Update No. 2: Trump tweeted an even-more-specific request for the nuclear option Tuesday.
The below post is from last month, after he first hinted at this in a Fox News interview.
President Trump has suggested that the judiciary doesn't have the authority to question him. He was a very early proponent of nuking the filibuster for Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch. And he recently raised eyebrows by congratulating Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the expansion of his presidential powers — echoing his previous admiration for strongman leaders.
Now Trump is talking about consolidating his own power.
In an interview with Fox News that aired Friday night, Trump dismissed the “archaic” rules of the House and Senate — using that word four times — and suggested they needed to be streamlined for the good of the country.
- “We don't have a lot of closers in politics, and I understand why: It's a very rough system. It's an archaic system.”
- “You look at the rules of the Senate, even the rules of the House — but the rules of the Senate and some of the 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.”
- “You can't go through a process like this. It's not fair. It forces you to make bad decisions. I mean, you're really forced into doing things that you would normally not do except for these archaic rules.”
And then Trump came out and just said it: He doesn't like the filibuster.
“I think, you know, the filibuster concept is not a good concept to start off with,” he said.
So there you go. Trump is frustrated with the pace of legislation after 100 days, and his answer is that he wants to change the rules.
Whether this is just him blowing off steam or signaling what lies ahead, it's significant. Because it suggests a president, yet again, who doesn't agree with his own powers being limited or even questioned. Remember when senior policy adviser Stephen Miller declared “the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned?” This is more of that kind of attitude.
He wants more power — and he wants it quickly. It's not difficult to connect this to his past admiration for authoritarian leaders, and these comments are likely to give Democrats (and even some in the GOP establishment) plenty of heartburn. This is a demonstrated pattern for him, for all the reasons listed at the top of this post.
We're a far cry from the presidential candidate who decried President Obama's executive orders, suggesting they were an indication of a weak leader who couldn't bend Congress to his will. Trump is now admitting that he can't bend Congress to his will, but he blames the system rather than himself. Who knew governing was so tough, right?
And it's difficult to overstate how significant it would be if he actually went after the filibuster. The 60-vote threshold for passing legislation in the Senate — which still exists for everything except presidential nominations — is the last vestige of Democratic power in Washington and really the only thing standing in the way of the majority party doing whatever it wants. Getting rid of it completely would change the face of American politics for good and clear a major hurdle for Trump in passing his agenda.
He'd still have to get Republicans to unite behind his priorities, which hasn't proven easy. His health-care push, for example, isn't stalled because of the 60-vote threshold in the Senate. It's actually not even subject to it; his problem is getting House Republicans to agree.
Whether he targets the filibuster specifically or not, his attitude toward his own power is clear: The more, the better. He's already gotten a taste for rolling back the filibuster, and after just 100 days of frustration, he already wants more.