Politics

Trump Wants September Shutdown to Kill Legislative Filibuster

President appears unconcerned with power he could hand future Democratic chief executive

President Donald Trump tweeted that “Our country needs a good ‘shutdown’ in September to fix this mess!” (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Updated 11:17 a.m. | President Donald Trump on Tuesday endorsed ending filibusters of legislation in the Senate and allowing bills to pass via a simple majority — while calling for a government shutdown in September seemingly to force such a momentous change.

Trump made the stunning call a day after his White House and congressional GOP leaders struggled to counter Democratic claims of victory over a $1 trillion fiscal 2017 spending measure that is expected to hit Trump’s desk late this week.

And it was the latest in a string of outlandish statements by the president in recent days that have included openness to meeting with North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un and confusion about Andrew Jackson and the Civil War.

[After Dems Celebrate, Mulvaney Calls Spending Bill a Win for Trump]

“The reason for the plan negotiated between the Republicans and Democrats is that we need 60 votes in the Senate which are not there!” Trump tweeted “We....either elect more Republican Senators in 2018 or change the rules now to 51%. Our country needs a good ‘shutdown’ in September to fix mess!.”

The president’s comments didn’t sit well with GOP members who bristle at the image of them rooting for a shutdown. 

“I’ve never seen anybody go to the Senate and then advocate removing the filibuster — they don’t do it,” House Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education Chairman Rep. Tom Cole said emerging from a Republican Conference meeting. He said he thought that was highly unlikely to happen.

“I prefer the first one but, you know, it’s really up to the Senate what the Senate rules are,” Cole said of Trump’s proposition to either elect more Republicans or change the Senate rules. Cole said he’s never seen Republicans get elected to the Senate and then call for such a change.

Senior Democrats also were not impressed.

“President Trump may not like what he sees in this budget deal, but it’s dangerous and irresponsible to respond by calling for a shutdown," Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, an assistant Democratic leader in her chamber, said in a statement. “Hopefully, Republicans in Congress will do for the next budget what they did for this one: ignore President Trump’s demands, work with Democrats, and get it done.”

Even a top member of Trump’s team seemed reluctant to defend his boss' position.

“I think that’s a defensible position,” Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said on a hastily arranged conference call with reporters Tuesday morning, "one we’ll deal with in September."

He said, for now, he is focused on the omnibus spending measure due for floor votes later this week. “We’ve got a lot of things to do between now and September,” Mulvaney said.

“But the truth of the matter, though, is that we averted a government shutdown in a way that allows the president to fund his priorities, and I think that's the story now, not what might happen in September.”

He fielded only one question about Trump's call to terminate the legislative filibuster, however. The call was cut short because reporters joined without muting their phones, and Mulvaney was drowned out near its conclusion by classical music and other background chatter.

For Trump, the chaotic call cut short one of his top budget guru's opportunities to defend the fiscal 2017 spending deal and Trump’s tweets. For journalists, it cut short access to a senior administration who is heavily involved in spending and health care negotiations.

But before the call ended, Mulvaney for the second consecutive day touted the bill’s new defense spending, saying “We broke the parity system” between defense and non-defense spending in place since early this decade. He also contended the bill contains no actual funding for Planned Parenthood, and he cast Democrats as "scared to death" that Trump personally cut such a sweeping deal with Republicans and Democrats.

The Trump transition team late last year asked the Obama administration and congressional leaders to pass a continuing resolution to keep the government funded through last Friday, aiming for a chance to weigh in on the remainder of fiscal 2017 spending. (Trump signed a seven-day CR last Friday, and leaders rolled out their compromise 2017 measure early Monday morning.)

[Republicans Claim Their Own Victories in Omnibus Talks]

Democrats on Monday claimed the White House did not get much from their insistence, and some even said the Trump administration was not that involved in the omnibus talks. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said Monday his party’s members “overwhelmingly, we were very proud with the outcome.” They celebrated its inclusion of aid money for Puerto Rico, its continued funding for Planned Parenthood and its exclusion of any monies for Trump’s promised U.S.-Mexico border wall.

Trump’s comments flied in the face of House Republicans’ messaging Tuesday morning, which claimed the GOP scored big wins. 

 House Speaker Paul D. Ryan touted the omnibus agreement reached by appropriators highlighting increases in defense spending, fighting opioids and school choice. He specifically touted an increase in defense without a subsequent increase in non-defense spending.

“I cannot understate how much of a game-changer this is,” Ryan said.

Ryan at first brushed off the tweet by Trump calling for a government shutdown in September but seemed to leave the option open if Democrats filibuster in the Senate.

“We’ve got a long ways to go from now until September,” Ryan said.

He said despite Democrats praising wins in the omnibus package, there were also “conservative wins” in the spending deal the president supports, such as an increase in border security and defense.

Trump’s tweets flew in the face even of his own administration’s talking points. The White House shot back on the narrative of Democratic wins, though not until Monday evening, dispatching Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney to the White House briefing room.

“We’re very pleased with the bill,” Mulvaney said.

He hailed its $21 billion in additional emergency funding for the military, its $1.5 billion in border security funding, and its school-choice section. Had the Obama administration handled fiscal 2017 funding, those things would not have been in the bill, Mulvaney said.

While his budget director delivered a detailed and confident defense of the spending measure, Trump took to Twitter with a defensive tone that, so long as Republicans control the House and Senate, would amount to him consolidating power.

Ending the legislative filibuster would allow bills to pass the Senate with a simple majority votes, no longer the 60 currently required to end debate and move to a final majority threshold vote. It would mean, on paper, a GOP president like Trump would find an easier path to signing conservative bills.

But, as is the case with health care reform, Trump should be finding it’s not quite that easy. The president also seemed to not have thought about, not be concerned about, or disinterested in the fact that such a rule change would allow a future Democratic president with “unified government” to have a clear path to signing liberal legislation, which would anger many of his GOP supporters.

[McConnell Pledges Legislative Filibuster Is Here to Stay]

His stunning call for a shutdown in September, when government funding will next lapse, appears an expectation by the president that public opinion against a shutdown would also bring support for altering the chamber’s rules.

But Trump, perhaps without knowing, just broke with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is staunchly opposed to terminating the legislative filibuster.

“There’s no sentiment to change the legislative filibuster,” the Kentucky Republican told reporters last month. Asked if he was committing to not changing the rules to end debate on legislation while he is the GOP leader, McConnell replied: “Correct.”

— Kellie Mejdrich, Rema Rahman and Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.

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