WASHINGTON — Republicans hankering to end the filibuster so they can enact President-elect Donald Trump’s agenda without interference from Senate Democrats can pretty much forget it.
To change the rules and end the minority party’s rights to blockade legislation and Supreme Court nominees requires either agreement at the start of a new Congress (which Democrats would oppose) or a series of procedural votes. The latter, known as the “nuclear option,” could rewrite the rules with just 51 votes.
Democrats did that for two years for presidential nominations below the level of the Supreme Court to move some of President Barack Obama’s many stalled nominees.
Now some Republicans, especially in the House, are pushing for Republicans in the upper chamber to nuke the rest of the filibuster, clearing the way for a Trump agenda.
But with the GOP holding just a 52-seat majority next year, it would take only two defections to end that threat, and some Senate Republicans already have expressed strong reservations about the idea.
On Wednesday, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) may have put a dagger in the scheme.
Asked by The Huffington Post about ending the filibuster, he was blunt.
“Are you kidding?” he said with some vehemence. “I’m one of the biggest advocates for the filibuster. It’s the only way to protect the minority, and we’ve been in the minority a lot more than we’ve been in the majority. It’s just a great, great protection for the minority.”
Hatch, the most senior member of the GOP, presides over the Senate every morning as the president pro tempore, making him third in the line of succession to the White House. He’s also chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
Hatch’s unequivocal support for the filibuster does not guarantee there won’t be changes to it, however.
Asked about reforming the minority party blockade, famous filibusterer Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) responded, “We’ll see.”