GOP Retains U.S. Senate Control, But Will They End The Filibuster?


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Democrats failed in their Election Day goal to win the majority in the U.S. Senate back from Republicans, leaving minority party leaders with filibustering as their biggest weapon to block GOP measures.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will have a 51-48 edge over Democrats with the likelihood of picking up another seat next month in a Louisiana runoff election. McConnell will still need the help of incoming U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) to get bills passed with the required 60 votes. But if negotiations go south, the question remains whether McConnell will move to change the rules to end or limit the filibuster—which could effectively remove the last check on Republican control on both chambers of Congress and the White House.

The two major debates on tap next year most likely to prompt Democrats to filibuster and Republicans to consider curtailling its use is the proposed repealing of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, and the confirmation of whoever President-elect Donald Trump nominates to replace the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, whose seat has been vacant for eight months.

Should there be a showdown that leads McConnell to move to limit filibustering, it is unclear if the majority leader would have the votes required to change the rules since not all Republicans favor tinkering with the traditions of the institution to achieve short-term political goals. That’s because the GOP isn’t destined to be in the majority forever and could come to regret limiting the U.S. Senate majority’s power when Republicans one day find themselves no longer the party in control. After all, McConnell made good use of the filibuster as a tool to block much of outgoing President Barack Obama’s legislative agenda.

So far, both Democrats and Republicans are mum on their strategy for the 115th Congress while the dust is still settling from the elections. But if the vitriolic tone of the campaign is any predictor, the fights to come on the floor of the House and Senate are sure to be tense in the New Year.

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