McConnell vows 'scorched earth' if Senate ends filibuster

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., leaves the chamber after criticizing Democrats for wanting to change the filibuster rule, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, March 16, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON – Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell warned ominously Tuesday of a “scorched earth” landscape if Democrats use their new majority to bring an end to the Senate filibuster in hopes of muscling legislation supporting President Joe Biden's agenda past GOP opposition.

McConnell unleashed the dire forecast of a Senate that would all but cease to function, implying that Republicans would grind business to a halt by refusing to give consent for routine operations — from the start time for sessions, to the reading of long legislative texts, to quorum call votes.

“Let me say this very clearly for all 99 of my colleagues: Nobody serving in this chamber can even begin — can even begin to imagine — what a completely scorched earth Senate would look like,” McConnell said in a Senate speech.

McConnell said the partisan gridlock of the Trump and Obama eras would look like “child's play” compared to what's to come.

The GOP leader's stark remarks landed as the Biden administration is taking a victory lap over the just-passed $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, the big COVID-19 relief package that was approved by Congress without a single Republican vote. Republicans acknowledged privately they are struggling to pry attention away from the bill, which appears to be popular among Americans benefitting from $1,400 cash payments, vaccine distribution and other aid, as the GOP focuses on future battles.

With the Senate evenly divided, 50-50, the rest of Biden's priorities face a tougher climb in Congress. While the Democratic-controlled House is able to swiftly approve a long list of potentially popular bills — to expand voting rights, extend gun purchase background checks and other measures — the rules of the Senate are more cumbersome. It typically requires 60 votes to break a filibuster to advance most legislation.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer brushed off McConnell's remarks as a “diversion” and said he hopes to work with Republicans on the upcoming bills, but said all options for filibuster changes are on the table.

Biden told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos on Tuesday: “I don’t think that you have to eliminate the filibuster, you have to do it what it used to be when I first got to the Senate back in the old days. You had to stand up and command the floor, you had to keep talking.”