Schumer attack on filibuster could backfire on 2022 Senate Dems, GOP says: 'We'll send him a gift basket'

Vulnerable senators say they embrace changing filibuster, but Senate floor vote could give GOP campaign ammunition

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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said this week that he plans to force a vote on the Senate's "ill-conceived and abused" 60-vote filibuster threshold in the new year – a move that's outwardly meant to pressure moderate Senate Democrats but may backfire on vulnerable caucus members running for reelection. 

"If Schumer continues down this path… I think we'll send him a gift basket or something," National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) spokesman Chris Hartline told Fox News. 

Schumer, D-N.Y., announced in a letter to Senate Democrats this week that because the Senate can't pass an elections bill amid a GOP filibuster, he plans to tee up a potential change to the procedure to make it easier for Democrats to pass bills.

"We all agree that the right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy. With that in mind, I would ask you to consider this question," Schumer wrote. "[I]f the right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy, then how can we in good conscience allow for a situation in which the Republican Party can debate and pass voter suppression laws at the State level with only a simple majority vote, but not allow the United States Senate to do the same?"

Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan makes a stop in the northern New Hampshire city of Berlin on April 7, 2021.

Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan makes a stop in the northern New Hampshire city of Berlin on April 7, 2021. (Maggie Hassan reelection campaign)

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But that vote would force vulnerable Democratic senators running for reelection like Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., and Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., and to cast an affirmative vote about changing Senate procedures to advance Democrats' agenda items. 

"[They all] would vote how Schumer wants them to vote," Hartline predicted. "Every single Democrat three years [ago] signed onto a letter defending the filibuster when there was a Republican president and a Republican majority in the Senate… So, I mean, they're all hypocrites."

The offices of Cortez Masto, Kelly and Hassan did not respond to a request for comment for this story. Hassan was the only member of that trio who was in the Senate at the time of the 2017 letter and signed it. Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., is the other Democrat in a tough 2022 reelection fight, but is vehemently for ditching the filibuster.

Kelly has avoided taking a firm stance on the filibuster during his time in the Senate. The closest he came to fully endorsing a filibuster change is a private call earlier this year in which he said he would like to see the Senate "change the rules," according to the Colorado Newsline. But he avoided specifics and in the same call said discussions on what exactly to do were ongoing. 

Sen. Mark Kelly has been reluctant to endorse a specific plan on changing the Senate filibuster, but said he is open to it. (Joshua Roberts/Getty Images)

Sen. Mark Kelly has been reluctant to endorse a specific plan on changing the Senate filibuster, but said he is open to it. (Joshua Roberts/Getty Images)

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Hassan recently changed her stance on the filibuster, supporting an exception for elections legislation. 

"Because that effort here in Congress is being blocked by a minority which is abusing its power, I believe the power has come to change the Senate rules to allow a straight up-or-down majority vote on this fundamental issue of democracy," Hassan said on the Senate floor last week. 

Cortez Masto, meanwhile, was on the record as early as March of this year supporting a "talking filibuster" – which would remove the 60-vote threshold and force senators to constantly hold the floor in order to block a bill. She said this was because Republicans are "determined to exploit the filibuster and fight progress on the most urgent crises facing our nation."

Hartline said that in-the-weeds Senate procedures are not necessarily animating issues for voters that the NRSC would highlight. But, he also said the bills Democrats would change the filibuster for would likely be a feature in GOP ads as November nears. 

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"It's not about the rule itself. It's about why they do it," he said. "They're not trying to change the rules so they can more easily name post offices. They're trying to change the rules because they can't pass their crazy agenda without changing the rules."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he will call a vote on changing the filibuster in the new year.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he will call a vote on changing the filibuster in the new year. (Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Hartline continued: "It's about changing the filibuster rules so they can try to pass a federal takeover of elections. It's about changing the rules so that they can try to ban voter ID. It's about changing the rules so that they can try to more easily pass crazy trillions of dollars in new inflation-inducing spending and tax increases on middle class families and job creators."

Schumer did not specify whether a vote on a filibuster change would be a full nuclear option for all Senate legislation – effectively ending the Senate filibuster – or on a more targeted exception for bills on a certain issue, like elections. Momentum has been gaining among Senate Democrats for a targeted exception like what Hassan backed in her floor speech. 

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The only way the Senate can actually change its official rules is via a 67-vote supermajority threshold, which will be impossible amid GOP opposition. But it can use what's called the "nuclear option" to set a precedent allowing for certain "cloture" votes to start and end debate to be simple-majority votes instead of a 60-vote threshold. 

Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., made clear repeatedly this year they oppose filibuster changes, so Schumer's effort is likely to fail. But Schumer appears dedicated to applying pressure to those members as the Democrats' agenda is largely stalled in the Senate. 

"I believe our constituents deserve to know which Senators choose to hide behind ill-conceived and abused rules," he said this week. 

Schumer's office did not respond to Fox News' request for comment.