Will candidate Trump end the filibuster?Politically Aware Thursday, April 28th, 2016
Commentary: Politically Aware
The filibuster, a Senate rule requiring 60 votes to begin and end debate, is already on life support. The 2016 election could put the final nails in its coffin.
In 2013, Sen. Harry Reid ended the supermajority requirement on judicial nominees (except for the Supreme Court), using a maneuver so controversial it was dubbed the “nuclear option.” Republicans suggested that if they took control of the Senate, they would bring the rule back. They haven’t, and they won’t, because they will want the chance to stack the courts under a Republican president. More likely is that the filibuster on Supreme Court nominees will disappear the next time the Senate and White House are controlled by the same party, particularly given Republican refusal to give Justice Merrick Garland a hearing.
Despite the push and pull over judicial nominations, relatively little has been said about filibustering legislation. The reason is simple: the Senate filibuster has rarely been the final barrier to passing laws. Democrats controlled the House and Senate from 2007-2009 when President Bush, not the filibuster, thwarted their efforts. When Democrats took the White House in 2008, they were stymied by moderates in their own party and President Obama’s commitment to bipartisanship, despite briefly having 60 votes. From 2010-2014, Senate Democrats knew progressive bills would die in the House, and since 2014, Senate Republicans have known they would be vetoed by President Obama.
In short, the legislative filibuster only really matters when one party controls the House, the White House, and between 50 and 59 votes in the Senate. That line-up seems increasingly likely in 2017, with businessman Donald Trump and Secretary Hillary Clinton largely cementing their parties’ nominations on Tuesday.
From the outset, changing demographics have given Democrats a fair chance of winning the White House in November, despite the historic difficulty in holding it for three terms. A favorable map of Senate elections gives them a reasonable chance of winning the four seats they need to take control of the Senate, but almost no hope of winning the 14 seats they need to reach 60. No one believed the Republican House majority could be in jeopardy – until Trump burst on the scene.
Loathed by leaders of the Republican Party, 60 percent of registered voters view Trump unfavorably. Despite her own high negatives (54 percent), Clinton bests Trump by 9 points in general election polls. That’s better than President Obama’s margin in 2008, when Democrats added 21 seats to their 2006 majority (they need 30 seats to retake control).
Relying on April polls is dangerous, but if they prove accurate, the Democrats could win the House, the Senate, and the White House. If that happens, be prepared to say hello to a progressive agenda and goodbye to the filibuster.
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