The GOP probably doesn't have the votes to nuke the filibuster

We should probably think of this as an exercise in managing our expectations heading into next year’s congressional battles. Two days after the election I posed a question to the Republican Party leadership: we’ve given you control of the entire federal government. Now what will you do with it? The answer will largely depend on what happens in the Senate. Trump can, if he wishes, undo many of Obama’s executive actions with the stroke of a pen and Republicans will largely control what bills come up for a vote in both the House and Senate. But activity in the upper chamber can still be largely shut down cold as long as the minority has the filibuster in their toolkit.

So if they dig in their heels and try to block the GOP agenda across the board, will we invoke the dreaded “nuclear option” and get rid of this barrier? Reporters from The Hill have been taking the pulse of the members and it sounds like they really don’t have the stomach for that fight.

Senate Republicans are wary of making a historic move to nix the filibuster despite growing pressure from conservatives.

Roughly two weeks after Donald Trump’s White House win, GOP lawmakers are already facing calls to overhaul Senate rules and help push through the real estate mogul’s agenda.

The calls to go “nuclear” are only likely to intensify next year when Democrats begin to carry out their pledge to fight Trump’s agenda on areas where they disagree.

But Senate Republicans are openly skeptical about making a rules change they believe could come back to bite them, when they are inevitably back in the minority.

The list of names of those who are already getting cold feet includes some big hitters. Lamar Alexander (who is one of the senior members on the rules committee, by the way) is against it. Orin Hatch, Bob Corker, Jeff Flake, Thom Tillis, Ron Johnson and Lindsey Graham are all signalling that they don’t want to do it, as is Mike Lee. That’s a big chunk of resistance with significant pull.

You can rest assured that not a single Democrat will support the change while Trump is in office so the GOP would need all but one or two of their members to get in line in order to pull off the required procedural maneuver. And, of course, the process doesn’t even begin unless Mitch McConnell signs off, and so far he’s just saying that he would rather see “bipartisan cooperation” and a return to comity in the upper chamber. Lovely words to be sure, but not exactly based in reality.

While I can understand the hesitation in theory and admittedly hold some affection for tradition, the main argument being offered against doing this is far less persuasive than it was in the old days. We’re being reminded that sooner or later the GOP will be back in the minority and we’ll have handed the Democrats a massively powerful weapon to turn around and use against us. But the fact is that they have already signaled in no uncertain language that they were ready to do the same thing if Hillary Clinton had won and they had regained the Senate majority. Harry Reid already did it for some procedures back in 2013 and in the final weeks before the election Tim Kaine came right out and said that plans were in place to do the same for SCOTUS votes if the GOP blocked Hillary Clinton’s nominees.

This is no longer a hypothetical conversation. When they get the chance to do so, the Democrats are going to nuke the filibuster. It’s a foregone conclusion at this point. The gun has already been brought out in Act One and it’s now simply a question of who’s going to fire it first. So with that in mind, I’ll ask our Senate leadership the same question I posed before. We’ve given you all of the power which the voters are able to bestow on you in terms of moving the conservative agenda forward. What will you do with it?

MItch McConnell

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