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Mitch McConnell says the legislative filibuster is safe. Should we trust him?

What’s next for the filibuster after Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation?

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Last week, Republicans in the Senate invoked the so-called “nuclear option,” which immediately allowed President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch, to be confirmed with a simple majority of the votes, rather than the previous 60-vote threshold. But what about the long-term impact of the rule change?

As Vox’s Jeff Stein noted, that senators have used such apocalyptic rhetoric to describe this rule change shows how important institutional procedure is to many of them. “This is a body blow to the institution,” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told reporters on Wednesday. “I think we’re on a slippery slope.” (And yet McCain was one of the 52 Republican senators to cast a party-line vote in favor of the change.)

On this episode of The Weeds, Matt Yglesias and Sarah Kliff are joined by Vox policy and politics editor Jim Tankersley to discuss the implications of the rule change and whether it could signal further changes in Senate procedure. They also touch on the looming battle over tax reform and a new white paper in the American Economic Review about the impact of gender quotas in Swedish government.

You can listen to the episode here, or subscribe to the show on iTunes here. Also, be sure to get tickets for the Weeds live taping on April 18, and join the new official Facebook group for Weeds fans those who join the group have the opportunity to win two tickets to the live taping.

Here’s Sarah on what invoking the nuclear option for Supreme Court nominees might signal about further rule changes:

One of the things I’m curious about is how much of [the opposition to changing the legislative filibuster] is influenced by the current legislative context, and if there will be a willingness to revisit this six months or a year down the road. Right now I think [Matt is] right — it really advantages the Senate to blame health care on rules, because they don’t actually want to get behind the thing that the House might pass. And they really like being able to say, “Well, with 50 votes, we can only deal with budgetary things. Sorry, guys, it’s our weird Senate rules. They’re just what they are.” And it’s a great crutch to not be the ones who get blamed for millions of people losing insurance.

The thing I wonder about is if you do get to the point where they have a bill that they actually like — I don’t know if it’s tax reform, or infrastructure, or something else that they actually really are enthusiastic [about] and really do want to move it through. I think now that they’re inching in this direction, it’s a lot easier to see McConnell going back on his remarks.

It’s hard for me to see it as a long-lasting commitment given the change we’ve seen to Senate rules over the past decade or so. I could very easily see Mitch McConnell, someone who wants to get his members elected, saying that “Democrats are being obstructionists on an important bill. We need to pass it,” and getting rid of [the filibuster] at some point in the future. Maybe it’s only with certain types of legislation, like it happened with nominations, as you inch further and further in that direction. It’s really hard to see how the filibuster continues to be compatible with the deep polarization we have right now.

Show notes:


Correction: A previous version of this post listed the wrong former vote threshold for confirming a Supreme Court justice.