Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) on Tuesday threatened to grind rulemaking in Congress to a halt if Democrats get rid of or reform the filibuster, which currently requires a 60-vote consensus for most bills to pass the Senate.
“Nobody serving in this chamber can even begin to imagine what a completely scorched earth Senate would look like,” McConnell said on the floor on Tuesday. Republicans would make the Senate, he said, look like a “100-car pileup, nothing moving.”
Without the filibuster, McConnell said that previous actions will be like “child’s play.” “I want our colleagues to imagine a world where every single task, every one of them, requires a physical quorum,” he threatened.
He also said that Republicans would try passing conservative policies like defunding Planned Parenthood and sanctuary cities and expanding abortion restrictions, right-to-work laws and oil drilling if they regain control of the Senate. Most of these proposals poll overwhelmingly unfavorably with the public.
This is the second time this year that McConnell has warned Democrats against removing the filibuster. “A scorched-earth Senate would hardly be able to function,” he said in January. “It wouldn’t be a progressive’s dream. It would be a nightmare.”
Back in January, soon after the new Congress came in, McConnell held up the Senate by forcing a stalemate on Senate-sharing agreements with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) over the filibuster issue. He only relinquished that stalemate after moderate Senate Democrats Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) said that they would vote against filibuster abolition.
Today’s Senate, however, is hardly a progressive’s dream anyway. The filibuster is currently already blocking a broad spectrum of Democratic and progressive legislation, and the recent stimulus was only able to pass because it was considered under budget reconciliation, which only requires a simple majority. Proposals like Democrat’s election-reforming H.R.1, the pro-union PRO Act and the $15 minimum wage are basically dead in the water due to the filibuster even though they’ve been passed by the House.
The filibuster, reporting has found, already hurts the Democrats more than it does Republicans. In past administrations, Republicans have obstructed more than their fair share of bills by using the filibuster and are generally more willing to use the filibuster as a political weapon.
McConnell has a particular mastery of using the filibuster, as he demonstrated numerous times under President Barack Obama. And he knows that he can use the filibuster to grind the Senate to a halt anyway. “So long as it applies only to legislation, the filibuster is a Republicans-only weapon,” wrote Hayes Brown for MSNBC in January. “There’s nothing left, it seems, for the GOP to fear from it — aside from its eventual demise.”
McConnell’s comments come at a time when the future of the filibuster is more uncertain than it was earlier this year, though still unlikely to be abolished. On Monday, the number two ranking Senate Democrat Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) said that the filibuster is a “weapon of mass destruction” that is obstructing progress by holding the Senate “hostage.” And last week, Manchin signaled an openness to filibuster reform, which is a softer stance than his previous fiery opposition to axing it altogether.
Many progressives view the filibuster, with its racist history of being used to oppose civil rights, as the biggest current legislative hurdle for progress on the federal level. In Arizona, progressives are reminding Sinema that her own stated views mesh better with filibuster abolition than her current stance of upholding it, and that she could face primary challenges from the left if she doesn’t change her mind.
Progressive groups like the Sunrise Movement have committed to continue turning up the heat on politicians to get the filibuster removed. The movement to end the filibuster has already succeeded in getting more moderate lawmakers like Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) and John Tester (D-Montana) to say they’ll vote against it or at least consider filibuster reform.
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