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Some Republicans think it's time to 'go nuclear' on the filibuster


With just three weeks left before Congress faces another shutdown, some lawmakers say it might be time to "go nuclear" on the legislative filibuster.

It takes 60 votes in the Senate to end debate on most legislation before it can go to a final vote. Last week, Democrats used this so-called "stealth" filibuster, refusing to vote on a spending bill and triggering a government shutdown.

Now some GOP lawmakers are saying, if the Senate can't come to an agreement on immigration and spending before the next round of funding runs out on Feb. 16, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) should use the "nuclear option" and get rid of the filibuster all together. Changing the Senate rules would mean only 51 votes are needed to end debate.

"It's becoming more and more apparent that the majority party need to be able to, with a 51-vote instead of a 60-vote in the Senate, fund the government," said Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho).

Last year, McConnell used the nuclear option to end the filibuster on Supreme Court nominees when Democrats protested a confirmation vote for Justice Neil Gorsuch.

In 2013, then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), used the same tactic to disable filibusters for presidential nominees.

Following the shutdown, President Trump said Republicans should pull the trigger on the filibuster.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) also said it's time to end the filibuster and let the majority party govern.

“If a majority is good enough in the House and a majority would have kept government from shutting down, I think that’s a whole case the American public would say, ‘That’s a responsible way to govern,’” McCarthy told Roll Call.

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Without the legislative filibuster, experts and lawmakers say the Senate would become highly partisan.

"You do that and all of a sudden you turn the United States Senate into a body without real debate," said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)

McConnell maintains that he supports the filibuster "from an institutional point of view," but suggested that recently it's been overused.

In the wake of the most recent shutdown, some centrist Senators have formed a new group called the "Common Sense Caucus" aimed at ending gridlock in the Senate.

Members of the caucus are eyeing ways to reign in the filibuster, like getting rid of the filibuster on certain legislation.

"If it comes out of the committee unanimous or two-thirds, don't you think it should at least get a vote on the floor?" said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), according to The Washington Times.

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Others have suggested ending filibusters for spending bills.

"If the Republicans don't do it, I have every confidence the Democrats are going to do it when they're in charge," Risch said.

But that could come with some very partisan consequences.

For example, a Republican majority could pass a spending bill that defunds Planned Parenthood just by getting all 51 members of their caucus to agree. A Democratic majority could pass a spending bill that cuts military spending or triples funding for the Environmental Protection Agency.

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