Harry Reid may go 'nuclear' Thursday
By: Burgess Everett
November 21, 2013 09:32 AM EST
Senate Republicans’ ability to filibuster President Barack Obama’s nominees could soon be history.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid may move toward a historic change in the Senate rules to eliminate the filibuster on most nominations as soon as Thursday, according to senior Democratic aides.
Reid is strongly considering calling up one in a group of blocked nominees to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals for another round of votes, furious that Republicans have thwarted the nominations of Robert Wilkins, Nina Pillard and Patricia Millette. If a second go-round fails on that judicial pick, Reid would likely unilaterally move to change the rules of the Senate by a majority vote — the “nuclear option,” Senate sources said.
Privately, Senate Democratic leaders insist they prefer confirmation of Obama’s nominees rather than a rules change. And lawmakers have been at this point before.
The rules change being discussed among top Democrats would eliminate filibusters on all executive nominees as well as all judicial nominees, except those to the Supreme Court. Such a rules change would pave the path toward smoother confirmation for two more key Obama nominees: Janet Yellen to lead the Federal Reserve and Jeh Johnson to helm the Department of Homeland Security.
Republicans are publicly warning that the change would simply be a path to eliminating the filibuster on everything, even on legislation — which would mean when the GOP takes the majority, Democrats will regret pushing the nuke button.
“You always have to take it seriously. I just think it would be incredibly short-sighted,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the Republican whip. “It just seems to be something they keep coming back to when [Democrats] don’t get their way.”
A change to Senate’s age-old rules still could be headed off by a last-minute deal with Republicans, but a leadership source was bearish on such a breakthrough. The Senate came to the brink of a more narrow rules change that would have affected only executive nominees this summer but longtime lawmakers like Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) were able to agree to help move a series of stalled nominations and avoid diluting the minority’s power.
This time around there hasn’t been as strong an effort to head off the rules change. McCain made an offer on Wednesday that Democrats found insufficient because it didn’t include all three judges; Reid says he won’t settle for less than filling out the 11-seat court’s three vacancies.
But not all Democrats are wedded to a rules change, and some are proactively working to figure out if the “nuclear option” can be avoided. One of those, Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), helped avoid the “nuclear option” in 2005 when Republicans were trying to change the rules to circumvent Democratic filibusters of George W. Bush’s judicial nominees.
“Democrats and Republicans are talking, that’s always good. I’m one of those talking, no breaking news, just talking to see where people are on things,” Pryor said in an interview Wednesday.
Several other centrist Democrats, like Sens. Max Baucus of Montana and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, also say publicly they are undecided. But Manchin blasted Republicans’ reasoning for blocking the judges under the argument that the court isn’t busy enough and that President Barack Obama is trying to “pack” the powerful D.C. Circuit.
“You’re saying just because they’re being presented from a Democrat president? That’s not a good enough reason,” Manchin said.
In addition to Wilkins, Pillard and Millette, Republicans also blocked the elevation of Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency and a fourth D.C. Circuit nominee in March, Caitlin Halligan. A fifth nominee, Sri Srinivasan, was confirmed to the court unanimously in May.