President Donald Trump had a simple message for Senate Republicans during a meeting at the White House on Tuesday: Kill the filibuster now, before Chuck Schumer and the Democrats do.
Trump told more than 15 House and Senate GOP appropriators that Schumer, the Senate minority leader, would get rid of the legislative filibuster if Democrats took over the chamber in November. According to several lawmakers, Trump suggested that a mutual friend he shares with Schumer heard this from the New York Democrat and then passed the tidbit onto the president.
In Trump’s view, Senate filibusters should take place only when a senator stands up and holds the floor. Trump mentioned “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” the 1939 movie in which Jimmy Stewart’s character, Jefferson Smith, stages a filibuster until a corrupt Senate leader is exposed, as an example of how the process should operate.
Trump — ecstatic over the Supreme Court ruling Tuesday affirming his travel ban — also pushed hard for a boost in funding for his controversial border wall. Trump wants $5 billion for the wall this year. So far, the House and Senate Appropriations panels have budgeted a fraction of that amount, and Democratic senators are dug in against supplying more than the $1.6 billion the White House initially requested.
The president made no threats about shutting down the federal government this fall if he didn’t get his wall money, which pleased the GOP lawmakers, who worry about the political fallout just weeks before Election Day.
But a big chunk of the lengthy meeting was spent on one of Trump’s favorite topics: railing against the filibuster. The filibuster and its 60-vote threshold on legislation has been a major source of tension in today’s GOP. Trump and House Republicans hate it, arguing it is archaic and abused by the minority. But many Senate Republicans defend it as a key weapon in fending off liberal priorities like cap and trade and single-payer health care.
Trump said during the meeting that keeping the filibuster in place could mean “the end of the party,” according to several lawmakers who attended. Senate Democrats will block much of the GOP agenda, he said, but voters will see Republicans failing to get things done and turn against them at the polls.