The repeal of Obamacare wasn’t going well. It looked very much like House Republicans would fail again to destroy President Obama’s biggest success, and the current president was not happy.
It didn’t occur to him that many people in red states wanted to keep their new health insurance, that it was working for them. No, everybody knew Obamacare was no good, collapsing, in a death spiral. Everybody said so. The problem was Congress and its archaic rules. Time to change them. So he tweeted:
“The reason for the plan negotiated between the Republicans and Democrats is that we need 60 votes in the Senate which are not there! 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!”
This wasn’t just a random early morning tweet storm. He had been stewing about this problem for days. He’d made it clear in an interview the previous week that he wanted to meddle in Congress’s business:
“You look at the rules of the Senate, even the rules of the House—but the rules of the Senate and some of things you have to go through—it’s really a bad thing for the country, in my opinion. They’re archaic rules. And maybe at some point we’re going to have to take those rules on, because, for the good of the nation, things are going to have to be different.”
What was he talking about?
“I think you know,” he said, “the filibuster concept is not a good concept to start off with.”
But the filibuster is a tactic embedded in Senate (not House) rules, and Donald Trump is in the executive branch. The separation of powers provided by the Constitution means that changing the rules in Congress is not up to the president.
Members of the Senate, both Democrat and Republican, should have stood up immediately and said, “Mr. President, you don’t get to decide that. We don’t even let House members interfere in our business.”
The Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, to his credit, did say changing the filibuster for legislation “will not happen.”
But when Trump wanted the filibuster rule changed earlier for Supreme Court justices so that he could have Neil Gorsuch confirmed on 51 votes instead of 60, McConnell agreed and dutifully arranged it, killing a practice that had been part of the Senate since the 1840s.
It had lasted that long for a good reason. It guaranteed the right of the minority to be heard. It required those 60 votes to stop debate, meaning that until 60 senators had heard enough, the minority could speak for as long as it liked on any subject—even read a phone book aloud—to prevent a vote. When 60 senators cried enough, the filibuster ended and a vote could be taken.
Until a month ago the rule applied to confirmation of Supreme Court justices, but no longer. If Trump has his way and the legislative filibuster is killed, then a great step will be taken toward rendering the minority party in Congress completely powerless.
When one party already controls the House, the Senate, the Supreme Court, the Presidency and the legislative chambers of 32 states, the United States is dangerously close to single-party rule.
And control by a single party is the end of democracy—whether that party is called Republican, Democrat, Communist, or National Socialist.
It’s worth remembering that this is a president who also wants to shut down the opposition press and any court that doesn’t rule in his favor. He has told us as much in roughly those words.
If he can wheedle his followers into giving him all the power he wants, there will be no need for the metaphorical “Reichstag fire.” He already will have stolen our freedoms.