Retiring Republican senators stop Trump’s scheme to end the filibuster for his wall

Without Sens. Orrin Hatch and Jeff Flake, there is no way Senate Republicans will be able to change the rule to suit Trump's whim.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) , left, spoke with Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) in 2013.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) , left, spoke with Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) in 2013. CREDIT: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Desperate to get billions of taxpayer dollars to pay for a border wall he promised would be funded entirely by Mexico before the new House Democratic majority is sworn in next month, Donald Trump demanded on Friday morning that Republicans eliminate a centuries-old Senate rule protecting minority rights and unilaterally ban the filibuster. Hours later, two retiring Republican Senators made it clear that is not going to happen.

Senate Republicans currently hold 51 seats. While that is a narrow majority, most legislation effectively requires 60 votes, meaning any Republican-backed legislation requires the support of at least 9 Democratic Senators. But Democrats are refusing to fold to Trump’s scheme of holding government funding hostage until he gets his wall, so the president demanded the Republican majority change the Senate rules to lower that threshold permanently to 51 votes — an idea he has repeatedly floated before when he didn’t get his way on legislation. This strategy is known in Washington as the “nuclear option” because of the massive fallout such a move would cause.

But just hours after Trump’s last-ditch effort to get his wall and avoid his promised shutdown, two retiring Senate Republicans nixed that idea. Sens. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who has frequently criticized Trump, and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who suggested Trump could be one of the greatest presidents ever, both tweeted their steadfast refusal to go along with such a scheme.

In a series of follow-up tweets, Hatch added that “without the filibuster this country would’ve been gone a long time ago,” and called the rule “the only way to protect the minority,” noting that Senate Republicans have often been in the minority.


Without these two Senators, the Senate GOP would not even have a majority to make that happen. With retiring Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) dubious about the bill itself, the nuclear option is simply not an option.

Washington Post reporter Paul Kane tweeted on Thursday morning that the votes to kill the filibuster “aren’t there.”

Senate Whip John Cornyn (R-TX), the man responsible for corralling votes within the Republican caucus, retweeted Kane’s tweet.

This story has been updated to include the latest on Sen. Bob Corker.