GOP Senators Seem Anxious About Nuking the Filibuster

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Republican senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker.Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

At least nine Republican senators are reportedly wary of caving to conservative pressure to “nuke” the filibuster to pave the way for Donald Trump’s legislative agenda. Republican senators Orrin Hatch and Lindsey Graham have already gone on the record as being against any effort to kill the filibuster, and the Hill now reports that, for the time being, their GOP colleagues Lamar Alexander, Bob Corker, Jeff Flake, Thom Tillis, Mike Lee, Johnny Isakson, and Ron Johnson have all signaled that they are not inclined to change Senate rules either. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, meanwhile, hasn’t taken a position on the matter, but he has diplomatically acknowledged that “You need Democratic cooperation to do most things in the Senate … and I anticipate it.”

Should any Senate Democrats wish to block a Supreme Court nominee or piece of Republican legislature once Trump takes office, the GOP would likely need at least eight Democratic senators to join any effort to overcome a filibuster. Eliminating the threat of a filibuster for either Supreme Court picks or new legislation would only require a simply majority, however. If Democrats follow through on their threats to block legislation or Supreme Court nominees they find objectionable, it stands to reason that the GOP would consider axing the filibuster and get as much done as possible for as long as they control the House, the Senate, and the White House.

As the Hill points out, one reason that Senate Republicans are understandably reluctant to get rid of the filibuster is because opposition from the Democratic minority provides a fail-safe in the event that Trump — an outsider who was shunned by Establishment Republicans for much of his presidential campaign — tries to push through legislation Senate Republicans don’t entirely agree with. There’s also the inevitability that the rule changes would also box Republicans out if and when the Democrats retake the Senate, for as Senator Hatch said earlier this month, the filibuster “is the only way to protect the minority, and we’ve been in the minority a lot more than we’ve been in the majority. It’s just a great, great protection for the minority.” Adds Senator Alexander, per the Hill:

I think most Republicans understand that the Senate is not an institution to impose the majority’s will on the country. It’s the one institution in the country that’s capable of developing consensus. The Obama administration found that when you try to cram things down people’s throats in a partisan way they don’t last.

Senate Democrats, however, had already signaled before the election that if Hillary Clinton won the White House and Democrats won the Senate majority, they would eliminate the filibuster if Republicans tried to permanently block Clinton’s Supreme Court picks. Indeed, that’s exactly what Democratic senator Harry Reid already did in 2013 when it came to White House administration and judicial nominations, nuking the filibuster for those types of picks after Republicans deployed an obstructionist strategy against President Obama.

Just how well this group of Republican senators holds up to what will surely be enormous pressure from House Republicans, the White House, and the conservative media remains to be seen. Then again, they could also get lucky considering the fact that there are ten red-state Democratic senators up for reelection in 2018, which means they might be able to find enough crossover votes to block the filibuster in some situations. Just how organized or defiant Senate Democrats will be to President Trump’s agenda remains to be seen as well.