Sen. Thune: Court-Packing Democrats Risk 'Nuclear War' in Senate Senator John Thune, R-S.D., speaks at a press conference following Senate Republican Policy luncheons at the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill on April 13, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images)
By Charlie McCarthy | Tuesday, 27 April 2021 08:01 AM
Democrats seeking to expand the Supreme Court would trigger "nuclear war" in the Senate if they continue their fight in the upper chamber, according to the second-ranking Republican.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the Senate minority whip, told the Washington Examiner on Monday that a continued effort to add justices to the Supreme Court would halt any sense of bipartisanship.
"I think if they try to do that, it'd be [a] no-holds-barred, bare-knuckle brawl," said Thune, who added Republicans would use any legislative and procedural options available, including denying quorum.
Several Congressional Democrats have introduced legislation to expand the Supreme Court from 9 to 13 justices. Those lawmakers are pushing their Senate colleagues to get behind the measures, saying Republicans broke Senate norms and traditions by refusing to consider former President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, in 2016.
Many Democrats also insist Justice Amy Coney Barrett should not have been confirmed within days of the 2020 presidential election.
With the Senate currently split evenly along party lines, Senate Democrats would need to change filibuster rules, which require 60 votes for passage, to a threshold of a simple majority.
It's unclear if all Senate Democrats agree with the attempt to expand the court. At least one member, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has said he wants to preserve the filibuster.
Republicans, however, are concerned the landscape could change, and are trying to preempt altering Senate rules.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he would use any procedural tool to stop Democrats from expanding the Supreme Court.
"If I have to stay in South Carolina to deny a quorum to do this crazy stuff, I will," Graham said during a recent press conference in front of the Supreme Court building.
"If a third-world emerging democracy did this, the State Department with all of us would be talking about a puppet government creating a puppet court."
The Senate requires a quorum for every vote, with at least 51 senators present. All 50 Republicans would need to participate in denying a quorum. Vice President Kamala Harris does not count as part of the chamber’s quorum count.
Republicans worry that Democrats could change the quorum rules to thwart GOP strategy.
"I don't put anything past them, including trying to blow up the rules," Thune said. "If they had the votes, I think they would get rid of the legislative filibuster, so I don't think there's any length they won't go to to try and enact this agenda.
"But what I'm saying is whatever the procedural tools are that are available to us, we will exercise them because that would be a declaration of nuclear war in the Senate."
Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Reps. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., Hank Johnson, D-Ga., and Mondaire Jones, D-N.Y., announced April 15 the introduction of the legislation in both chambers.
"Our democracy is under assault, and the Supreme Court has dealt the sharpest blows," Jones tweeted.
"To restore power to the people, we must #ExpandTheCourt."
President Joe Biden has been hesitant to commit to supporting the issue. During last year’s campaign, he said he did not support expanding the court. But as president, he has agreed to consider it.