GOP senators dismiss Trump filibuster change

Greg Nash

Senate Republicans on Tuesday emphatically dismissed President Trump’s demand that they get rid of the legislative filibuster to enact his agenda.

Trump blamed the Senate rules, which require 60 votes to pass most legislation, for the exclusion of key priorities from spending bills, such as money to construct a southern border wall. 

{mosads}“Either elect more Republican senators in 2018 or change the rule now to 51 percent,” Trump tweeted.

But the idea fell flat with GOP lawmakers, revealing a continuing disconnect between the White House and Capitol Hill.

Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (Texas) in a floor speech said that lowering the threshold to 51 votes would be a “real mistake.”

“The rules have saved us from a lot of really bad policy,” he said, armed with a list of laws that would have passed had the filibuster not been in place.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) slammed the door on the idea a few hours later, saying the elimination of the filibuster “will not happen.”

“There is an overwhelming majority on a bipartisan basis not interested in changing the way the Senate operates on the legislative calendar,” he said.

GOP proponents of the filibuster note that it stopped Democrats from passing cap-and-trade legislation limiting carbon emissions and a card-check bill that would have made it far easier for unions to organize during former President Barack Obama’s first two years in office.

Cornyn also slapped down Trump’s saber rattling over a possible government shutdown fight in September, when funding for fiscal year 2017 is due to expire.

Expressing frustration over this week’s spending deal with Democrats, which preserved 99 percent of funding for the Environmental Protection Agency and increased money for various social programs, Trump tweeted, “Our country needs a good ‘shutdown’ in September to fix this mess!”

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney echoed the president. He warned that a shutdown in September might be hard to avoid if Democrats continue using the threat of one as leverage in spending talks.

He said Trump was venting frustration because Democrats “went out to try to spike the football and make him look bad” after negotiating the funding deal.  

“If the Democrats aren’t going to behave any better than they have in the last couple of days, it may be inevitable,” Mulvaney said.

But Republican leaders in Congress warn a shutdown would be politically disastrous because their party controls the government and would have a hard time pinning the blame on Democrats.

“We weren’t elected, in my view, certainly not given the majority here in the Senate and in the House, as well as the president in the White House, to shut down the government,” Cornyn said.

Republicans have already changed the Senate’s rules once in the majority: Last month they voted along party lines to eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees, stripping Democrats of the power to block Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.

Yet McConnell pledged even after that action that the legislative filibuster was not in danger.

Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), the chairman of the Appropriations Committee who helped negotiate the spending package, dismissed Trump’s call for a rules change as “a nonstarter.”

A bipartisan group of more than 60 senators signed a letter to McConnell last month pledging their support for the legislative filibuster.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who spearheaded the letter along with Sen. Christopher Coons (D-Del.), said Tuesday she opposes Trump’s call to end the filibuster and has even the president’s strongest Senate allies on her side.

“I know it’s frustrating, particularly for somebody who wants to get things done. There are a lot of things that are the president’s priorities that are my priorities, but I don’t think that’s the right way to do it,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), a Trump ally.

McConnell argued Tuesday that Republicans can pass two of Trump’s top priorities, healthcare and tax reform, under a special budgetary process that only requires simple majority votes in the Senate.

“There is a pathway to achieve both of those without Democratic cooperation,” he said.

In spite of Trump’s apparent unhappiness with the spending bill, McConnell praised the deal on the floor.

He touted it as the largest border-security funding increase in a decade and noted it froze funding for the IRS, slightly cut EPA funding and provided money for a military pay raise.

“Do the American people expect us to work together? They like it when we reach bipartisan agreements,” he said.

Despite staunch resistance among Republicans to reducing the threshold for most legislation from 60 to 51 votes, support is stirring within the GOP conference for a rules change that would make it easier to begin debate on spending bills.

Proponents of this reform say it would allow senators to begin consideration of bills, offer amendments and make it tougher to vote to block them after days of floor time.

“I think there’s very, very broad support in the Senate for the idea that a sufficiently determined minority should be able to block final passage of legislation,” said Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). “However, the idea that it takes a supermajority vote in the Senate to even begin the process of debating an appropriations bill … that’s ridiculous.”

But Senate Republicans are divided over whether to eliminate the filibuster on the motion to proceed through a party-line vote — the so-called nuclear option — or whether to do so under regular order, which requires 67 votes.

Fifteen Democrats would be needed to support the rules change under regular order, which appears unlikely.

Tags Barack Obama Christopher Coons John Cornyn Mitch McConnell Susan Collins Thad Cochran Thom Tillis

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