This week, Democrats are preparing an all-out assault on the House-passed funding bill for the Homeland Security Department that includes language overturning President Obama's executive actions on immigration, including the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Minority Whip Dick Durbin said Democrats would use as many of the procedural tools available to the minority as they can to prevent the DHS funding from expiring, while ultimately killing the House immigration provisions. That could include taking full debate time on the bill, which will delay its passage and could keep members in Washington longer than they'd like to be next week. But ultimately, Democrats will not offer the 60 votes required to end debate on the bill, effectively killing it.
The irony, of course, is that while in the majority, Democrats complained about GOP filibusters and even used the so-called nuclear option to make it easier to approve President Obama's judicial and Cabinet nominees. Now that they're in the minority, the often arcane Senate procedures could become their friends.
McConnell called Democrats' decision to filibuster the Keystone bill "disappointing," reminding members that he had given them more amendments than he'd given Republicans and even "more amendments than all of last year combined."
Last year, Republicans were incensed when Reid wouldn't allow amendment votes on legislation in an effort to keep several at-risk Democrats from having to take painful votes. McConnell has promised regular order, allowing the minority to offer amendments of all stripes.
At the first opportunity, Democrats tested the new majority leader. Liberals sought to use the Keystone pipeline debate to force all sorts of potentially embarrassing votes on climate change and energy policy. Obama has promised to veto the pipeline legislation, making the symbolic measures Democrats were offering all the more important.
But it wasn't an easy sell to everyone, Durbin said. More than one-fifth of the caucus, largely red-state Democrats, wanted to see the Keystone bill passed quickly. Liberals didn't want to see it come to the floor at all. "Initially, the people who didn't want this bill on the floor were trying to dream up any way to stop and derail it," Durbin said.
Leadership convinced the Left that having the opportunity to add policy amendments -- including one that put Republicans on the record on climate change -- had more value than delaying the inevitable. "I think they decided it was better to go forward. And I think that was the right choice," Durbin said.
It should be somewhat easier for Democratic leaders to keep the club together with fewer red-state members around worried about taking tough votes or appearing to side with Reid and Obama. Mary Landrieu, Mark Pryor, and Kay Hagan are gone, and Democrats lost open-seat races in Montana and South Dakota.