President Donald Trump discovered this morning that there may be some limit to the blind lengths that Senate Republicans will go to to support him. Chief among them: Mitch McConnell and other Senate Republicans reportedly aren’t willing to give up their precious ability to filibuster just so Trump can ram through a spending bill with $5.7 billion in funding for his border wall.
The wonky process for this to happen is known as the “nuclear option,” in which the Senate would amend its own rules to allow lawmakers to shoot down procedural votes and tactics like the filibuster with only a simple 51-vote majority; usually, it needs 60 votes. Trump has been pushing hard for Senate lawmakers to use this option, largely because if they don’t, the Democratic minority in the Senate can filibuster or otherwise stall the budget bill all day until the government shuts down at midnight.
Many Senate Republicans, however, do not want to go nuclear. A spokesperson for Mitch McConnell noted this morning that Republicans flat out don’t have the votes to do it in the first place.
“The Leader has said for years that the votes are not there in the Conference to use the nuclear option,” McConnell communications director David Popp told the Hill. “Just this morning, several Senators put out statements confirming their opposition, and confirming that there is not a majority in the conference to go down that road.”
Some of this trepidation likely stems from Republicans not wanting to lose the ability to filibuster for good. After former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid eliminated the filibuster for most nominations (with the notable exception of the Supreme Court) in 2013, Republicans invoked the nuclear option in 2017 to clear the way for Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. The filibuster remains in use, however, for normal bills. And as retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch so very helpfully pointed out, conservatives love the filibuster because it helps them enforce minority rule in the event that they don’t have a majority.
Per the Hill (emphasis mine):
The retiring Senate president pro tempore, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), also said he opposed the idea.
He said the Senate’s traditional 60-vote threshold for quashing a filibuster “has prevented our country for decades from sliding toward liberalism.”
By “sliding toward liberalism,” Hatch might mean things like the famous Dixiecrat filibuster against the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He might also mean the insanely racist Strom Thurmond’s filibuster against the 1957 Civil Rights Act, which lasted for over 24 hours. Who knows! Either way, the filibuster is a hideously outdated and gimmicky part of the political process that really only serves to enforce minority rule.
If Democrats ever take back the Senate, they should probably eliminate the filibuster as an option for their opponents, who have used it to block progressive policies at every opportunity. Still, it’s good—for now—that the filibuster is valuable enough to the GOP that they’re not willing to ditch it in order to give Trump funding for his dumb wall.