May 2, 2017 by Warren Mass
In an interview with Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum aired on April 28, President Trump described our political system, specifically the rules established by the Senate and the House of Representatives, as “archaic.” Yet — despite the face that during the entire interview, neither Trump nor MacCallum mentioned the Constitution — numerous headlines in the news media stated that Trump had called the Constitution archaic.
The news headlines that repeated that misinformation included:
• “Trump’s Right, the Constitution Is ‘Archaic’ ” — Bloomberg View
• “Donald Trump slams ‘archaic’ US constitution that is ‘really bad’ for the country” — The Independent (U.K.)
• “Donald Trump doesn’t like the “archaic” Constitution: “It’s really a bad thing for the country” — Salon
• “Frustrated Dictator Trump Says ‘Archaic’ Constitution is a Bad Thing for the Country” — PoliticsUSA
• “Donald Trump blames constitution for chaos of his first 100 days” — The Guardian (U.K.)
Other media outlets, however, ran headlines that were much closer to what Trump actually said in his interview:
• “Trump laments ‘archaic’ rules of Congress” — CNN
• “Trump sees US policymaking process as ‘archaic’ and ‘a bad thing’” — MSNBC
• “Trump open to eliminating ‘archaic’ legislative filibuster” — The Washington Examiner
Trump’s first use of the word “archaic” occurred as part of his answer to MacCallum’s question: “How would you describe your political philosophy?”
In his reply, Trump said, “I’m not really an ideologue. I think I’m a person of common sense.” Continuing to expand on that thought, the president said: “I understand what has to be done, I get things done I’ve always been a closer. We don’t have a lot of closers in politics and I understand why. It’s a very rough system, it’s an archaic system. You look at the rules of the Senate, even the rules of the House, but the rule of the Senate and some of the things you have to go through, it’s really a bad thing for the country in my opinion. There are archaic rules and maybe at some point, we’re going to have to take those rules on because for the good of the nation things are going to have to be different. You can’t go through a process like this. It’s not fair, it forces you to make bad decisions. I mean, if you’re forced into doing things that you would normally not do except for these archaic rules, so…”
When MacCallum interrupted to ask Trump how he would change the rules, he used the filibuster as an example of something he would change:
Well, you know, you look at the voting and you look at the filibuster system…. I always thought of filibuster where you stand up and you talk all day and then somebody else…
MacCallum interjected: “You don’t have to do that anymore,” and Trump continued, “No, you don’t have to do it anymore. Today you say filibuster guys sit home and they watch television or whatever they do. I think, you know, the filibuster concept is not a good concept to start off with but if you’re going to filibuster, let somebody stand up for 20 hours and talk and do what they have to do or even if they are reading comic books to everybody, let them do it but honestly, the whole with so many bad concepts in our rules and it’s forcing bad decisions…. I’ve seen it over the years where bad decisions are made, decisions that nobody wanted are made because of archaic rules and that’s something that I think we’re going to have to change.”
The above excerpts were Trump’s sole use of the term “archaic.” As for any reference to the Constitution, MacCallum never once asked Trump abut the Constitution and he did not mention our founding document in any of his answers.
Trump’s signaling out the current rules under which the Senate and House operate does not by any means suggest that the Constitution is archaic or defective, since the Constitution, itself, provides for the houses of Congress to make their own rules in Article I, Section 5: “Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings.”
We recently witnessed a prime example of Congress changing its rules when Senate Democrats initiated a filibuster to prevent an up-or-down vote on the confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. As we noted in an April 7 article, under then-existing Senate rules, 60 votes were required to “invoke cloture,” ending debate and the filibuster. The only way for Republicans to break the stalemate and advance to a vote on the nominee was to employ the so-called nuclear option. They voted to lower the threshold for advancing Supreme Court nominations from 60 votes to a simple majority. All 52 Republicans voted to change Senate precedent and all 48 Democrats and liberal-leaning independents voted to keep it.
With the rules changed, the senators voted 54-45 to confirm Gorsuch, with three Democrats voting alongside the Republicans who were present.
Trump had nominated Gorsuch for the Supreme Court post on February 1. It took more than two months for the confirmation process to play out, but with the Senate leadership’s ability to change the rules, the outcome was never in doubt.
The Gorsuch nomination may have been a hard-fought political battle, but it was never a constitutional crisis. In this case, the Constitution functioned as its authors intended, proving that our founding document is neither archaic nor outmoded.
Since Trump obviously would have been pleased by the way the Constitution functioned in this important case, the accusations in much of the press that he called the Constitution “archaic” should have immediately raised suspicions.