House Republicans last night approved a stop-gap spending measure that met Donald Trump’s demands and included more than $5 billion in border wall funding. The bill now heads to the Senate where it will inevitably fail.
The arithmetic is unavoidable: the proposal will need 60 votes in the upper chamber to advance to the president’s desk, and with every Senate Democrat opposed, it won’t get anywhere close.
That is, just so long as the Senate operates under its existing rules.
Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, suggested last night that the Senate “eliminate” the chamber’s filibuster altogether in order to advance the White House’s priority. The president, not surprisingly, is on board.
President Donald Trump on Friday warned Senate Democrats that if they don’t vote for his border wall, there will be a “very long” government shutdown beginning Friday night. And he pressured Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to use the “nuclear option,” which would end the right to filibuster legislation in the Senate and allow the bill to pass with a simple majority.
The “nuclear option” refers to a last-resort way for the majority party in the Senate to overcome objection by the minority, and it involves using a simple majority of 51 votes rather than 60.
This is an unusually misguided and short-sighted idea. It’s going to fail, but just as importantly, Republicans should hope that it fails.
Right off the bat, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has used filibusters to great effect throughout his career, has been adamant that the chamber’s rules will not change when it comes to legislative supermajorities. This was true when Trump started talking up the idea of a change in May 2017, and it’s true now.
But taking a step further, the wisdom of the strategy is elusive. After all, the Republican majority in the House is going to evaporate in a couple of weeks, at which point the GOP’s legislative agenda will effectively die, at least for the next couple of years. Ending the legislative filibuster shortly before the point at which it will cease to matter is inherently foolish.
And doing this for an unpopular $5 billion appropriation is bonkers. It’s not even clear if there are 50 votes for Trump’s preferred approach, so lowering the legislative threshold may not work anyway. (When the immigration plan backed by the president came to the Senate floor several months ago, it garnered just 38 votes. The filibuster was irrelevant.)
Finally, as many Republicans know, the existing filibuster rules give comfort to the right, not the left. When Democrats controlled the levers of federal power in 2009 and 2010, they racked up an extraordinary number of historic victories, but it would have been an even more sweeping progressive success story had it not been for the routinization of GOP filibusters.
Republicans capable of thinking ahead realize Dems may someday have similar majorities. If the legislative filibuster didn’t exist, the opportunity for progressive legislating would be nation-changing.
Which is almost certainly why Trump’s call will be ignored.
Postscript: I don’t have a say in the Senate’s agenda, but for what it’s worth, I’m inclined to support a legislative reform plan that ends the legislative filibuster. The United States governed for the better part of two centuries with majority-rule in both chambers of Congress, and it was Republican abuses that created the modern 60-vote threshold. The implementation details matter, but I’d endorse changes to return the Senate to majority-rule.