McConnell to Trump: Forget about ending the legislative filibuster, okay?

A reply occasioned by this morning’s latest presidential tweetstorm. Contra McConnell, Trump won’t forget the filibuster and neither will his grassroots fans. Especially as we get further into his term and the frustrations over dashed legislative plans mount.

Asked if Republicans would nix the 60-vote filibuster to allow legislation to pass by a simple majority, McConnell told reporters, “That will not happen.”…

McConnell — who pledged last month to keep the filibuster — said the move would “fundamentally change the way the Senate has worked for a very long time. We’re not going to do that.”…

“The rules have saved us from a lot of really bad policy. … I know we all are into short-term gratification, but it’s a real mistake, I think, from a legislative standpoint,” [John Cornyn] said.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the Finance Committee chairman and longest-serving senator, told CNN that without the filibuster rule, the country “would have gone straight to socialism.”

Trump’s way short of the votes he’d need to force a rule change even if McConnell was game. Last month, after Republicans nuked the Supreme Court filibuster to get Gorsuch confirmed, Susan Collins and Chris Coons made a gesture of bipartisan conciliation by drafting a letter to McConnell urging him not to nuke the filibuster for legislation. That letter got 61 signatures in the Senate, almost evenly split between the parties — 32 Democrats, 28 Republicans, and one independent. McConnell would need to claw back at least 11 of those GOP votes to end the legislative filibuster, a heavy lift in the Senate made heavier by the fact that … some members of Trump’s own party are skeptical of his agenda. Normally the arguments against ending the filibuster are forward-looking: We don’t want to get rid of it now because it’ll come in handy later, when there’s once again a Democratic majority with a Democratic president. For some Republicans, though, the argument for keeping the filibuster may be grounded in the present. People like McCain or Collins may want the 60-vote rule in place to make it easier to check Trump, a president from their own party. WaPo:

One of the benefits of the 60-vote threshold for the majority party is that it’s a good excuse not to vote on something that you don’t want to. If Trump proposes something extreme, it’s a ready-made excuse not to bring it up. If a bill is going to be a really tough vote for certain Republicans, same deal.

Without the filibuster in place, Trump may be emboldened to pursue whatever extreme or big-government policies he wants, reasoning that he can at least cajole Republicans to go along with it. Maybe he suddenly wants Congress to vote on his travel ban. Maybe he’ll push harder for a vote on the border wall. Or maybe he’ll ask for extensive powers to use military force.

Republicans might not want to pass a draconian travel ban, say, any more than Democrats do. Without the filibuster, they’d come under pressure to either vote for the White House’s bill or defy Trump and risk a voter backlash. With the filibuster, they can pass the buck to the minority party by shrugging and saying Democrats will never give them the eight votes they need to get to 60. Trump gets blocked, Schumer gets blamed, and Senate GOPers are happy.

But how long can that go on before Republican voters get restless? Trump might bide his time until the midterms, believing that this problem can be solved by the electorate. If midterm voters replace a bunch of Senate Democrats with Republicans next year, McConnell may end up with a filibuster-proof majority or something close to it, with red-state Dems like Joe Manchin who survive the carnage capable of providing the remaining few votes needed to get to 60. The Senate map does favor the GOP, but history and Trump’s job approval do not; a CNN poll released a few days ago, in fact, found Democrats nine points ahead on the generic ballot. Republican gains in the midterms could be small or nonexistent. If they are, and if Trump has little to show legislatively for his first two years in office, the party will be staring at the likelihood of his first term ending with no major legislative accomplishments thanks to Democratic obstructionism. The Obama White House could shrug off Republican filibusters because they’d already passed the stimulus and health-care reform. Trump may have nothing like that when he runs for reelection. And Trump, even more so than Obama, ran as a president who’d bend the Washington swamp monsters to his will and make reform happen whether they want it to or not. If he ends up being bottled up because of the filibuster, his image as a “man of action” will come crashing down. Thanks to the health-care debacle, it’s starting to teeter already.

So imagine it’s 2019, Republicans have gained just two seats in the Senate in the midterms, and there’s no relief in sight from Democratic obstructionism. Is Trump going to twiddle his thumbs while McConnell solemnly defends Schumer’s right to filibuster or is he going to tighten the screws by appealing his base to pressure Congress to end the 60-vote rule? Remember, according to grassroots righties, 2016 was no ordinary election. It was the “Flight 93 election,” the electorate’s last clear chance to avert remorseless decline and make America great again. If the stakes are that high, what’s the argument for not ending the filibuster and passing as much game-changing legislation with 51 votes as you can conceivably manage in 2019 and 2020? If that legislation is popular, great — Trump will likely be reelected and the voters will have implicitly endorsed the nuking of the filibuster. If it’s unpopular and he loses, bummer, but we had no choice except to bet big and try to steer the country off the track that it was on. Besides, Trump will tell his supporters, you know damn well the next Democratic president with a Democratic Senate majority isn’t going to let Republicans block his/her agenda like Dems have blocked Trump’s. They’ll nuke the legislative filibuster if we don’t nuke it first. So why not nuke it and at least reap some benefits from doing so?

Like I say, given the degree of opposition to the idea in the Senate, I doubt Trump will go all-in on the nuclear option until after the midterms. But he will go all-in on it eventually if the alternative is having his entire presidency effectively shut down by Chuck Schumer. After all, unlike the GOP, he has nothing to lose by doing so. And in the end, he’s looking out for number one.