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If the Senate’s filibuster is lifted, McConnell threatens a “scorched earth” policy.

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If the Senate's filibuster is lifted, McConnell threatens a "scorched earth" policy.
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If the Senate's filibuster is lifted, McConnell threatens a "scorched earth" policy.

If the Senate’s filibuster is lifted, McConnell threatens a “scorched earth” policy.

 

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell predicted a “scorched earth” scenario if Democrats use their current majority to end the Senate filibuster in the hopes of ramming legislation endorsing President Joe Biden’s agenda through the chamber.

McConnell unleashed a grim prediction of a Senate that would all but cease to work, meaning that Republicans would grind business to a halt by refusing to give consent for routine operations such as session start times, reading of lengthy legislative texts, and quorum call votes.

In a Senate address, McConnell said, “Let me say this very plainly for all 99 of my colleagues: Nobody serving in this chamber can even begin — can even begin to imagine — what a truly scorched earth Senate will look like.”

The partisan gridlock of the Trump and Obama administrations will seem to be “child’s play” in contrast to what’s to come, according to McConnell.

The Republican leader’s harsh words came as the Biden administration was celebrating the passage of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Bill, the huge COVID-19 relief package that passed Congress without a single Republican vote. As the GOP focuses on potential wars, Republicans have admitted privately that they are trying to divert attention away from the bill, which appears to be common among Americans benefiting from $1,400 cash payments, vaccine distribution, and other assistance.

With the Senate split 50-50, the majority of Biden’s priorities will face a more daunting path in Congress. While the Democratic-controlled House can quickly pass a long list of potentially successful bills — such as expanding voting rights, extending background checks for weapons purchases, and other reforms — the Senate’s rules are more complicated. To end a filibuster, most legislation needs 60 votes.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer dismissed McConnell’s comments as a “diversion,” saying he wants to cooperate with Republicans on the pending legislation, but that all filibuster reform options are on the table.

“I don’t think you have to remove the filibuster; you have to do it the way it was when I first got to the Senate back in the old days,” Biden told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos on Tuesday. You had to get up and take charge of the room, and you had to keep talking.”

Senate Democrats are privately discussing changing the filibuster’s decades-old rules, which allow a single senator to obstruct a bill by objecting. Senators would take the floor in previous eras, speaking for hours about their objections, as depicted in the Hollywood film “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” In the mid-twentieth century, they have used it to stall civil rights legislation.

Supporters of the mechanism claim that it safeguards the interests of the opposition party, while critics argue that it is being used to stifle common legislation.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Tuesday that “the filibuster is now making a mockery of American democracy” nearly 65 years after South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond’s record-setting 24-hour-plus filibuster over the 1957 Civil Rights Act.

It takes 51 votes to amend Senate rules and remove the filibuster, and Democrats do not seem to have the votes to do so, even with Vice President Kamala Harris acting as a tiebreaker. At least two Democratic senators, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema, have expressed opposition, but there may be more.

In the coming weeks, the Senate will be put to the test. As senators begin to consider the bills passed by the House, Democrats will bring the Republican ability to engage in the democratic process to the test by amending the bills in the hopes of passing them.

Democrats are likely to lean in more aggressively to try and amend the rules if Republicans simply filibuster the bills.

Some Democrats want filibustering senators to be forced to hold the floor, as Jimmy Stewart did in the movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” Senators will now actually signal their filibuster, dubbed “Mr. Smith Phones it In” by Durbin.

Durbin said, “We must change the rules.”

McConnell warned Democrats not to move any further, exposing the retaliatory steps he might take.

“To switch the lights on before noon, to start with a garden-variety floor address, to dispense with the reading of a lengthy legislative document, to schedule committee business, to transfer even non-controversial candidates at something other than a snail’s pace,” he explained.

Changes to the filibuster have been in the works for a decade, part of an escalating procedural arms race that has coincided with the rise of partisanship in the United States.

To address Republican obstruction of President Barack Obama’s executive branch and judicial nominees, Democrats repealed the filibustering law.

Republicans and McConnell then accelerated the process by abolishing the filibuster for Supreme Court justices, enabling President Donald Trump’s three high court nominations to be confirmed without delay.

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