As noted earlier today, the president threw a temper tantrum on Twitter, calling for a government shutdown in September and/or a rules change to eliminate the legislative filibuster. The Republican senators, who would have to vote almost unanimously to execute a “nuking” of the filibuster, started pushing back against Trump’s suggestion almost immediately.
In their zeal to defend the dilatory procedure, GOP senators mangled history rather hilariously. John Kennedy of Louisiana said: “The Founding Fathers set it up this way … It’s worked for centuries.” Well, not exactly. According to the reigning expert on the matter, Brookings’s Sarah Binder, the first filibuster was in 1837. It was conducted by Senate Whigs, none of whom were, or are, regarded as Founding Fathers. It was, in fact, hardly ever used until the civil-rights era, and even then, was rare. The real boom time for the filibuster began in 2009, with the election of Barack Obama and the decision by Mitch McConnell to engineer, via a strategy of total obstruction, a 60-vote threshold in the Senate for just about everything.
Perhaps recalling these glory days and anticipating future Democratic presidents, McConnell has made lots of negative noises about killing the legislative filibuster. He was even more definitive after Trump’s conniption, as The Hill reports:
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.”
And actually, it is unclear if McConnell could go totally nuclear, even if he wanted to. Last month, after he nuked the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations, 28 Senate Republicans and 33 Senate Democrats signed a letter opposing any further erosion of the right to filibuster. Maybe Trump doesn’t care what happens after he is gone. But other Republicans do. And in any event, as the health-care debacle shows, being able to pass legislation by a simple majority is sometimes not enough, at least with the current cast of characters.