WASHINGTON — Senators are famous for not caring what their counterparts in the House think of their chamber. They often ignore legislation the House passes. They make their own deals on must-pass bills with little regard for the other chamber. And senators pay hardly any attention to the opinions of representatives when it comes to Senate rules.
But it was of some note Wednesday when House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) delivered prepared remarks proposing the elimination of the filibuster on spending bills, a move that would largely kill the 60-vote requirement and would likely be popular with House conservatives and President Donald Trump.
What’s also of some note? According to one lawmaker familiar with House Speaker Paul Ryan’s private comments on the filibuster, the Wisconsin Republican is also no fan of it.
“I can’t wait to get rid of this damn filibuster,” Ryan told a small group of lawmakers recently, according to this Republican, who reported that he was not in attendance but had heard the quote from reliable members who were there.
Asked whether the speaker supports eliminating the filibuster on spending bills, Ryan’s office pointed HuffPost to some of the speaker’s comments on Wednesday during an Associated Press interview. Ryan was neither asked if he supported the filibuster nor did he say where he stood, but he did say he knew the 60-vote threshold could be frustrating for House members.
Of course, Ryan or McCarthy’s opinion on Senate rules may not matter all that much in the Senate. There doesn’t appear to be 50 votes to change the filibuster rules in that chamber — a fact that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has told Trump repeatedly. But a continued public relations campaign — from Republican House leaders, the White House and the public — could eventually put the Senate in a bind.
House members are increasingly bashing the Senate’s filibuster rules. Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) has been on a mission for years to eliminate the minority tactic. He said Wednesday that there was overwhelming support in the House to do away with it, even suggesting that Ryan was “reticent” to share his true feelings on the filibuster because he needed to maintain a strong relationship with McConnell, who has been a fan of the tactic.
“There’s no one in this body that is more negatively affected by the Senate filibuster rule than the speaker of the House,” Franks said. “Because he’s in the absolutely impossible position of either appearing to cave to the Democrats when he really has no choice or allowing the government to shut down and doing his party irreparable harm.”
Other Republicans told HuffPost on Wednesday that the Senate’s inability to move legislation through its chamber was untenable for Republicans.
“‘E.T. phone home’ doesn’t cut it for me in my district,” Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) told HuffPost. “We’ve been saying all along that you need to put your physical presence on the ground because, you know, Democrats might be the opposition, but the Senate is always the enemy.”
Republicans who do support the filibuster usually cite how Democrats, if they were in the majority, would basically be able to do anything with 50 votes in the Senate, 218 votes in the House and control of the White House. But even if Democrats controlled the government, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) thought it would be helpful for Republicans to not have “that particular weapon available.”
“I don’t think you ever score political points by making life inconvenient for the American people,” Cole said, “and every time you don’t allow the normal function of government ... that’s politically counterproductive.”
When HuffPost asked Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) for his thoughts, the former history teacher cited the Founding Fathers — who he said would be rolling over in their graves — and former Speaker Thomas Brackett Reed.
“The tyranny of the majority is bad, but the tyranny of the minority is unendurable,” Bishop said, summing up Brackett Reed.
“That’s why we became a majoritarian body. They never did,” Bishop said of the Senate. “They ought to.”