrat said.
McConnell also warned that Democrats would face a starkly conservative agenda on labor, energy, abortion rights, border security and gun ownership in 2022, if Republicans took back the majority with the filibuster no longer in place.
“We wouldn’t just erase every liberal change that hurt the country. We’d strengthen America with all kinds of conservative policies with zero – zero – input from the other side,” he said.
McConnell spoke a day after Senator Dick Durbin, the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat, said in a floor speech that the filibuster was making a “mockery” of democracy and that Republicans were misusing it to block urgent legislation.
On Tuesday, Durbin acknowledged that McConnell’s warning about the Senate grinding to a halt was not an idle one. “We’ve already seen him do that. He’s proven he can do it and he’ll do it again,” the Illinois Democrat said.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Sunday said Democrats hoped to work with Republicans to move forward legislation intended to improve voter participation and renew U.S. infrastructure. But he warned Democrats were determined to overcome Republican opposition.
Stacey Abrams, an influential voting-rights advocate and former Democratic candidate for governor of Georgia, also called on Sunday for the Senate to exempt election reform legislation passed by the House over Republican opposition from the filibuster procedural hurdle.
(Reporting by David Morgan, Editing by Scott Malone and Cynthia Osterman)