Nuclear 2.0? Jeb Bush Is Open to Ending the Senate Filibuster to Repeal Obamacare

The ex-governor is willing to go where rival Republican candidate Ted Cruz has so far been unwilling.

Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida and 2016 Republican presidential candidate, speaks during the Faith and Freedom Coalition's "Road to Majority" conference in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, June 19, 2015.

Photographer: Drew Angerer/Bloomberg

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush said Friday he's open to eliminating the Senate's 60-vote threshold if it helps Congress repeal Obamacare and enact "free-market oriented" health care reforms.

Appearing on Hugh Hewitt's radio show, the former Florida governor was asked if he'd support invoking the "Reid rule"—also known as the "nuclear option"—to nix the legislative filibuster to replace the Affordable Care Act.

At first, Bush said his focus was coming up with a health care plan that Republicans can unify behind.

"I think we Republicans first need to unify behind the replacement," he said. "If there's unity there, we can act. Right now, though, for the last few years we've been organized against Obamacare... But there hasn't been any kind of unity about what the alternative is and that's what my focus is."

Hewitt pressed Bush, pointing out that Republicans are unlikely to get 60 Senate votes to defeat a filibuster if Democrats stick together and block efforts to repeal Obamacare, as they have done for years. "At that point," Hewitt said, "would you at least be open to making the argument that on this issue, before it gets its tentacles too deep, that we break the filibuster and ram through a repeal and replacement?"

Bush responded that he was open to it.

"I'd have to see—if the repeal is what I'm going to advocate, then I might consider that," he said, adding that if the replacement includes high-deductible, low-premium catastrophic coverage and helps the middle class, "then I would certainly consider that."

Bush is unique among presidential candidates who have signaled any openness to ending the legislative filibuster. Democrats ended the 60-vote threshold for nominations to the executive and judicial branches (except the Supreme Court) in November 2013, drawing fierce conservative pushback. Since then, Republicans have preserved the change but have not sought to further dismantle the filibuster.

Even Senator Ted Cruz of Texas—a rival Republican candidate who is no stranger to supporting scorched-earth legislative tactics—wouldn't support the idea of scrapping the filibuster in February 2015 as he was pushing legislation to overturn President Barack Obama's immigration executive actions.