In an interview that will air tomorrow, Steve Bannon tells Charlie Rose that the Republican establishment is trying to “nullify” the 2016 election. There’s a lot I respect about Bannon, but this claim strikes me as false.
The obvious problem with it is that every Republican member of the House was elected in 2016 or later. Indeed, since it’s impossible to win a House seat with fewer votes than one’s opponent, we can say that every member of the House was more popular with his or her constituents when elected than President Trump was with his. Thus, even if the House is blocking Trump’s “economic nationalist” agenda, as Bannon claims, it is not nullifying the 2016 election.
But is the House, or Congress generally, blocking that agenda? According to reports of Bannon’s interview with Rose, the former White House strategist complained that during one of the Team Trump’s first meetings with McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader said, “I don’t wanna hear any more of this ‘drain the swamp’ talk.”
This sentiment (or slogan, to be more precise) is mainly a matter of rhetoric, not substance. One can work to pass economic nationalist legislation without wanting to hear “swamp” rhetoric. And given that Trump seems to consider the Senate part of the swamp, it’s normal for the Senate Majority Leader not to want to hear such talk.
The real question is whether McConnell and Speaker Ryan have obstructed Trump’s economic nationalist legislative agenda. The answer, it seems to me, is that they haven’t.
What legislation have they blocked? Obamacare repeal and replace legislation made it through the House. In the Senate, it failed by one vote because three Republicans voted against even “skinny repeal.” That wasn’t Mitch McConnell’s fault or the fault of the Republican establishment. It was the handiwork of two centrists (Sens. Collins and Murkowski) and a maverick who can’t stand Trump (Sen. McCain).
If Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, and the Republican establishment generally are trying to nullify Trump’s agenda, they haven’t done so through the legislative process.
Trump complains that McConnell and other GOP establishment members in the Senate haven’t abolished the legislative filibuster. This was the excuse he used in one of his tweets explaining why he collaborated with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, neither of whom can pass for an economic nationalist.
The filibuster did not cause the failure to pass Obamacare repeal legislation. There weren’t even 50 votes for that.
But that’s not really the point. The point is that abolishing the legislative filibuster is a bad idea.
It has a surface appeal when the GOP holds a Senate majority. But if it loses the majority, as is inevitable, the Democrats will be able to pass all sorts of left-wing legislation — single-payer, pro-illegal immigrant, pro-union, you name it. And if the House and the presidency are controlled by Democrats as well, that legislation will become law.
Moreover, abolishing the legislative filibuster could turn the U.S. into something of a banana republic. The law on all sorts of key matters would swing wildly back and forth with fluctuations in the parties’ electoral fortunes. No one could confidently predict what the law will be for more than the short term.
None of this matters to Trump because these ill effects wouldn’t occur while he’s president. But McConnell and the GOP establishment are right to take a more far-sighted view.
It can be argued that the Democrats will abolish the legislative filibuster as soon as they gain control of the three branches, so why not stick it to them now. I wouldn’t put this past the Democrats, but it’s worth noting that they did not abolish the legislative filibuster eight years ago when they were in a position to do so. It’s not a foregone conclusion that they will do so the next time.
Steve Bannon’s claim that the GOP establishment is trying to negate the 2016 election should be viewed for what it is, a rallying cry, not an accurate description of reality.