Trump Calls On Senate GOP Go Nuclear On Filibuster. That’s Not Going To Happen

President Trump called on Senate Republicans to eliminate the legislative filibuster to resolve the government shutdown. That's not going to happen.

Trump Nukes

As the Federal Government shutdown entered its second day, President Trump took to Twitter to say that he believed that Senate Republicans should eliminate the legislative filibuster to get around the fact that they can’t get the current Continuing Resolution, or any replacement bill, passed without support without support from at least some members of the Senate Democratic Caucus:

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.”


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.

Here’s Trump’s tweet this morning:

Which is similar to previous tweets he has sent on the issue:

House Republicans are taking much the same position:

House Republicans say Senate Democrats are holding government funding “hostage” to their demands on immigration. And they’ve got an idea for ending the crisis: Throw away the filibuster.

The legislative tool of the minority is one of the few remaining things that distinguish the Senate from the House. House Republicans, later joined by President Donald Trump, are putting pressure on their Senate GOP colleagues to pursue the so-called nuclear option — change chamber rules and end the legislative filibuster, at least on spending bills.

“If a majority is good enough in the House and a majority would have kept government from shutting down, I think that’s a whole case the American public would say, ‘That’s a responsible way to govern,'” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told Roll Call Saturday.

Asked if he thinks Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would consider ending the legislative filibuster — coming on the heels of recent rules changes to lower the threshold to advance executive and judicial nominees by a majority only — McCarthy said, “That’s a question for Mitch.”

This isn’t the first time that President Trump, the White House, and House Republicans have called on the Republican-controlled Senate to eliminate the legislative filibuster in the face of a seeming logjam caused by Democrats using the cloture procedure to block Republican legislation. He has made the call several other times during his Presidency, such as during the debate over health care reform in the spring when it was apparent that the Republican Senate would face problems moving forward with its version of a bill to ‘repeal and replace’ the Affordable Care Act. At that time, of course, the call was rather pointless since the Senate was proceeding under budget reconciliation rules that bypassed the cloture procedure and would have allowed them to pass a bill with a simple majority. In that case, the problem wasn’t a lack of Democratic support but the fact that McConnell could not get his entire caucus united behind a bill despite trying on three separate occasions from May to September to do so. Trump renewed the call to eliminate the legislative filibuster in September as Congress began to take up consideration of the tax bill that was ultimately passed in December. Once again, that call was mooted by the fact that the Senate ended up utilizing the reconciliation process to pass the tax bill.

In the midst of each of those past calls for an end to the filibuster, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has shot down the idea — see here and here — and it’s also been apparent based on interviews with other Republican Senators that there is no support among upper chamber Republicans for doing so. The response to today’s call from Trump to eliminate the filibuster was much the same:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is against using the so-called “nuclear option” to end a budget stalemate and reopen the federal government, despite President Donald Trump’s urging.

“The Republican Conference opposes changing the rules on legislation,” a representative for McConnell said in a statement Sunday morning.

The remark came not long after Trump, in a tweet, urged Republicans in the Senate to use the tactic, which would only require a simple majority to pass a long-term spending plan. As it stands, the GOP needs to garner at least some Democratic support to overcome a filibuster.

McConnell has repeatedly opposed using the tactic, which would scrap a potential filibuster meant to hold up votes, when it comes to legislation. The fear is that, if Democrats regain control of Congress and the White House, they could dramatically reshape policy.

Republicans currently hold a 51-49 edge in the Senate.

Republicans did take steps to limit the filibuster last year, of course, when they used the so-called nuclear option to eliminate the requirement that Supreme Court nominations receive sixty votes in order confirm Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. That move, however, was little more than the logical conclusion of the move that Senate Democrats had made in November 2013 when they were in the majority to eliminate the sixty-vote rule for Presidential appointments to Executive Branch positions and the District Courts and Circuit Courts of Appeal. Beyond that, though, it has always been clear that there was not sufficient support among Senate Democrats to eliminate the sixty-vote rule for legislation, and there’s absolutely no sign that this has changed over the course of the past year. In addition to McConnell, who is really the most important player here since any move to utilize the nuclear option as Trump is calling for would have to be done by him, numerous other Republican Senators, including veterans such as Lindsey Graham, John McCain, and Orrin Hatch and newcomers to the Senate who have been elected as recently as the 2014 midterms, have gone on the record to say that they would oppose any measure to accomplish what the President and House Republicans are suggesting. In no small part, of course, is because these Senators all understand that the consequences of eliminating the filibuster would be to drastically undercut the ability of a Senate minority to influence the legislative process and have first-hand knowledge of the fact that they could easily end up being in the minority as soon as the next midterm election. This is especially true given the fact that the GOP’s majority in the upper chamber is now down to a slim 51-49, and is effectively actually at 50-49 given the absence of Senator McCain, an absence that currently appears as if it will be a long-term reality.

Because of all that, this latest call from the President will fall on deaf ears just as his previous calls did.

FILED UNDER: Congress, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. HarvardLaw92 says:

    This is the Trump that I know and detest. Holed up and pouting in his Führerbunker, growing more frustrated by the second by a situation he can’t resolve or cajole his way out of, enraged that what passes for a Magic Mirror in his fantasy existence (Twitter) is turning against him, he’s reacting in classic Donald style:

    He’s lashing out …

    It's the go-to move of the spoiled man-child who isn't getting his way, and it always has been.

    If you've spent any amount of time around him, this man is more predictable than the sun rising in the East. He can not handle being denied what he wants. Primary among that is to 1) be the center of attention and 2) to be liked.

    The longer this goes on, the worse he will get. Trust me when I say – in light of memories of this guy pitching full blown tantrums and throwing things in rooms filled with onlookers – that we have just begin to scratch the surface. Stay tuned – he will get a great deal more dysfunctional (and therefore entertaining.)

    He's the reason that blame for this fiasco will end up being laid squarely at the feet of the GOP by anyone with a brain (read that to mean everybody other than his idiot sheethead base).

  2. teve tory says:

    In 1987, then-Vanity Fair editor Tina Brown decided to excerpt Donald Trump’s “Art of the Deal.”

    At the time, she wrote this about the future president’s tome: “It feels, when you have finished it, as if you’ve been nose to nose for four hours with an entertaining con man, and I suspect the American public will like nothing better.”

    chicago tribune

  3. al-Ameda says:

    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.

    This … coming from a man who has never crossed the aisle to do anything but projectile vomit on bipartisan cooperation.

  4. MarkedMan says:

    Doug, what you say about their majority is true, and if Republican leadership employed long term thinking, your analysis makes sense. But if they feel they are going to lose the Senate I suspect they will burn the filibuster in an attempt to loot as much as they can before they are gone.

  5. JohnMcC says:

    I read a thought-provoking quip today. Hope it wasn’t here and that I’m not walking on someone else’s cleverness. Anyhow. it’s topical to this thread:

    The Republican Party has been captured by a movement with a fixed ideology. They have reached the point at which their ideology and democracy have become incompatible. They are choosing to follow their ideology.

  6. grumpy realist says:

    I suggest that anyone who thinks that getting rid of the filibuster is a jolly good idea to take a look at the mess the U.K.finds itself in right now….

    Everyone agrees that if there had been a 60% or higher requirement on the Brexit vote that a lot of the sturm und angst of the present situation could have been avoided.

    As it is, Britain is ripping itself in half.

  7. Scott says:

    Of course, by demanding ending the filibuster, Trump is admitting that he is a lousy negotiator; that he cannot negotiate himself out of a paper bag. Art of the deal? No, a total failure. And incompetent to boot.

  8. Kylopod says:

    There’s a bit of an open secret about the Trump Administration that probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone here, but which a lot of pundits routinely overlook. That secret is:

    Nobody in the government listens to Donald Trump.

    It’s one of the reasons why any “deals” he makes are meaningless. Part of it’s that he doesn’t honor commitments, that he changes his views on the fly, that he has no idea what he’s talking about when it comes to policy and tends to adopt the views of whoever is the last person he thinks was being nice to him. But another, crucial, element is that he doesn’t have any actual power over Congress members. I don’t just mean that in a formal sense (which is true of all presidents), but even more in the sense that they don’t give a flying toupee what he wants. He has no idea how to twist arms, how to engage in horse-trading, and he’s especially impotent because they don’t actually respect his authority.

    That’s why the DACA deal he made last fall fell through. He came to a seeming agreement with Schumer and the Democrats, and as soon as the right began pointing out they’d rolled him, he backed away. That’s why the meeting on Friday between Schumer and Trump went nowhere. Schumer said it was like “negotiating with jello,” but perhaps the more intractable problem is that jello has no ability to enforce any decision it reaches.

    Among other things, this should put to rest all those theories we’ve been hearing over the past few years about how Trump would eventually move to the left, because he’s got no ideological core and only cares about winning. The fact is that he’s not the one controlling the agenda. He can cause havoc through one of his temper tantrums, but he doesn’t set policy because he doesn’t understand it, and even if he did no one’s going to listen to him if it conflicts with the agenda of the people around him. The only thing he knows how to do is what he’s spent his entire career doing: stamping his name on the achievements of others.

  9. Mikey says:

    I have the Washington Post app on my smartphone. It pops alerts to the status bar sometimes.

    I got up this morning, groggily started making coffee, and took a look at my phone. The WaPo alert was truncated to “Donald Trump pushes for nuclear option…”

    My first thought was “HOLY SHIT HE’S GONNA NUKE NORTH KOREA.”

    Then I tapped the alert and saw he just wanted the Senate to dump the 60-vote requirement. And I was actually relieved.

  10. Blue Galangal says:

    @Kylopod: In case you haven’t seen it, the New Yorker put up an article in October that is very relevant to your thesis.

    How Stephen Miller Single-Handedly Got the U.S. to Accept Fewer Refugees

  11. michael reynolds says:

    The funny thing is that the Great Negotiator has left himself impotent. The Senate can pass whatever it likes now, and the only way Trump can stop them is by vetoing – at which point the whole #TrumpShutdown thing will become literal truth. Are there enough Republicans left with the cojones to risk an attack tweet from the man-child? Lindsay Graham owns this right now if he can overcome his instinct to drop to his knees for any passing Alpha male.

  12. HarvardLaw92 says:


    Sort of missing the point. Trump’s role has become (as it was always inevitably going to be) derailing the GOP because he’s scope locked on his own popularity. They’ve managed to saddle themselves with an impetuous child who will, through no real planning of his own, completely hamstring the GOP agenda going forward.

    And it’s happening in an election year. Gods be praised 😀

  13. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Bingo. He hasn’t grasped yet, and probably never will, that by holing up in his pity palace, he’s neutering himself. The takeaway from this mess when the Senate eventually ekes out a deal will be that they did it in spite of him and without his involvement. Several GOPsters are already floating that sound bite now. Strategy, or indeed anything remotely resembling long game thinking, has never been his strong suit.

    The Chinese are going to play this clown like an upright bass, but they’ll be standing in line behind the sharks in his own party. The long knives cometh 🙂

  14. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    “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.”

    On the other hand, my friend Wikipedia offers…

    It is not part of the US Constitution, becoming theoretically possible with a change of Senate rules only in 1806, and never being used until 1837.[54] Rarely used for much of the Senate’s first two centuries, it was strengthened in the 1970s[55] and in recent years, the majority has preferred to avoid filibusters by moving to other business when a filibuster is threatened and attempts to achieve cloture have failed.[56] As a result, in recent decades this has come to mean that all major legislation (apart from budgets) now requires a 60% majority to pass.

    So, if they were to nuke the filibuster (and I’m not advocating that they should by any stretch of the imagination), it wouldn’t be like is was in the old days. But apparently, it wasn’t like that then either.

    On the positive side, this fiction by Senator Durbin may stop the drooling mobs in their tracks as they consider primarying the good Senator and his cohorts (after all, you do have to respect the intent of The Founders–except when you don’t, of course). If only we had a system where the goal of the players was to attempt to do good for the country and its population. [sigh]

  15. JohnMcC says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’nint cracker: A good history of the filibuster would be great fun. The meaning of “filibuster” of course was originally a private, armed incursion by American land-grabbers into Spanish Florida. When I became politically aware (around the JFK election cycle) the Strom Thurman world record 24 hour filibuster (1957) was still noteworthy and the image I recall was that Senators actually had to respond to calls for a vote pretty much on a minutes’ notice so rows of cots were set up in the Capitol and a Life/Look photographer caught a shot of such a row with the covers (looking like army blankets in my memory) thrown back as Senators raced off to a middle-of-the-night vote on ‘cloture’.

    Pretty soon the rules were amended so that the minority party only needs to file a notice and PRESTO filibuster. Which led naturally into beaucoodles of filibusters because there’s always some segment of the base that needs fired up.

    If the old rules of 2/3d of the ‘chamber voting’ and actual physical standing at the podium were reinstated filibuster would become a historical curiosity.

  16. JohnMcC says:

    @JohnMcC: Upon re-reading: Filibusters were precursors to an actual invasion of Spanish Florida by Gen Andrew Jackson with the U.S. Army — completely unauthorized except by a sort of 19th century “AUMF” that involved protecting white people from the brown people whose land was being stolen. So there’s sort of a historical thread here, or am I the only one who sees it?

    Another little thread would be the flag that the original filibusterers raised was the “Bonny Blue Flag” of a dark blue field and a single large white 5-pointed star. That flag went on to become the official flag of the Confederate government.

    I’m beginning to sound like Glenn Beck even to myself.

    Point tried for: “Filibuster” is one of those concepts of stepping outside the norms to force official action which in turn legitimizes the ‘filibuster’. By ‘stepping outside’ since ’57 the Right Wing (TM) is responsible for the slide into Trump.

    News of the day: loquacious, grumpy old man plans 4 day hike. begins tomorrow.

  17. KM says:


    But if they feel they are going to lose the Senate I suspect they will burn the filibuster in an attempt to loot as much as they can before they are gone.

    Ordinarily I’d say you are correct but what’s left of the brain cells are sparking like mad in their little brains. “If *I* can do this to steal *now*, *they* can do it to steal it *back* from me!” It’s like watch a game of Tag and seeing a child’s look of shock the first time a tagback happens. Self-preservation has been lacking in them for some time but I bet their richer, smarter overlords have kindly pointed out stealing money is useless if one cannot keep the money.

    Repubs are well aware of what kind of power Congress can wield if one is morally-flexible. That fact that they will soon be on the other side of that means they won’t invoke something to make it easier to smack them around.

  18. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    The worlds greatest negotiator wants to blow up the filibuster because he cannot negotiate.
    It’s easy to just not pay a drywall contractor from Staten Island. That’s Trumps mastery of negotiation…fvcking the little guy.
    It’s hard to actually negotiate with people who aren’t afraid of you, especially when you don’t have the slightest grasp of the policy issues you are supposed to be negotiating over,

  19. Franklin says:

    @teve tory:

    It feels, when you have finished it, as if you’ve been nose to nose for four hoursyears with an entertaining con man

    Fixed it so it applies to the U.S. electorate.

    /oh, it’s only been one year so far, God help me

  20. Kathy says:

    It’s just common sense, really. Senators expect to serve for 1 or 2 decades, and they know they won’t be in the majority all the time. Therefore they need a menas to protect their interests when they are part of the minority.

  21. teve tory says:

    Apparently something like 600 russian bots have now been linked to pushing the term “#SchumerShutdown”.

    You know, if you’re a broke russian getting paid to push that meme, I respect that. Gotta put food on your family, after all. But I can only laugh at the clueless dipshit americans who do it for free.

  22. matt bernius says:

    @Blue Galangal:

    How Stephen Miller Single-Handedly Got the U.S. to Accept Fewer Refugees

    About a week ago, Steven Taylor ran a series here questioning the impact of Trump’s racism. At the time I was skeptical that it really was/would be a factor in his governance.

    This week has demonstrated how correct Taylor was. I find it hard to imagine someone like Miller rising to this level of prominence in anyone else’s administration. And if rumors are true that he played a key role in scuttling negotiations, the shut down can definitely be tied to Trump’s more racist tendencies.

  23. MarkedMan says:

    @Kathy: In past years I would say you are correct. It used to be that Senators and Reps formed long term alliances around issues, say defense, foreign affairs or the farm bill. These alliances crossed party lines, and served to insure long term continuity and consistency in these areas.

    But the modern Republican Party has designed itself, somewhat inadvertently, so that these alliances cannot happen. (Long time commenters here know what I think caused this: the Southern Strategy, Gingrich’s 50% plus 1 vote rule, the amplified Hastert rule that is now in effect.) In fact, a modern Republican cannot be seen to cooperate in any way with a Democrat. They can not be seen to allow any Democratic victory on anything. It’s often attributed to the Tea Party influence, but I think the real masters are twofold: the donors, essentially the handful of billionaire racist / Libertarian hobbyists who bought themselves a political party, and the RWNJ Broadcast crowd, the Hannity’s and Limbaugh’s. They pay much close attention, can stay much more focused, and care only about imposing their bizarre and destructive hobbyhorses on the country.

  24. gVOR08 says:

    McConnell had a pretty good run as Minority Leader using the filibuster at an unprecedented rate. I don’t think he’ll throw away a tool he might need should he become Minority Leader in 2019.

    Minority Leader McConnell. I like that title a lot better than Majority Leader. I’d like ex Senator or retired Senator even better.

  25. Kathy says:

    @MarkedMan: I don’t disagree with what you post, but I fail to see the relevance to the 60 vote matter. One way for Senate Republicans to avoid cooperating with Democrats, when the latter have a majority, is precisely the filibuster. They won’t want to do away with it.

    They could change the rule, then change it back by November if their party does poorly. But then what prevents the Democrats from doing the same thing?

  26. KM says:


    Changing the rule won’t matter since they don’t have 50 votes. Do you know how hard the Whip would have to ride herd to make sure not one Repub steps out of line? Otherwise it would be Pence as the deciding vote time and time again, taking him out of play for their usual gifting games. Pence needs to be out getting that paper not doing his one Constitutionally-mandated job!!!

    They didn’t have 51 on this last pass and won’t again. The GOP is too fractured for Trump’s plan to make the nuclear option a regular feature to work.

  27. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @MarkedMan: As you mentioned him, there is also the ceaseless droning of El Rushbo to the effect that by aligning with Democrats, Conservatives can only dilute their beneficial effects on government and policy, so no loaf is better than a half because if they are stalwart, they will get everything.

    Sadly, this works for the “nothing to lose” guys at the top.