McCain on filibuster change: ‘It’s a bad day for democracy’

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., bemoaned the state of the Senate on Thursday as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell moved to change the chamber’s rules in order to break through the Democratic filibuster of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch with a simple majority. Earlier in the day, Republicans failed to reach the 60-vote supermajority needed to end debate and proceed to a vote.

“It’s a bad day for democracy,” McCain said before entering the Senate chamber, where he later voted with fellow Republicans to change the rules. “I think it’s a terrible mistake that we will regret for many, many years to come.”

McCain called the rule-change a “slippery slope” that “will clearly lead to more extreme appointments for both sides” — and could embolden senators to change the rules for considering legislation, too.

“We went from judges, to [a] Supreme Court justice,” McCain said. “What’s next?”

McConnell has said he would not change the Senate rules for legislation.

Related: Republicans nuke Supreme Court filibuster to squeeze through Gorsuch

“There’s not a single senator in the majority who thinks we ought to change the legislative filibuster, not one,” he told reporters Tuesday. “We all understand that’s what makes the Senate the Senate.”

McConnell triggered the change after Democrats successfully blocked Gorsuch’s nomination in a 55-45 vote Thursday, with just four Democrats voting to advance him.

In 2012, the Kentucky lawmaker called the 60-vote threshold “one of the most cherished safeguards of liberty in our government — the right of a political minority to have a voice.”

But earlier this week, McConnell defended the idea of a simple majority, saying it would return “what was the tradition in the Senate” for confirming justices viewed as qualified for the high court.

“Look at the Senate through the long history of the body,” McConnell said. “The practical effect of all this will be to take us back to where we were.”

McCain speaks to reporters after the Senate voted to remove the filibuster rule for Supreme Court nominees on Thursday. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
McCain speaks to reporters after the Senate voted to remove the filibuster rule for Supreme Court nominees on Thursday. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

McCain did not mince words on Tuesday when asked to respond to the idea that changing the rules for Gorsuch was a good thing.

“I would like to meet that idiot, I’d like to meet the numskull that would say that,” McCain said then. “Whoever says that is a stupid idiot, who has not been here and seen what I’ve been through and how we were able to avoid that on several occasions. And they are stupid and they’ve deceived their voters because they are so stupid.”

Speaking on the Senate floor Wednesday, McCain said that the rule change would come back to “haunt us” like he says it did for Democrats, who in 2013 killed the filibuster for lower court nominations.

Also read: America is not mourning the death of the filibuster, but it should

“We warned that the Democrats would not be in control of the White House or Senate forever, and would come to regret their actions, and we were right,” he said.

But in the end, McCain said he had “no choice” but to support McConnell’s rule change.

“I find myself torn between protecting the traditions and practices of the Senate and the importance of having a full complement of justices on the Supreme Court,” he said. “I’m left with no choice. I will vote to change the rules an allow Judge Gorsuch to be confirmed by a simple majority.”

Senate Democrats derided the rule change.

“The dark deed is done,” Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., who earlier this week mounted a 15-hour protest over Gorsuch, wrote on Twitter. “McConnell has just put a knife into the heart of our We the People republic.”

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