Conservative leaders penned a memo to Senate Republicans on Wednesday urging them not to be hasty in undoing Democrats’ “nuclear option,” directly challenging GOP leader Mitch McConnell and foreshadowing a host of internal battles ahead.
Mr. McConnell has said Republicans would consider reversing the “nuclear option” that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, imposed to defenestrate a minority party’s use of filibusters to block presidential nominees. But more than two dozen conservative leaders said in their memo that they now embrace the rule change.
The new rule gave President Obama a one-year chance to stack the courts with liberal appointees at the majority threshold. If Mr. McConnell revives the 60-vote cloture rule, the conservatives said, future presidents — including, presumably, Republicans — would have to meet the higher goal for judicial appointments.
“Such a move would constitute unilateral disarmament on the part of Republicans and give Senator Reid and his left-wing allies yet another victory in their battle to tilt the confirmation process in favor of liberal nominees,” said the leaders, who included academics, grass-roots activists and conservative legal organizations.
The letter is the first challenge to Mr. McConnell, who confidently predicted Wednesday that his colleagues will elect him next week to be majority leader when the Senate convenes in January.
In the next couple of weeks, Mr. McConnell and House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, are likely to be tested over “tax extenders,” a package of targeted tax breaks that chiefly benefit businesses, and over the annual spending bills, which are already more than a month overdue.
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Some lawmakers want to approve another short-term extension so they can revisit all spending early next year. Democrats are likely to push for an omnibus bill that packs in all of the year’s spending.
Seemingly trying to tamp down speculation about those early fights, Mr. McConnell told reporters that Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, called to congratulate him on his re-election in Kentucky.
Mr. Cruz led insurrections against Senate Republican leaders several times over the past two years and refused to say in a television interview Tuesday whether he would back Mr. McConnell for leader.
Mr. McConnell said he isn’t worried.
“Let me just make a prediction for you: A week from tomorrow, I’ll be elected majority leader of the Senate,” he said.
The House and Senate appear set to return all of their top leaders, including Mr. Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat. Both have said they will reclaim their spots despite devastating election losses for their party.
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For Mr. Reid, it means a demotion to minority leader.
In his own comments Wednesday, Mr. McConnell repeatedly chastised Mr. Reid for using the nuclear option and for clamping down on a Senate tradition in which lawmakers from both the majority and the minority would to be able to offer amendments and force votes.
He vowed to make the Senate work late nights and full weeks to finish its business.
“The first thing I need to do is get the Senate back to normal,” Mr. McConnell said at a press conference in Louisville, Kentucky. “That means working more. I don’t think we’ve had any votes on Friday in anybody’s memory. It means opening the Senate up so that amendments are permitted on both sides.”
Mr. McConnell was circumspect on whether he would reverse Mr. Reid’s filibuster change, but said he would raise the issue with his fellow Republicans.
“It was a huge, huge mistake, in my view,” he said, though he pointedly added that “it is hard to unring a bell.”
Mrs. Pelosi, in a letter to her colleagues, said she has unfinished business that is driving her to remain leader for another Congress.
She said the chief message she took from the electoral evisceration of Democrats at all levels is that voter suppression was a problem.
“To succeed, we must inspire, educate and remove obstacles to participation. Only by changing our political environment and broadening the universe of the electorate can we build a strong sense of community and an economy that works for everyone,” she said.
Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland said he would again seek the post of the second-ranking House Democrat, meaning Mrs. Pelosi is unlikely to be challenged.