Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is moving forward with the so-called “nuclear option” to end filibusters by minority-party opponents of proposed legislation, a move designed to give President Barack Obama’s current batch of nominees a cakewalk through the Senate confirmation process.
Senate Democrats are expected to force a vote today, despite procedural attempts by Republicans to have the vote forestalled.
“The change we propose today would ensure executive and judicial nominations an up or down vote on confirmation,” said Reid. “Yes or no. The rule change will make cloture for all nominations other than the Supreme Court, the majority the threshold vote, yes or no.” Reid described the no-filibuster rule as a necessary measure to end partisan gridlock and “evolve” the Senate. “It’s time to change the Senate before this institution becomes obsolete,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the decision, a product of transitory political expediency, would come back to haunt Reid and the Democratic majority.
“I realize this sort of wishful thinking might appeal to the uninitiated newcomers in the Democratic conference who served exactly zero days in the minority, but the rest of you guys should know better,” McConnell said.
“The Majority Leader promised over and over again that he wouldn’t break the rules of the Senate to change the Senate,” McConnell also said. “When Democrats were in the minority they argued strenuously for the very thing they now say we will have to do without, namely the right to extend a debate on lifetime appointments. In other words they believe that one set of rules should apply to them and another set to everybody else.”
The Senate is reportedly well-attended today, with “almost every Senator… at his or her desk in recognition of the significance of the moment.”
Under the “nuclear option,” the Senate would change its rules of procedure so that Presidential nominees could be confirmed on a simple majority vote, undercutting the 60-vote majority needed to break a filibuster opposing the nominations. The Reid proposal is expected to affect Presidential nominations for judicial and executive-branch appointments, but not Supreme Court nominations.
Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), about as conciliatory an adversary as Senate Democrats could hope for, was evidently beginning to see the light Thursday, telling reporters, “This changes everything; this changes everything.”
In a 52-48 vote, the Senate dramatically changed its rules to limit the minority Party’s ability to filibuster and prevent the confirmation of Presidential nominees. Only three Democrats, Senator’s Carl Levin (Mich.), Mark Pryor (Ark.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.), voted against Majority Leader Reid’s proposal.
The change will clear the way for confirmation of President Obama’s nominees to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals along with his nomination of Representative Mel Watt to a housing regulatory agency appointment.
“It’s time to change the Senate before this institution becomes obsolete,” Reid said on the Senate floor.
“The American people believe Congress is broken. The American people believe the Senate is broken. And I agree.”
Minority Leader McConnell said that the Democrats had simply picked a fake fight over the Federal judgeships in order to distract Americans from the problems plaguing Obamacare.
“It only reinforces the narrative of a party willing to do or say just about anything to get its way,” said McConnell.
Republicans have been critical of the Democrats’ embrace of the nuclear option since lawmakers on the left gained control of the Senate in 2006.
In 2005, GOP Senators threatened to employ a similar tactic in order to move some of President George W. Bush’s nominees.
“To change the rules in the Senate can’t be done by a simple majority. It can only be done if there is extended debate by 67 votes,” Reid said in May 2005.
“They are talking about doing something illegal. They are talking about breaking the rules to change the rules, and that is not appropriate. That is not fair, and it is not right,” he said in April of that year.
* Sam Rolley contributed to this report.