There’s a lot of talk about Congress’ distaste for Donald Trump, but it’s worth noting that most of that disdain comes from Republicans. In fact, Democrats may not even need to change Senate rules to prevent Trump from taking over, as long as they allow the GOP to retain the Senate majority that Trump had made so precarious in his first term. Which is why both sides had a lot to gain when they pulled together behind a $1.3 trillion spending deal: Trump got more than $60 billion for construction on his badly needed border wall, and Democrats could score a win in the middle of this winter’s government shutdown.
The Washington Post’s Paul Kane today had a great piece on how this partisan bargain could have been less bipartisan if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hadn’t cut an exemption to Senate rules for a wide swath of spending bills in an effort to pass the budget, meaning Republicans might have been able to use the upcoming Labor-HHS-Education bill as the vehicle for late-term abortions. The move angered many activists on the left who might be willing to compromise on a border wall if they could get everything else they wanted. In that case, Republicans would still have a primary threat from a hard-right candidate in 2020 that wouldn’t be able to vote on the spending deal. But the impulse to prevent that is real. “It’s just insane,” one GOP congressional aide told Kane. “To give up leverage, you had to sit down with someone you don’t like.”
But when you consider how the GOP needs to rebuild a battered party brand in places like Kentucky, Missouri and West Virginia, where voters aren’t so fond of Trump, and which could be in play in 2020, it seems like McConnell gave up a little bit of leverage that may have been worthwhile.
Not all Senate Republicans are sure they want a long-term push from Trump to change Senate rules on a funding bill; four senators who voted against the measure on Tuesday — John McCain (R-Ariz.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and John Kennedy (R-La.) — later explained their objections by saying they wanted to make sure the bill included language making it harder for presidents to initiate presidential investigations. But both of the two bills that senators were fighting over have language that’s designed to pre-empt anything President Trump might try. So they got more than what they had asked for, which didn’t hurt.
We’ll see whether Democrats can justify using the filibuster to stop the next spending bill if the bill passes the House in its current form, which doesn’t include any of the long-term spending restrictions they sought. And we’ll see if Trump finds a way to cash in on this win.