WASHINGTON -- Stymied in their attempts to pass a bill that would curb President Barack Obama's immigration orders, some conservative House Republicans have a fallback option: They're pushing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to change the Senate's rules.
On Thursday, four GOP lawmakers called on McConnell to eliminate the filibuster where it's used to prevent consideration of legislation dealing with appropriations. Doing so, they argued, would allow the Senate to bring a bill funding the Department of Homeland Security to the floor even though it has been filibustered three times by Democrats.
"Mitch McConnell can change the rules of the Senate, and this is important enough to change the rules of the Senate," Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) said Thursday morning at the regular press gathering Conversations with Conservatives on the Hill, according to an account in National Journal.
"Well, if Harry Reid and the Democrats can do that, if they can stand up for their beliefs however wrong those beliefs may be, then where is our Republican Senate leadership? And why aren't they doing the same thing?" Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) said on the House floor Wednesday, referring to then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who changed rules in the midst of the last Congress to confirm more of the president's nominees.
At this juncture, it doesn't appear likely that McConnell will heed this particular call even with DHS funds set to run out at the end of February. The Republican leader spent much of the 2014 campaign ripping Reid to shreds for eliminating the 60-vote threshold requirement for considering nominees, saying over and over that Reid was "breaking the rules to change the rules." Were he to turn around and extend that change to legislation, it would be a remarkable about face.
McConnell does have the power to do it, assuming 51 of the 54 Republican senators agree. Reid changed the rules of the Senate using a series of procedural challenges that could be decided by simple majority votes and thereby set new precedent. This method is often dubbed the nuclear option; normally, 67 votes are required to change Senate rules in the middle of a session.
Indeed, McConnell's spokesman, Don Stewart, pointed to that fact when asked if the new majority leader would pursue such a course. "It takes 67 votes to change the rules," said Stewart.
As McConnell's office resisted the calls for more rule change, concern was clearly picking up among House Republicans, who have passed a bill to fund DHS along with riders that would rescind the president's immigration policies. Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) declared that the Senate rules are not "sacrosanct." Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), tweeted that the Senate Democrats' use of the filibuster was "undemocratic & senseless" -- a dramatic change in tone from what Boehner said in the last Congress.
— Michael Steel (@michael_steel) February 12, 2015
Meanwhile, at a reporter breakfast on Thursday morning, another Republican House member made the case for setting a simple-majority threshold for debating budget acts and appropriations bills. Reid, this member said, had opened the door. Now was the moment to widen that opening.
"I think the Senate should have said, 'We are going to limit debate. Here are our new rules: It takes 51 votes to say on areas of appropriations from the House, they may not be limited from debate, they must go to the floor, and we are going to demand that appropriation is every bit as important as judicial appointments,'" said the member, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity. "The idea that you will not consider an appropriations bill in the Senate is actually a reprehensible abuse. ... They have an advice and consent to the president. That's fine. They can say no. They have no ability to say no to appropriating the government."