White House targets filibuster, calls for ‘nuclear option’ as shutdown enters day 2

The White House on Sunday called for Senate Republicans to change the chamber’s rules to resolve the funding impasse as the government shutdown continued into its second day.

President Donald Trump tweeted his call for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to invoke the so-called nuclear option and thereby remove leverage for Senate Democrats.

“Great to see how hard Republicans are fighting for our Military and Safety at the Border. The Dems just want illegal immigrants to pour into our nation unchecked. If stalemate continues, Republicans should go to 51% (Nuclear Option) and vote on real, long term budget, no C.R.’s!” Trump tweeted.

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that eliminating the filibuster would be one avenue they back to ending the shutdown.

“There’s a bunch of different ways to fix this,” Mulvaney said. “We just want it to get fixed.”

A spokesman for McConnell said in response to the tweet that the Senate Republican Conference does not support changing the 60-vote rule, a reiteration of Republican Senate leadership’s already-stated opposition to the move Trump has called for over the past year.

Senate rules impose a threshold of 60 votes to break a filibuster, and Senate Republicans currently hold a slim majority of 51 votes, meaning even if they can unite their members, they need nine more votes to end debate. The White House is calling for the Senate to change its rules and move the threshold to a simple majority of 51 votes.

Eliminating the 60-vote threshold to break a legislative filibuster would remove significant powers for the minority party in the Senate, and party leaders have been reluctant to do so in the past because of the consequences it would pose when their party returns to the minority.

Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware responded to the President’s tweet on “Fox News Sunday,” suggesting it was unproductive.

“This is another example of President Trump throwing a tweet in the middle of bipartisan negotiations that are making progress,” Coons said. “I think Senator McConnell, the Republican majority leader, in the end will have much more to say about how the Senate is run.”

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois said on ABC’s “This Week” that eliminating the 60-vote threshold “would be the end of the Senate as it was originally devised and created going back to our Founding Fathers.”

“We have to acknowledge our respect for the minority,” Durbin said.

Mulvaney offered that another way to end the shutdown, from their point of view, would be for enough Democrats to cross the aisle and give the GOP the votes it needs to restore funding.

“Get some of those Democrats who say back home they want to work in a bipartisan fashion, they want to work with Republicans, but don’t,” Mulvaney said.

He noted that the White House has been “critical” of the 60-vote threshold to overcome filibusters since Trump took office.

As routine use of the filibuster has increased over the years, debate has grown about its elimination. Last April, McConnell took the latest step to change the rule, triggering the nuclear option to break a filibuster on the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

Trump has called repeatedly for McConnell to move the Senate to simple-majority rule, and despite some backing from the House Republicans, the rules have remained. McConnell said in April that the “core of the Senate is the legislative filibuster” and that he was opposed to going “nuclear.”