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Missouri Republicans are in a full-blown meltdown as hardliners demand maximal gerrymander

Missouri Republican Caleb Rowden (at right)

Congressional redistricting has come to a standstill in Missouri after a small group of far-right hardliners in the state Senate, who want to ensure a 7-1 advantage for Republicans in the state’s House delegation, staged a filibuster to block a map preferred by party leaders (and previously passed by the lower chamber) that would maintain the GOP’s current 6-2 edge.

Unlike in the U.S. Senate, where members need only threaten to filibuster in order to stymie a bill, Missouri’s Senate requires aggrieved lawmakers to sustain an old-school “talking filibuster.” After dissenters spent 31 straight hours last week reading what the Kansas City Star characterizes as “books by conservative authors, Shakespeare passages, pop song lyrics, emails from 7-1 map supporters and stories of famous historical Missouri dogs,” leaders were forced to adjourn. They’ve since been unable to reconvene and hold a vote on their 6-2 plan in the face of continued procedural roadblocks that the seven-member “Conservative Caucus” has put up.

Efforts to reach a compromise have so far yielded no breakthroughs, and tensions between the two sides have reached acute levels. Majority Floor Leader Caleb Rowden lambasted the extremists for holding up all other legislative business to “get districts that suit their ambition,” while one renegade, state Sen. Bob Onder, accused Rowden of wanting “to give away one to two congressional seats to progressive Democrats and Nancy Pelosi.” Plans pushed by the rebel faction would split the Kansas City area, currently home to a single, compact Democratic district, between multiple Republican districts in order to oust Democratic Rep. Emanuel Cleaver.

Lawmakers are set to meet once again on Tuesday, but there’s no sign as yet of a truce that could bring a halt to this intra-party conflict. It might even escalate: Rowden has one tool still untouched in his arsenal, the ability to cut off debate by “moving the previous question.” Such a maneuver is often described as the “nuclear option” in the Missouri Senate, and during a recent colloquy, Onder insisted that Rowden would never use the procedure “against members of your own caucus.” Rowden would only say in response, “I’m not sure if anything is off the table.”

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