Sixty-one senators urged their party leaders to preserve the filibuster for legislation on Friday, backing the procedural tool after Republicans scrapped the minority’s power to block Supreme Court nominees.
But 37 senators declined to endorse the effort, including senior members of both parties as well as firebrands on the left and right.
Maine GOP Sen. Susan Collins and Delaware Democratic Sen. Chris Coons organized Friday’s bipartisan letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer as a way to move past the bitter partisan debate on Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, who was confirmed earlier Friday.
Collins and Coons were among the moderate senators who had hoped, in vain, for a deal to allow Gorsuch’s confirmation without Republicans detonating the “nuclear option,” which unilaterally ended the 60-vote threshold for high court nominees but not for legislation.
“After the contentious and polarized debate of the past few weeks, I am hopeful that this letter indicates a new determination by a bipartisan group of more than 60 senators to move forward to solve the pressing problems facing our nation," Collins said in a statement.
But 37 senators did not sign the missive. Among those declining to sign were some of the Senate’s most liberal and conservative members, including Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren, Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders, Texas Republican Ted Cruz, and Kentucky Republican Rand Paul.
Among senior members of the Senate leadership teams, Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow, Missouri Republican Roy Blunt and South Dakota Republican John Thune signed the letter. Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and third-ranked Senate Democratic leader Patty Murray of Washington did not sign it.
"Senators have expressed a variety of opinions about the appropriateness of limiting debate when we are considering judicial and executive branch nominations," the letter states. "Regardless of our past disagreements on that issue, we are united in our determination to preserve the ability of members to engage in extended debate when bills are on the Senate floor."
McConnell underscored his support for keeping the legislative filibuster alive ahead of the pivotal rules change he pushed through on Thursday, a stance he reaffirmed on Friday.
"I would be the beneficiary, and my party would be the beneficiary," of ending legislative filibusters, McConnell told reporters. "I’m opposed to changing it. I think that’s what fundamentally changes the Senate."
The Kentucky Republican added that he hopes to see "a lot of people signing the letter" that Collins and Coons put together.
But one of the senators who declined to sign on, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), suggested he was unwilling to turn the page so quickly on both parties’ culpability in the Gorsuch battle.
“I don’t care what letters are being signed and presented, and I know there are good intentions on people who are getting letters signed," Corker said in an interview. "But in many ways, it gives both of the leaders cover over what just happened, doesn’t it?”
Burgess Everett contributed to this report.