Updated at 6:45 a.m. on January 4.
While some Senate Democrats plan to move Wednesday on an effort to force changes to Senate filibuster rules, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is working to forestall a resulting floor fight on the issue for at least a few weeks to allow more time for talks with GOP leaders.
Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., plans “to go to the floor Wednesday to submit his resolution on rules reform,” according to spokeswoman Amber McDowell. Under what he dubs “the Constitutional option,” Udall wants to object to the continuation of the previous Senate's rules.
Udall hopes to force a straight majority vote on his proposal requiring that senators objecting to a motion to proceed on a bill must remain on the floor to maintain the filibuster, allowing an immediate cloture vote if a motion to proceed passes, and eliminating “secret holds” on bills and nominations. Senate Republicans are expected to object to Udall’s motion, starting a complex procedural fight that could play out over weeks.
In an op-ed for the Washington Post today, Udall wrote, "We need to take the backroom deals out of the legislative process and rein in rampant obstruction from individuals; this means no more secret holds and endless delays by threat of filibuster."
Udall said the reason the Senate did not pass a single appropriations bill, kept many "critical government posts empty," and left "hundreds of House bills to die" was because a small the rules were being "manipulated to allow a small minority to silently obstruct the will of the majority."
Some Democratic backers of filibuster reform and supporters have said that contest will include immediate floor drama. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, predicted “fireworks” Wednesday.
Reid, however, appears likely to delay the pivotal floor maneuvering until after the two-week Martin Luther King Day recess while using the rules change push to negotiate a deal with Senate Republicans.
Four Senate aides said that Reid may recess the Senate at end of the day on Wednesday rather than adjourn, a step that would leave open the “legislative day.” Continuing the day would mean Udall would not need to act on Wednesday in order to object to a resumption of Senate rules from the previous Congress.
“If we left the first legislative day open, it would not need to happen Wednesday,” said a Democratic leadership aide who declined to be named discussing floor strategy.
Udall’s spokeswoman said that Udall's move on Wednesday would “start the conversation about rules” but did not predict when the process will play out further.
Democrats and Republicans said recess will allow time for a possible deal in leadership talks involving Reid, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Rules Committee Chairman Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who is expected to become Rules Committee ranking member.
Republicans are prepared to allow changes aimed at eliminating secret holds, but will likely resist any meaningful changes to filibuster rules, GOP leadership aides said. The aides added that while all returning Democratic senators signed a letter endorsing some effort to reduce filibuster, Republicans believe they are not unified behind any specific rules change proposal.
The delay gives “Dems a couple of weeks to negotiate among themselves,” a GOP leadership aide said.
Any deal cut by the leaders will likely be significantly more modest than reformers want. Still, the Democratic leadership aide said any change would be significant in a body that has changed rules only seven times in its history.
Ben Terris contributed.