Would Democrats vote to end the filibuster if McConnell put it on the floor? Maybe!

A follow-up to Ed’s post. I’ve spent days insisting that nothing short of Medicare for all would make Schumer and Pelosi budge on funding the wall, but Trump’s idea of ending the filibuster to make it happen is so bad that maybe they’d agree to do that, even knowing that it would mean he gets money for his pet project.

Here’s where things stood as of April 2017 on nuking the filibuster. Note who *wasn’t* opposed to ending the filibuster even then.

Sixty-one senators urged their party leaders to preserve the filibuster for legislation on Friday, backing the procedural tool after Republicans scrapped the minority’s power to block Supreme Court nominees…

But among the 37 senators who did not sign on were some of the Senate’s most liberal and conservative members, including Democrat Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and Republicans Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Among senior members of the Senate leadership teams, Democrat Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, and Republicans Roy Blunt of Missouri and John Thune of South Dakota signed the letter. Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and third-ranked Senate Democratic leader Patty Murray of Washington did not sign it.

The math is daunting. McConnell would start with 61 presumptive no’s, needing to flip 11 votes just to give Mike Pence the chance to cast the tiebreaker. Normally he’d look for unanimity within his own caucus first but he wouldn’t get it in this case. Corker and Flake have nothing to lose by defying Trump. And Collins and Murkowski would be loath to do something that might end up making their own votes even less relevant next year, when the Republican caucus will expand to 53 seats.

But ask yourself: Under the circumstances, why shouldn’t all Senate Democrats vote to end the filibuster? There’s already some support on the merits, per the excerpt above. They have little to lose at this point except a measly $5 billion for the wall. In two weeks Pelosi will be in charge of the House so the filibuster won’t matter; anything that Republicans might pass through the Senate with 51 votes can simply be blocked by the House. As Benjy Sarlin says:


The new House majority is also large enough that it’s likely to last a few election cycles at least, ensuring that ending the filibuster now won’t come back to haunt Democrats in 2021. On the contrary: Instituting rule by simple majority in the Senate *at Trump’s urging* would set the Dems up to pass anything they want if they take back total control of government in 2020 or 2022. They’d be able to enact their whole agenda and blame Trump for making it possible when Republicans eventually howled in protest. This sums it up:

And so there’s the dilemma for Schumer. Short-term his base would be incensed if he accepted Trump’s invite to end the filibuster, knowing it would mean that the GOP could then approve $5 billion for the wall. Dumber liberals would treat it as a total capitulation. Long-term the party gets to have its cake and eat it too, though, potentially passing big-ticket Democratic programs and not needing to worry that they’ll be accused of having taken the extraordinary step of nuking the filibuster. “We didn’t,” Schumer would say. “Trump and McConnell did.” Would liberal voters be able to think big-picture here and let Schumer slide on helping to end the filibuster — especially knowing that the $5 billion Trump is asking for is just a fraction of what’s needed to actually build the wall?

If the Dems did help vote it through, it would solve this political problem for Trump:

The wall’s not broadly popular and ending the filibuster to make it happen would be seen as a huge transgression if the minority party opposed it. But if they didn’t? If they actually helped make it happen? No biggie. All’s well that ends well.

The strategy I’ve described points to an obvious Republican counter-strategy. For starters, if the filibuster was successfully nuked, McConnell would surely turn around and offer a bill funding the entire $25 billion for the wall. They’ll never get the rest of the funding once Pelosi takes over so they’d need to get it now. Also, precisely because ending the filibuster stands to benefit Democrats over the next half-decade or so, the entire Senate Republican caucus might conceivably vote no on it. They don’t want to risk nullifying their own potential veto power over legislation two or four years from now. It’s a matter of pure self-interest. But I don’t know: All the Dems would need are two GOP votes to flip. And Trump would be applying a lot of pressure on them to vote yes. He wants his wall!

The response to all of this will be the same as it always is: Democrats will end the filibuster themselves if they have to the next time they have complete control of government so Republicans might as well do it now. That’s quite possible. They didn’t in 2009 but American partisanship is 10 years more bitter since then and the tit-for-tat game on the filibuster has since escalated, putting us on the precipice. Having Democrats do it, though, would at least give Republicans a political rallying point — the Senate majority has taken a step of unprecedented ruthlessness towards the minority and must be repaid tenfold when the opportunity arises. That’s good turnout material. But that rallying point is up in smoke if it’s a Republican-led Senate that votes to end the filibuster.

Plus, the argument that the GOP should end the filibuster because the Democrats will do it themselves eventually doesn’t answer the question of why Republicans would do it now rather than on January 20, 2017. Trump himself has tweeted sporadically at McConnell about ending it but he never forced the issue the way he’s forcing the issue of wall-funding at the moment. The populists who have spent the past few days bludgeoning him over the wall haven’t mounted any sustained campaign to do it either. I don’t blame him or them for that: They probably couldn’t have found 50 votes in the Senate to end the filibuster even if they had applied maximum pressure. The point, though, is that it’s bananas for Trump to make a last-ditch effort to get it done now knowing how much a simple-majority rule in the Senate is likely to benefit the other party. But that’s Trump for you: What’s good or bad for the GOP writ large is of little interest to him. What’s good or bad for his own agenda is of interest. If he can deliver some wall money by nuking the filibuster, sure, he’s all for that, long-term consequences be damned.