WASHINGTON – In an exclusive interview with PJM, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) said that President Trump’s “agenda is dead” if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) does not make a key change to the Senate rules.
After House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) pulled the American Health Care Act from consideration in the House last week, Franks noted that eight Democrats would have been needed to allow the majority to bring the repeal-and-replace bill to the Senate floor, which would not have happened. Under current Senate rules, 60 votes are needed to overcome a filibuster.
Franks argued that McConnell should change the Senate rules to allow a simple majority to bring a bill to the floor for debate.
“That doesn’t mean you don’t have to have 60 to get it off the floor, but at least you can bring it to the floor and the people of the United States can then know there is something happening and they can then buy into the debate. And there is a certain accountability then because the governed know that to which they are consenting, right?” Franks told PJM on Friday. “Now it’s completely hidden. There’s no accountability. No clarity and no possibility of getting it debated.”
“There’s two filibusters in the Senate: one that is a cloture on debate so the minority can extend debate – in some cases, indefinitely – and the other that requires 60 votes to get something to the floor and that prevents all debate completely,” he added.
Franks asked, “So how do you defend those, because to support one is to eviscerate the other?”
The bipartisan organization No Labels, co-chaired by former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and former Gov. John Huntsman (R-Utah), advocates fixing the filibuster in the Senate. According to No Labels, “Filibusters can be used both to prevent a bill from reaching the floor for debate (motion to proceed) and from ultimately being passed. If the Senate simply ended the practice of filibustering motions to proceed, it could cut the number of filibusters in half and allow more issues to be debated and voted on by the full Senate.”
If Republicans do not execute the change to Senate rules, Franks predicted that the Democrats would eventually do so when they get back into power.
“All you have to do is read the quotes of Harry Reid when he thought Democrats were going to be in control of the Senate this year,” he said. “McConnell could change it if he wanted to.”
Franks continued, “I absolutely believe the filibuster to stop things from coming to the floor is just a complete distortion of the world’s ostensibly most deliberative body because it prevents them from deliberating and it’s crazy. When you look at it, it’s completely nonsensical.”
PJM asked if the Senate rules hurt the Trump agenda going forward.
“If we don’t deal with this issue, the Trump agenda is dead. The Republicans are dead completely with any major legislation because the Democrats have, at this point, the power to completely stop all of it. We can do a few things through reconciliation, but the main agenda is dead,” Franks said.
“Otherwise, the House is left with the impossible task of, through the legislative gymnastics, to try to craft something that will get through the Byrd Rule – and then we look like idiots because we can’t get anything passed. Today is Exhibit A, and the Senate stands there and looks traditional and sophisticated when their own rules have doomed the agenda,” he added.
PJM asked Franks if he approved of the way the House GOP leadership handled the legislative process of the GOP’s repeal-and-replace bill. Franks said the GOP leadership had the “very difficult challenge” of crafting a bill that could pass in the Senate under the Byrd rule.
“If we were doing this through regular order we easily could have gotten the Freedom Caucus on board, because what they wanted was to repeal the Obama regs and the president wanted to do that. The speaker of the House wanted to do that. Every Republican in the conference wanted to do that, but we couldn’t because it wouldn’t go through the Byrd Rule,” Franks told PJM. “And because it wouldn’t go through the Byrd Rule, there were people in the Freedom Caucus that – wisely, in my judgment – said ‘hey, we don’t want to pass a bill that isn’t a repeal that ultimately causes chaos in the market and rising premiums that doom this House in the midterm and threaten the presidency with Nancy Pelosi in the speaker’s chair.’”
Franks pointed out that the GOP could only use reconciliation once every budget year. He called the Obamacare replacement bill’s failure a “setback but it’s not permanent – we will go forward.”
“I have no doubt that we will revisit this again. Abraham Lincoln said the best way to repeal a bad law is to enforce it strictly. And the night Obamacare passed, I remember it like it was yesterday. We had a Republican alternative and a motion to recommit that night that got overwhelming Republican support. Obamacare still exists now. It’s still a Democrat program, and sooner or later we are going to revisit it,” Franks said.
“I said that night we will revisit this program again because it doesn’t work mathematically – it doesn’t work in reality, so we will come back and we will fix this thing because it will force us to. I have every conviction that that’s just a matter of time. So as heartbroken as I was today that we didn’t come up with the right bill this time, maybe in the long run we will come up with something better,” he added.
Franks questioned why the GOP leadership did not send a bill to the Senate that included the parts the House Freedom Caucus wanted in the legislation.
“Pass it in regular order in the House, we could have easily done it. We could have completely repealed Obamacare and completely replaced it and come out with this House at least 225, 230 votes, and sent it to the Senate and said, ‘OK, we’ve done our job, you do yours.’ And then one of two things would have had to happen,” he said.
“The Democrats would have had to watch Obamacare implode before their very eyes or the Republicans would have had to have the courage to say, ‘We’ve got to change this rule. We need to bring this to the floor,’” he added.