In all of the hundreds, if not thousands, of volumes written about the United States Senate, I’d be willing to bet that “fast and easy” has never been used to describe the chamber or what it should be — until Tuesday, when President Donald Trump tweeted that the Senate should “switch to 51 votes immediately, and get Healthcare and TAX CUTS approved, fast and easy….”
Putting aside the fact that Democrats never did abandon the legislative filibuster, it’s hard to think of a term that applies less to the Senate and the role it is designed to play than “fast and easy,” especially because the Founding Fathers created the Senate for the sole purpose of making sure that writing the laws for a large, diverse country would be the exact opposite of “fast and easy.”
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 30, 2017
Not a monarchy
Unlike monarchies, where the whims of kings dictated a country’s course, or pure democracies, which the Founders worried would be subject to the passions of mobs and politics, James Madison explained that the Senate’s role was “first to protect the people against their rulers [and] secondly to protect the people against the transient impressions into which they themselves might be led.” Fast and easy was never part of the plan for the Senate.
And it’s never been a part of the credo of the United States. Nowhere in the Gettysburg Address did Abraham Lincoln include “fast and easy” in his call to protect the fundamental notion that all men are created equal.
JFK did not aspire to put a man on the moon because it was “fast and easy.” Under FDR, the United States fought World War II for three years and eight months to defeat the Nazis. President Harry Truman committed four years to the Marshall Plan after that to rebuild Western Europe to strengthen it against communism.
It even took Trump two years to renovate the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. Surely he can give health care and tax reform at least that long.
But so far in his presidency, Trump has shown a preference for whatever is fastest and easiest. Signing executive orders is fast and easy and Trump signed more in his first 100 days than any president since Truman. Withdrawing from treaties is also relatively easy, and the president has begun the process of unwinding the United States’ commitments in the Trans-Pacific Partnership; is considering withdrawing from the Paris climate accord; and has threatened to withdraw from NAFTA, NATO and the even United Nations. In modern presidential communications, nothing may be faster or easier than tweeting, and Trump’s compulsive use of the 140-character tool has defined his ALL CAPS presidency.
Have a little patience
But finding the patience to undertake and remain committed to complex, long-term efforts has been almost impossible for the president, barely four months into the job. His first impression of health care reform was that it was unexpectedly complicated.
“I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject,” he famously told the National Governors Association in February.
After a false start in the House, Trump said he’d just “let Obamacare explode” and move on to tax reform, only to pivot back to health care reform weeks later when it looked like a compromise could finally move the bill through the House, which it did.
But even before the Senate has taken the bill up, the president is calling for a change to Senate rules to make it easier to get that and the rest of his agenda through.
On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer explained that the president’s tweet about the filibuster reflects “frustration with the pace of some of the legislation.”
“He wants to see action done, that’s what the president wants,” Spicer said. “Especially when you’ve got a majority, it’s important to stop playing games.”
The reality is that no matter how many times Trump tweets about the filibuster, it’s safe to say it isn’t going anywhere.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who ultimately decides these things, has said he has no intention of abandoning the practice, which institutionalists like the Kentucky Republican value and which would also hand more power over to Trump in the process.
But just by looking for a fast and easy way to get his legislation through Congress, Trump is displaying his fundamental misunderstanding of the challenges he has on Capitol Hill. Even if the filibuster disappeared tomorrow, the health care bill as it’s written would fail in the Senate, and not because it lacks Democratic support — but because it lacks Republican support.
Instead of decreasing the number of votes it takes to pass what he wants, the job for Trump (and every president) is to modify the legislation to increase the number of people willing to support it. In the Senate, the bar to pass that bill is even higher, by design.
It’s easy to imagine that Trump looked around at other countries’ leaders during his trip abroad last week and noticed that other leaders don’t seem to have to work as hard to get their way, especially the kings and autocrats he met along the way.
And it’s true. Monarchies and dictatorships are easy for the guys in charge. But democracy is hard.
If Trump had wanted fast and easy, he should have run for a different job in a different part of the world. But now that he’s the president, he should look for ways to live up to the incredible country he’s leading now.
Roll Call columnist Patricia Murphy covers national politics for The Daily Beast. Previously, she was the Capitol Hill bureau chief for Politics Daily and founder and editor of Citizen Jane Politics. Follow her on Twitter @1PatriciaMurphy.