Donald Trump doesn’t seem to understand how the Senate works

Story highlights

  • Trump’s suggestion would make the way the Senate works entirely indistinguishable from the way the House works
  • In Trump’s mind, he’s the President so everyone should be doing what he says

Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump has never been in politics before. (You may have heard that a time or two over the last 18 months.) And he’s not terribly interested in learning the ways in which Washington works.

The latest evidence came Tuesday morning via this presidential tweet: “The U.S. Senate should switch to 51 votes, immediately, and get Healthcare and TAX CUTS approved, fast and easy. Dems would do it, no doubt!”
Aside from the odd punctuation — why is “TAX CUTS” capitalized?? — the message is simple: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should change the rules of the Senate to eliminate the filibuster on legislation. What that would mean in practical terms is that any debate on a bill could be ended by a simple majority vote and then the legislation could be passed — or voted down — with a simple majority.
It’s the legislative equivalent of what Republicans and Democrats have done over the past four years when it comes to Cabinet posts and all judicial nominations up to and including the Supreme Court.
It’s also a MUCH bigger deal — and something that just isn’t going to happen in the foreseeable future.
“The core of the Senate is the legislative filibuster,” McConnell told USA Today in early April. “This notion that this [changing the filibuster rule to confirm Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch] somehow bleeds over into the legislative filibuster is untrue. I’m opposed to it … I think that’s what fundamentally changes the Senate.”
Let’s start here: Getting rid of the legislative filibuster would make the way the Senate works entirely indistinguishable from the way the House works.
The House is — and was designed to be — a majority-rule entity. From its founding in Article 1, Section 3 of the Constitution, which establishes that members of the House must stand for new terms every two years, the whole idea was that the House was the direct voice of the people — reflecting what they wanted at a given time.
That same Constitution — you may have heard of it — established six-year terms for senators, an attempt to differentiate it from the House and create the idea of the Senate as a more deliberate institution.
The filibuster rule — which was formalized in 1917 but not used until 1919 to break a filibuster on the Treaty of Versailles(!) — was to further the distinction between Senate and House. Whereas majority ruled in the House, the filibuster not only gave members of the minority real power but also incentivized bipartisan cooperation by the majority party. Even when rule was changed in 1975 to make it 60 rather than 65 votes that were required to break a filibuster, it remained (and remains) the single most important difference between the House and the Senate.
Now, put the history aside for a minute. Trump’s tweet is also wrong on the specifics of the two pieces of legislation — health care and tax reform — he is insisting would pass the Senate if not for its 60-vote rule.
As CNN’s Phil Mattingly notes, both health care and tax reform are being moved via reconciliation — a series of budgetary rules that forces everything passed under it to be directly related to the spending and expenditures of the federal government. The advantage of reconciliation is that votes taken under it only require a simple majority to pass.
Which means that, for all intents and purposes, the change Trump is insisting the Senate make is already governing the two pieces of legislation he is tweeting about.
Donald Trump is either blithely unaware of these things or simply doesn’t care. He is and always has been someone who believes that he makes the rules while other people follow them. And, if they don’t suit him — if it’s a bad deal, say — he either adjust the rules or walks away from them.
In Trump’s mind, he’s the President so everyone — the Senate included — should be doing what he says and passing the legislation he wants passed.
Which, of course, is a gross misunderstanding of the separation of powers, the history of the Senate and the current legislative processes governing tax reform and the American Health Care Act.
Many people know that. Donald Trump doesn’t seem to be one of them.
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