WASHINGTON -- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Thursday that if he were to emerge as majority leader following this fall's elections, he'd prefer to keep in place the minority party's ability to filibuster legislation.
"I do not favor turning the Senate into a majoritarian institution, even though we would probably have some short-term advantage to doing it," McConnell said during an appearance at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.
While he said he thought Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had done a "lot of damage" by using parliamentary procedure to enable some judicial and executive nominees to move through the chamber with 50 votes, he suggested that he had no plans to try to undo that change. He even left the door open to further changing the rules so they would apply to more nominees.
"That precedent will always be there. It is hard to un-ring a bell and I think it was very damaging to the institution," said McConnell.
But in stopping short of endorsing filibuster reform for actual legislation, McConnell laid down a marker for how he would run the chamber that could end up upsetting his own members. Should, for example, Republicans emerge from November with a slim Senate majority, there will be a number of legislative items -- including, potentially, the repeal of Obamacare -- on which he will need 60 votes to end debate.
In his speech, McConnell cast his position as one of reverence for institutional history. The Senate, he said on several occasions, was designed as a place of legislative comity and deliberation. He placed the blame for changes to that culture at Reid's feet, citing his unwillingness to allow Republican amendments to be considered. (Reid's office has countered that the amendments in question are often poison pills, while noting that McConnell has spearheaded a historic number of filibusters).
McConnell pledged to create a more open amendment process should he end up majority leader. He also made the case for preserving the minority party's rights.
"I think the supermajority requirement in the Senate has been important for the country," he said. "I think probably the biggest service the Senate has provided to America is the things it has not passed. Some of the proudest moments I can think of in my career are the things I have stopped."