Feeling The Heat In Alabama's Senate Race, Luther Strange Calls For Filibuster Change

The Republican breaks with his main supporter, Mitch McConnell, on the rule.

WASHINGTON ― Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.) is calling on the Senate to lower its threshold for ending a filibuster from 60 votes to 51 votes ― a simple majority ― in order for the GOP to more easily advance President Donald Trump’s legislative agenda.

The proposal, which Trump backs but the Senate’s Republican leadership opposes, also appears aimed at buttressing Strange’s chances of holding onto his office this year ― even as it puts him at odds with his main supporter in that bid, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Strange, who since February has been temporarily filling the seat fellow Republican Jeff Sessions gave up to serve as Trump’s attorney general, is struggling to fend off a tough challenge from Roy Moore in a special GOP Senate primary on Sept. 26. The victor is virtually assured of winning the Dec. 12 special election in heavily Republican Alabama.

Moore, a staunch social conservative and former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice known nationally for his refusal to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from the Alabama Judicial Building, has cast himself as the anti-establishment candidate in the race.

The controversial provocateur has portrayed Strange as beholden to “Washington elitists,” and has attacked him for the receiving financial backing from McConnell and his allies. Moore’s supporters include Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist in the White House who has returned to his old job of running the right-wing Breitbart News website.

A survey conducted last week by Harper Polling found Strange, 64, and Moore, 70, locked in a virtual tie in the primary race.

In his call for the Senate to, in essence, end the ability of the chamber’s minority party to block legislation, Strange noted that Alabamians “overwhelmingly supported” Trump in the 2016 presidential election.

They “expect his agenda to be enacted by Congress,” Strange said in a letter to McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “But, because of obstructionist tactics by Democrats and broken promises by some Republicans, very little legislation is even making it to the Senate floor.”

“While I had hoped that Republicans and Democrats would work together to accomplish the will of the American people, it has become obvious that politics and self-preservation will continue to rule the day,” he said.

Strange added that “conversations with the president” led him to change his position on the filibuster as “the only way we will be able to build the border wall, rein in sanctuary cities, defund Planned Parenthood, and give the American people real tax relief.”

Trump backed Strange in the first round of the nomination race in a 10-candidate primary on Aug. 15. Moore, with 39 percent of the vote, and Strange, with 33 percent, were the two top finishers and headed into this month’s runoff because neither exceeded the 50-percent mark.

Strange got a “Trump bump” in the initial vote, said Vince Gawronski, a professor of political science at Birmingham-Southern College In Alabama.

Trump, though, has not actively touted Strange since then. And reports have surfaced that some conservatives are urging him to stay silent.

Strange, meanwhile, has benefited throughout his campaign from millions of dollars spent on his behalf by a McConnell-aligned super PAC, which makes his push to revise the filibuster rule awkward for both men. McConnell and other Senate GOP leaders prefer retaining the 60-vote requirement to end a filibuster as a protection for whenever control of the chamber reverts to the Democrats.

Strange’s call for the rule change follows reports of a pair of key endorsements of Moore this week.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) ― whose daughter, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, serves as the White House press secretary, announced his support for Moore on Monday.

Huckabee said on his website his decision “has nothing to do with specific displeasure” with Strange. But, Huckabee said, “if the ‘power brokers’ in D.C. are as desperate as they seem to be to keep Judge Moore from joining them, then they must fear that he can’t be counted on to ‘join the club.’”

The Senate Conservatives Fund, which supported Rep. Mo Brooks in the first-round primary, also backed Moore on Monday.

The group’s president, Ken Cuccinelli, in a statement praised Moore as “a political outsider who isn’t afraid to stand up to the liberals in his own party.”

He also said the race’s outcome would “impact” McConnell’s “future as the Republican leader in the Senate.”

“Nothing would destabilize McConnell more than losing the Alabama Senate race after spending” millions “to crush conservatives” in the state, Cuccinelli said.

Brooks, who finished third in the first-round primary with 20 percent of the vote, has so far declined to make an endorsement in the runoff.