By Alexander Bolton - 04-03-17 06:00 AM EDT
Senators in both parties are speculating that a blowup over President Trump's nominee to the Supreme Court could lead not only to the end of the filibuster for such nominations, but for controversial legislation as well.
While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" that the legislative filibuster is safe, lawmakers fear that pressure will grow to get rid of it if Democrats block Neil Gorsuch's nomination this week.
McConnell has all but promised to change the Senate's rules to allow Gorsuch to be confirmed in a majority vote if Democrats filibuster him.
The showdown will take place later this week after a Senate Judiciary Committee vote on Monday.
Senators in both parties are worried about how the fight over Gosuch will affect the filibuster.
"The thing I worry most about is that we become we like the House of Representatives. What's the next step? Legislation?" said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
"I'm convinced it's a slippery slope."
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) warned last week on the Senate floor that growing pressure from the right and the left will make it difficult to withstand calls to eliminate the legislative filibuster.
"If we continue on the path we're on right now, the very next time there's a legislative proposal that one side of the aisle feels is so important they cannot let their base down, the pressure builds, then we're going to vote the nuclear option on the legislative piece," he said.
"That's what will happen. Somebody will do it."
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), one of only three Democrats who have explicitly said they'd oppose a filibuster of Gorsuch, warns the Senate is in danger of becoming a smaller version of the House, where the minority party has few rights.
"People who have been here for a long time know that we're going down the wrong path here. The most unique political body in the world, the United States Senate, will be no more than a six-year term in the House," he said.
"I'm doing whatever I can to preserve he 60-vote rule," he said.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), who like Manchin says she will vote to allow Gorsuch's nomination to move forward, said she is also concerned about the legislative filibuster.
"This erosion that seems to be happening, of course I'm worried about it," she said.
Gorsuch picked up a third Democratic vote on Sunday when Sen. Joe Donnelly (Ind.) said he would back him.
Republicans need 60 votes to overcome the filibuster backed by Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.), who on Sunday said it is "highly, highly unlikely" that Republicans will get there.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) on Friday and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) on Sunday said they would oppose Gorsuch and back a filibuster. The decisions by the two senators, who both face reelection next year in states won by Trump, seem to back Schumer's words up.
Republicans need to find another six votes to invoke cloture, and they have few options left.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), a former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has sent mixed signals over whether he'd back the filibuster.
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), who represents Gorsuch's home state, is an unknown, as are Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Angus King (I-Maine).
There are some in both parties who would like nothing more than to see the filibuster bite the dust.
Former Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) said the filibuster was created to protect the minority party "in extreme circumstances" but it has now become so common that it's almost impossible to pass individual appropriations bills before the end of the fiscal year.
"It's become so common place to block just about everything including even appropriation bills so that the Congress can't get its work done. The filibuster as it's currently used has really worn out its welcome," he said in an interview.
The large class of Senate Republican freshmen elected in the 2014 midterm elections pushed for rules reform in the last Congress but it didn't lead to any changes.They favored more narrow reform, however, such as curbing the power to block motions to begin consideration of new business on the Senate floor.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) called on Republicans immediately after Trump won the presidency to ditch the filibuster.
"My biggest concern is that they not allow some of these arcane rules that have nothing to do with the Constitution," he said in a radio interview the day after the election.
McConnell, a Senate traditionalist, tried to ease concerns about the fate of the filibuster Sunday when he told NBC's Chuck Todd that the power to block legislation with 41 votes retains strong support in the Senate.
"I don't think the legislative filibuster is in danger. It's a longstanding tradition of the Senate. The business of filibustering judges is quite new," he said.
Schumer, appearing on "Meet the Press" said he also wants to preserve the 60-vote threshold for controversial legislation.
"I don't think there's any thirst to change the legislative rule, 60 votes for that. Most Democrats and most Republicans who have served in both the minority and the majority knows what it means," he said.
But his predecessor, former Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), predicted in a December interview, shortly before retiring from Congress, that the days of the legislative filibuster are numbered.
He said the Senate rules protecting minority rights are "going to erode, it's just a question of when."
"You can't have a democracy decided by 60 out of 100, and hat's why changing the rules is one of the best things that has happened to America in a long time," he told Politico.