Many are assessing the future after last night’s Trump victory, an outcome that few expected. There are many questions about the future and the upcoming Trump Administration. One question involves the future of the filibuster.
The Senate filibuster rule requires a majority cloture vote to end debate on legislation before it can take a final vote on a bill. The filibuster rule is not specified in the Constitution but has been a part of Senate rules since 1841 according to the Senate website. In 1917, the Senate passed a rule requiring a two-thirds vote for cloture to end debate on a bill. The requirement was reduced to three-fifths, 60 votes, in 1975. Majority Leader Harry Reid ended the filibuster on many presidential appointments in 2013.
Since Republicans took control of the Senate in 2014, Democrats have successfully used the filibuster rule to deny cloture on a number of Republican bills. There were 54 Republicans in the Senate, six short of the 60 vote requirement to end debate and move a bill forward. This Democratic road block led many conservatives to call for an end to the filibuster. Under President Obama, this would have been a strategic error because Republicans still would not have had the votes to override President Obama’s veto.
In 2017, when Donald Trump becomes president, he will have a Republican majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Even with those majorities, Democrats still retain enough votes to block cloture on Republican bills. The road block will still exist.
To avoid Democrats bottling up legislation, the new Republican Senate may invoke the “nuclear option” and choose to eliminate or weaken the filibuster rules. Since the filibuster is not specified in the Constitution, it can be easily changed at the beginning of a Senate session by the majority party.
Democrats had already signaled a change to the filibuster if Hillary Clinton had won the election. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told Talking Points Memo, “If the Republicans try to filibuster another circuit court judge, but especially a Supreme Court justice, I’ve told ’em how and I’ve done it, not just talking about it. I did it in changing the rules of the Senate. It’ll have to be done again.”
Opinions of the filibuster vary depending on which party is in power. The filibuster protects the minority party so Democrats, who were critical of Republican use of the filibuster, can be expected to defend it fiercely with Republicans in the majority. The reverse is also likely to be true.
After six years of Democrat obstructionism in Congress, the temptation to eliminate the filibuster may be too much for Republicans to ignore. With a broad mandate and angry Republicans eager to start rolling back President Obama’s legacy, the filibuster’s days are likely numbered.