Trump Needs to Stop Whining About the Filibuster

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The president can’t seem to stop complaining about the legislative filibuster. But given a clear opportunity in the Alabama Senate race to make support for it toxic, he blinked. Photo: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

His much-condemned perspective on the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, was far from the only dead horse the president could not stop beating in his unbridled speech at a Phoenix rally last night. Once again, he called for the elimination of the legislative veto in the Senate:

[F]or our friends in the Senate, oh boy — the Senate, remember this — look, the Senate, we have to get rid of what’s called the filibuster rule; we have to. And if we don’t, the Republicans will never get anything passed. You’re wasting your time. We have to get rid of the filibuster rule. Right now, we need 60 votes and we have 52 Republicans. That means that eight Democrats are controlling all of this legislation. We have over 200 bills.

(BOOING)

And we have to speak to Mitch and we have to speak to everybody …

Trump likely confused his audience by mixing complaints about the inability of the Senate GOP to get 50 votes for a health-care bill with demands that 50 votes now become the standard. Nobody can blame him for failing to make much of an effort to explain the finer mechanics of reconciliation to an angry right-wing crowd that mostly got into attacks on the media and (for old times’ sake) Hillary Clinton. And it’s not as if he’s evinced much knowledge of the subject himself.

But perhaps because he didn’t get much applause for attacking the filibuster, he returned to the topic this morning on Twitter:

This echoes an earlier presidential tweetstorm back in July, the day after the Senate sank health-care legislation. One tweet was almost identical to last night’s rant:

And Trump ranted about the constraints imposed by the filibuster twice in May.

So it’s not like he hasn’t been heard by Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans on this subject. Given the terrible condition of his relationship with the Senate Majority Leader, you could imagine this is a problem he blames strictly on the Kentuckian, with his arcane attachment to Senate traditions. And McConnell has rejected Trump’s demands on the filibuster repeatedly and categorically.

But it’s important to remember that just four-and-a-half months ago, 29 Republican senators (the number did not include McConnell or his Whip, John Cornyn, who, like McConnell, made a separate statement defending the filibuster) joined 32 Democrats in signing a letter circulated by Susan Collins and Chris Coons opposing any changes in the legislative veto.

Assuming no Democrat would vote for a Republican-initiated rules change killing the legislative filibuster right now, that means it would require 50 of 52 GOP senators, just like the health-care legislation. That means at least 27 senators, plus McConnell and Cornyn, would have to flip-flop on the filibuster for Trump to get his way. Does anyone think that’s happening, absent some huge emergency? Perhaps an imminent debt default could provide a pretext, but that’s about it.

The most puzzling thing about Trump’s obsession with this subject is that he passed up the one clear opportunity he had to make this a live issue for rank-and-file Republicans. One of the signatories of that Collins-Coons letter was the appointed Senator Luther Strange of Alabama. As part of a strategy to depict himself as Trump’s champion against McConnell’s stooge Strange, Representative Mo Brooks made eliminating the legislative veto his principal campaign issue in opposing the incumbent in Alabama’s special GOP primary. Indeed, Brooks framed the issue exactly the way Trump did:

Our Republican Senate majority is killing our conservative agenda, our Republican agenda, and President Trump’s agenda. The murder weapon is the Senate filibuster rule, an archaic accident of history created during the days of horse and buggy, and slavery,” Rep. Brooks said on the House floor this morning.

What reward did Brooks get for carrying the president’s water on this issue he’s ranted about so frequently? Trump endorsed Strange shortly before the primary and almost certainly pulled him across the finish line to a runoff spot, leaving Brooks in third place.

If Trump cares so much about killing the legislative filibuster, why doesn’t his campaign to flip Republicans on this issue begin with Strange, who would be helpless without Trump’s support against Judge Roy Moore in the runoff being held next month? And if Strange stubbornly sticks with McConnell on the filibuster, why not threaten to switch the presidential endorsement to Moore, another Trump idolater who probably doesn’t care about the filibuster unless support for it is found in Deuteronomy or Leviticus?

All in all, for all the redundant bluster, it seems likely that Trump regards the legislative filibuster as an excuse for his legislative failures, rather than as a target. Perhaps he could give the topic a rest.

Trump Needs to Stop Whining About the Filibuster