Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) issued a dire warning Tuesday to Senate Democrats as progressive activists demand an end to the legislative filibuster.
Speaking on the Senate floor, McConnell said the Senate would become a "100-car pileup" where "even the most basic aspects" of its business would be blocked to grind legislative progress to a halt should Democrats engage the so-called nuclear option to kill the filibuster.
"So let me say this very clearly for all 99 of my colleagues. Nobody serving in this chamber can even begin to imagine what a completely scorched-earth Senate would look like," McConnell said. "None of us have served one minute in a Senate that was completely drained of comity and consent. This is an institution that requires unanimous consent to turn the lights on before noon, to proceed with a garden-variety floor speech."
He continued: "I want our colleagues to imagine a world where every single task, every one of them, requires a physical quorum. Which, by the way, the vice president does not count in determining a quorum. This chaos would not open up an express lane for liberal change. ... The Senate would be more like a 100-car pileup, nothing moving."
The Democratic majority faces mounting pressure from progressives to kill the filibuster and pass major legislation to fulfill campaign promises from President Joe Biden. House Democrats have passed bills that would overhaul the U.S. election system, codify sexual orientation and gender identity protections into anti-discrimination law, criminalize unlicensed private firearm sales, among other progressive priorities that are unlikely to gain Republican support.
As long as any Republican filibusters a bill, the support of 60 senators is needed to overcome the filibuster, meaning most Democratic bills are dead on arrival in the 50-50 Senate.
Two Democratic senators, Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), have publicly opposed ending the legislative filibuster. But Manchin in recent weeks has signaled openness to making the filibuster "painful" to use, suggesting that senators who want to filibuster a bill be made to continuously hold the Senate floor by standing there or giving a speech for the entire duration of the filibuster (see: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington).
Others want the filibuster gone altogether. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said Monday "everything is on the table" to pass President Biden's agenda, including the nuclear option.
"The filibuster is still being misused by some senators to block legislation urgently needed and supported by strong majorities of the American people," Durbin said. "This is what hitting legislative rock bottom looks like. Today's filibusters have turned the world's most deliberative body into one of the world's most ineffectual bodies."
Previously under President Donald Trump, Durbin and other Democrats claimed ending the filibuster "would be the end of the Senate." Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) called attention to the Democrats' hypocrisy, reacting to calls to reform the filibuster by telling reporter Igor Bobic: "I don't recall them saying any of that over the last four years. And so anything they've said in the last four years I'm happy to adopt now. As I recall in the last four years they were very comfortable with how the filibuster worked."
McConnell reminded Democrats that he resisted President Trump's demands to end the filibuster and pass major components of his agenda into law. He also reminded them how they came to regret ending the filibuster for presidential nominations when Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney-Barrett were confirmed to the Supreme Court and said without the legislative filibuster things would go poorly for them the next time Republicans have control of Congress.
"Touching the hot stove again would yield the same result but even more dramatic. As soon as Republicans wound up back in the saddle, we wouldn't just erase every liberal change that hurt the country. We'd strengthen America with all kinds of conservative policies with zero input from the other side," McConnell said.
"How about this," he threatened. "Nationwide right to work for working Americans. Defunding Planned Parenthood and Sanctuary Cities on day one. A whole new era of domestic energy production. Sweeping new protections for conscience and the right to life of the unborn. Concealed carry reciprocity in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Massive hardening of security on our southern border."