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Posts in "nuclear option"
July 31, 2014
Updated 11:07 p.m. | The Senate may not be confirming nominees to posts in a slew of countries before departing for the August recess, but after some procedural maneuvering, the U.S. will be getting a top diplomat in Russia.
Senators confirmed the nomination of John F. Tefft by voice vote as the chamber finished evening business after he faced objection to confirmation by unanimous consent earlier in the night.
The Senate’s nuclear fallout continued as the chamber worked into the night leading up until the break that will see no roll call votes until September 8. Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez faced a GOP objection to confirming a batch of 25 career foreign service officers to various ambassadorships, including President Barack Obama’s choice of Todd D. Robinson for the top diplomatic post in Guatemala, one of the key countries in the current crisis involving unaccompanied minors at the Southwest border.
July 28, 2014
There’s a chance at least some of the ambassadors caught in a legislative holding pattern might be confirmed before the August recess.
While the process of filling the diplomatic corps has been slow in the aftermath of the “nuclear option” standoff last fall, Sen. Ted Cruz said Monday that he had withdrawn his more recent objection.
The Texas Republican had placed a hold on State Department nominees — a move with limited utility in the post-nuclear Senate where Democrats can break filibusters without any GOP votes. Cruz had placed the hold because of last week’s brief Federal Aviation Administration ban on flights by U.S. carriers to Tel Aviv, Israel.
July 21, 2014
A pileup of nominations — particularly for scores of would-be U.S. ambassadors — has the Obama administration pushing hard for Senate action ahead of the August recess, while senators want to get home to campaign before the midterms.
There are 224 executive and 29 judicial nominations awaiting Senate action, according to the White House, including many whose lives have been on hold for a year or more. The Senate last year used the “nuclear option” to change the rules so a simple majority can confirm most nominations — and that move has shrunk the judicial backlog.
But a backlog has built up in executive branch nominees, including 56 ambassadors.
Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry called Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to voice concern over the pileup, and a State Department spokesman said the former Massachusetts senator was expected to speak by phone with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Monday while traveling in the Middle East.
“We hope the Senate will come to agreement to confirm nominees before heading into recess,” Assistant Secretary Doug Frantz said in a statement Monday. ”There is plenty of time remaining in July to do so, particularly if they can reach an agreement to approve the career nominees in a block as Secretary Kerry has proposed.”
“We are redoubling our efforts on ambassadors,” said a senior Senate Democratic aide. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Democrats are about to threaten the August break to confirm them.
“These ambassadors are America’s front lines, fighting to defend our interests abroad — our security interests, our national interests, and our economic interests,” Reid said last week. ”Right now, there are gaping holes in our nation’s front lines. … A quarter of all American embassies are without an ambassador.”
After the rules change, Republicans retaliated by slow-walking numerous nominees; the rules change allowed a simple majority to advance nominees but kept in place time limits that allow Republicans to force Democrats to burn days of floor time to get to a final vote.
“Some Senate observers say that Republicans are stalling these nominations as payback for the rules changes instituted by the Senate,” Reid said. “Let me see if I can wrap my head around this — Republicans are stalling executive nominees vital to our national security to get back at Democrats? To get back at me? Stalling these nominees is jeopardizing America’s interests abroad. It is damaging our nation’s role in global affairs. It is damaging our national security. Is this conjured-up political retribution worth harming the U.S.?”
Republicans say Democrats only have themselves to blame.
“Their complaint assumes there should be no consequences for Majority Leader Reid breaking the rules of the Senate to change the rules on the processing of nominations,” the Senate Republican Policy Committee wrote in an issue brief. “The consequences of that act were predictable. Senator Obama predicted the consequences himself when a rules change was contemplated in 2005, saying, ‘If they choose to change the rules and put an end to democratic debate, then the fighting, the bitterness, and the gridlock will only get worse.’”
The nominations backlog in the ambassadorial ranks has been a recurring topic of discussion at the regular State Department press briefings in recent weeks.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki likened the Kerry proposal to accelerate career appointees to the way the Senate treats military promotions.
“And just to not to put too fine a point on it, obviously for America to continue to play a strong role in the world, we need equal treatment for diplomats, we need to have ambassadors and our representatives on the front lines in these countries around the world,” she said on July 9.
Asked if the nuclear option has contributed to the backlog, Psaki dismissed the contention.
“There has been a logjam in the Senate on the Senate floor about nominations and legislation long before … Majority Leader Reid moved forward with the nuclear option several months ago. That was put in place because there was a complete deadlock on getting anything done in the Senate at all,” she said.
Democrats have also highlighted delays of top veterans’ officials — some waiting more than a year for confirmation even as the crisis at the Department of Veterans Affairs unfolded.
Numerous other would-be officials are awaiting their fate. If they don’t get confirmation before the August recess, they’ll be waiting months longer for confirmation — or be stalled forever — given that the Senate will have a limited schedule before the November elections and faces a lame-duck session where floor time will be at a premium.
At some point, Senate Democrats could deploy the nuclear option again to cut down on what the Senate aide calls the “slow-motion temper tantrum.”
At the beginning of this Congress in January 2013, the chamber adopted a bipartisan agreement that reduced the post-cloture debate time for certain nominations. That agreement will expire at the end of the year.
If they manage to maintain the majority, Democrats would have to either negotiate time rules with Republicans or use the nuclear option again.
Given the mounting frustrations, “If it comes to a head, the caucus will be more supportive,” the aide predicted.
Correction 6:42 p.m.
An earlier version of this post misattributed the quote from the Republican Policy Committee.
May 22, 2014
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., doesn’t favor getting rid of the filibuster — even if the GOP takes the majority next year. But he stressed that Democrats have set a precedent for changing the Senate rules on a simple majority vote.
“I think the supermajority requirement in the Senate has been important to the country,” McConnell said, adding that he believe Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has done “a lot of damage” to the institution. Full story
May 21, 2014
Updated 3:15 p.m. | Sen. Rand Paul wore comfortable shoes to work today, but it doesn’t look like he’s going to hold the floor for hours.
The Kentucky Republican told a small cadre of reporters gathered just off the Senate floor following a 31-minute speech contesting the Obama administration’s use of drones for targeted killings of Americans that he didn’t think he could stall confirmation of David J. Barron to be a First Circuit appeals court judge.
“They wouldn’t give me the extensive time today,” Paul said. “I am going to speak probably right before the vote and try to convince some people. I don’t think I’m having much luck though.”
May 20, 2014
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid raised the specter of another “nuclear” rules confrontation with the GOP if Republicans don’t stop their delaying tactics on nominations.
“I’m not interested in changing the rules now. But now is a relative term,” the Nevada Democrat told reporters Tuesday.
A senior Senate Democratic aide said Democrats would “very seriously consider” changes if they retain the majority, including using the “nuclear option” to change the rules on a simple majority vote. Senate rules require a two-thirds majority to change the rules, but Democrats pushed through a rules change last year eliminating the 60-vote threshold for all nominations except those for the Supreme Court. They did so by overturning the ruling of the chairman with a simple majority vote.
Updated 3:30 p.m. | On the morning of his Republican counterpart’s primary back home in Kentucky, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he would not change the chamber’s rules in his absence.
But Minority Leader Mitch McConnell might well be advised to be prepared for another floor standoff over consideration of nominations, even if its unclear just how much the
Reid took to the floor to reprise familiar complaints about GOP delays of nominations, although some of his examples didn’t appear to be held up today.
“I don’t plan on changing the rules today again, but how much longer can we put up with this? Even law enforcement officers … even law enforcement officers, as I’ve indicated here, they’re holding them up for no reason,” Reid said. “You don’t hear people coming down here giving speeches about what horrible people the president selected to be the U.S. attorney in Louisiana, New Mexico and Connecticut, not a word. They just hide behind their obstruction.”
But not long after, the Senate locked-in a unanimous consent agreement setting up consideration of the three U.S. attorneys on Wednesday, with confirmation for each possible by voice vote.
April 14, 2014
Just how many of President Barack Obama’s nominees will get confirmed this year? If last week is any indication, the answer may depend on whether Democrats once again employ the “nuclear” option to effectively change the Senate’s rules.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made a big deal last week about scheduling nomination votes on the Friday before recess, but with senators in both parties eager to jet out of town, the Nevada Democrat was forced to punt.
“We are slogging through these nominations,” Reid said April 10 on the Senate floor. “It is kind of slow because of the inordinate amount of time that we are caused to eat up.”
Reid pondered on the floor whether he should have gone even further on rules changes last year, given the Republican slow-walking of nominations whose confirmations have become a fait accompli, and he lamented that a minimum wage debate he hoped to have on the Senate floor before the break was delayed as a result. Full story
February 28, 2014
President Barack Obama’s nomination of Debo P. Adegbile to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has unleashed a decades-old racial feud centered on the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal that threatens to cross partisan lines and give credence to Senate Republican worries that more controversial nominees will be confirmed since Democrats eased the process last year.
The Senate is scheduled to vote on cloture on the Adegbile nomination Monday evening. Adegbile, senior counsel for Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., previously worked for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which helped commute the death sentence of Abu-Jamal, a black nationalist who was convicted and sentenced to death in 1982 for the murder of white Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner.
Senate Democrats control 55 votes in the Senate and only need 51 to clear the hurdle. But it is likely to be close, as one of their own, Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania announced Friday he would oppose the nomination, and several Democrats up for re-election in swing or conservative states might think twice about wading into the hornets’ nest that surrounds Abu-Jamal.
The case goes back to a dark period in Philadelphia history, when the MOVE group of black separatists clashed frequently with the Philadelphia political and law enforcement community. Full story
February 3, 2014
The Senate was so polarized in 2013 that the Democratic senator who was the second most likely to oppose President Barack Obama was … Majority Leader Harry Reid.
That’s not to say the Nevadan actually opposed Obama at all. Rather, on 10 separate votes on which the president had a clear position included on the CQ Roll Call scorecard, Reid voted no for procedural reasons. Being on the prevailing side of a vote allowed Reid to enter a motion to reconsider, preserving the opportunity to call it up again later.
January 13, 2014
Even a Supreme Court opinion throwing out President Barack Obama’s recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board wouldn’t end the debate.
Justices from across the ideological spectrum seemed to have doubts during oral arguments Monday about the administration’s arguments, with the president’s power to get around Senate roadblocks to name his own team at stake.
The administration argued that the recess appointments were valid because the Senate’s practice of holding pro forma sessions every three days without conducting business was no different than being out of town.
An exchange between Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. and Justice Elena Kagan put the argument into relief.
Kagan asked Verrilli if the Senate could convene for unanimous consent requests to name post offices and conduct “trivial business” to avoid the argument over the pro forma sessions.
“I think if they did business each of the three days, then you wouldn’t have a situation in which no business was conducted and you wouldn’t meet the definition of a recess, but that’s a different case than this one,” Verrilli said.
Kagan replied that if the rule defining what constitutes a recess would be “so easy to evade, [it] suggests that this really is — the question of how to define a recess really does belong to the Senate.”
“I think the problem with looking at it that way, Justice Kagan, is that that’s the end of the recess appointment power,” Verrilli said. “You write it out of the Constitution, if you look at it that way, because all the Senate needs to do is stay in pro forma session until 11:59 a.m. on January 3rd when that term ends and the next term starts and then there are no intercession recesses.”
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg seemed to share Kagan’s thinking.
“The Senate, I think to be candid, the Senate is always available. They can be called back on very short notice. So what is it that’s the constitutional flaw here?” Ginsburg said, questioning Verrilli. “It isn’t … that the Senate isn’t available. The Senate is available. It can easily be convened.”
Even if the Supreme Court decides it is within the Senate’s power to determine when it is in session, the president might still have a way to force through recess appointments. That would rely, however, on an untested constitutional provision that would appear to allow a president to force Congress to go home.
None other than Miguel Estrada, appearing as counsel representing the interests of Senate Republicans during the unusually long oral argument session Monday, raised that possibility. Estrada’s own nomination to the federal appellate bench was famously upended by opposition from Democrats.
“If the Senate had any view that it wanted to recess, they could have had a vote, and the issue would have ended up in the White House, in the lap of the president,” Estrada said. “He had plenary constitutional power to give himself an intersession recess by terminating the session and have a real recess appointment power if he could find somebody whose vacancy had actually arisen at the time.”
The same section of the Constitution that provides for the president to update Congress on the state of the union and to recall Congress into session to attend to urgent business also allows for forced adjournment when the two chambers fail to reach consensus on adjourning.
“In Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper,” the Constitution states in part of Article II, Section III. Estrada wasn’t backing such a maneuver, but he certainly suggested it was a possibility.
A senior Senate Democratic aide said “it would be unlikely that Democrats would need to go down that road, given” that they have sought to ease the nominations process by lowering the threshold for overcoming a filibuster.
“This is the cockeyed way of going about the instruments of the Constitution. There is no power in the Constitution to use the Recess Appointments Clause to overcome the opposition of the Senate to the president’s nominees. And for all that we hear about today, which has to do with how the heaven will fall, and the parade of horribles, there is no parade, and there is no horrible,” Estrada argued.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky was one of several GOP senators in the chamber for the oral arguments.
“The Court today was rightly skeptical of the Solicitor General’s inconsistent argument that the Senate is in session if the President wants it to pass legislation he supports, but the Senate is not in session if he wants to circumvent the advice and consent requirement of the Constitution,” McConnell said in a statement.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said attending the arguments was like being a “kid in a candy store.”
“All three of the arguing counsel today had an enormously powerful command of the history of the exercise of the recess appointment power,” Lee said. “It was very interesting to hear how it had been viewed by the first few presidents, how it’s been exercised over the 225 years or so since the Constitution’s been in effect.”
Lee was optimistic about the chances for victory, suggesting the possibility of a unanimous decision backing the brief pro forma sessions, with closer rulings on other key questions.
During the argument, Justice Sonia Sotomayor elicited laughter for musing about the Senate’s work schedule.
“The Senate could choose, if it wanted to, and I think there might be some citizens that would encourage it to, to never recess,” Sotomayor said. “And to work every day, which … lots of people do.”
Humberto Sanchez contributed to this report.
Republican senators left the Supreme Court on Monday optimistic that the justices would rule that President Barack Obama ran afoul of the Constitution in making recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board.
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the matter of NLRB v. Noel Canning, which questions the validity of recess appointments made by Obama during a time when the Senate was at least ostensibly in session, gaveling in and out every three days. Several GOP senators were in town early for the arguments, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. McConnell’s campaign has also promoted the legal effort.
While the Supreme Court can be difficult to read based on questions during oral argument, there seemed to be support among justices for the idea that the Senate may determine what constitutes a “session” and a “recess.”
January 8, 2014
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Majority Leader Harry Reid traded floor speeches on Wednesday, accusing the other of partisanship while calling for an end to obstructionism.
The Kentucky Republican criticized the “nuclear option” invoked by the Nevada Democrat in November, but he emphasized he was not trying to “point the finger of blame.”
“My purpose is to suggest that the Senate can do better than it has been and that we must be if we’re to remain as a great nation,” McConnell said. “This is a behavioral problem. It doesn’t require a rules change. We just need to act differently with each other.”
McConnell, who proposed an amendment on Tuesday that would tie jobless benefits to an Obamacare delay, criticized the majority leader for not allowing amendments on the unemployment insurance bill that advanced yesterday.
Reid accused the Republican leadership of distorting the facts.
“Since I’ve been leader, seven out of 10 amendments on which the Senate has voted have been … Republican amendments,” Reid said.
Reid called the remarks a “diversion” from the GOP’s “callous” and “cold-hearted” positions on issues facing the Senate.
December 30, 2013
The Senate of the 113th Congress is on track to feature the most filibuster-breaking votes in history, and there’s no reason to think it won’t reach that milestone.
The 64 roll call votes on debate-limiting motions — also known as cloture — in the first session are more than half of the 112 in the record-setting 110th Congress, according to Senate statistics. While the traditional expectation is that the second session has less time for business because senators leave early to campaign, the recent changes to the Senate’s nomination rules make additional cloture votes more likely.
Following the use of the “nuclear option,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., can pretty much get any of President Barack Obama’s nominees confirmed by cutting off debate with a simple majority vote, and the time for debate on district court judgeships and most executive branch nominees had already been substantially curtailed under a prior agreement.
Of course, not all “filibuster” votes are created equal. In some cases this year, Democrats were legitimately attempting to overcome GOP-led blockades. In other cases, Republicans argued there was no objection, or claimed they were only delaying an issue in order to secure more debate time or votes on their amendments.
Still, speaking only of the win-loss record, Reid had a pretty good year. Of the 63 cloture motions filed by Democrats to break real or perceived filibusters, the Senate only rejected 13 of them, almost an 80 percent winning record with a slightly larger Democratic caucus than in the 112th Congress.
December 18, 2013
If Republicans and potential Democratic rivals want Harry Reid’s majority leader title, they’re going to have to knock him out of the ring, because the former boxer has no intent to relinquish his position anytime soon.
“I don’t want to do it more than eight more years,” the Nevada Democrat said in a Wednesday interview with CQ Roll Call. He even indicated that other Democrats would only get their chance to lead the caucus if they pried the title from his cold, dead hands.
Asked if Democratic Conference Secretary Patty Murray’s recent stints as Reid’s negotiator-in-chief and political guru put the Washingtonian in a position to become leader, Reid quipped, “If I drop dead? I don’t know.”
He added, “I mean, I will someday. It’s just a question of if I do it while I’m here.”
Reid is up for re-election in 2016, and he reiterated Wednesday that he intends to run. If he and his Democrats are able to hold onto power for the next eight years, Reid would be the leader for 16 years, matching the record set by the legendary Montana Democrat Mike Mansfield.
But Reid dismissed the idea that he is looking to the Mansfield record as a marker. Reid celebrated his 74th birthday earlier this month, meaning he would be into his 80s by the time his next term would end at the beginning of 2023.
But the Nevada Democrat, who has seen his fair share of tough election battles back home, seems to have plenty of fight left in him — for the political, policy and procedural dust-ups that are sure to come.
For example, Reid said he is prepared to take actions that might further erode the minority’s ability to filibuster. He would not rule out using the “nuclear option” again to change Senate rules and precedents. Just last month, Reid used the controversial procedural tactic to eliminate filibusters on most nominations.
However, he cautioned that he is not threatening to make any new changes in the immediate future.
“I hope we don’t, and I hope it’s not necessary,” Reid said, noting the increase in the number of filibusters over the past several decades. “I’m not precluding anything. It’s just according to how we get along here.”
He added, “I have no intention of changing the rules tomorrow or the next day or, you know, [in] the foreseeable future, but this is a two-way street. I think that we should start legislating and not [waste] all of our time on nominations. That’s all I’ve been wasting my time on for years here is nominations.”
But he did say that he is not willing to reverse the November filibuster rule changes, despite a robust procedural protest from the GOP side over his move to limit debate on nominees with a simple majority vote.
“I mean, having us vote to go in-and-out from executive to legislative session? To hold up just simple nominations for 30 hours?” Reid said of the tactical maneuvering that led to two all-night sessions in the Senate last week, with another such session possible Thursday into Friday.
“I just can’t understand how they think it passes the smell test and have us wait as we have for everybody. That isn’t the way we used to do things around here, and we can talk about who started it. It really doesn’t matter,” Reid said.
The interview came soon after the top two Republicans in the Senate again decried Reid’s use of the procedural tactic known as filling the amendment tree, which this week precluded senators from offering any amendments to either the budget deal passed Wednesday or the defense authorization that’s on track to pass by late Thursday evening.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas offered separate rebukes about the amendment process. While Cornyn complained about not being able to offer an amendment related to the shooting at Fort Hood, McConnell warned of what’s to come in the future.
“I’d remind my colleagues on the other side that one day they’ll find themselves in the minority again. And they should think long and hard about what they’re doing to this institution. Because the Senate is bigger than any one party or presidential administration,” McConnell said.
Reid offered an alternate explanation: He’s burning too much floor time on nominations to allow a more traditional, robust amendment process.
“They complain about no amendments? We can’t have amendments,” Reid said. “We don’t have people running these agencies.”
Reid also is in no mood to negotiate with Republicans over the debt ceiling deadline looming in February or March. McConnell said Tuesday that he “can’t imagine” that Republicans would agree to a clean debt limit increase, but Reid flatly rejected any more concessions on budget issues.
“You know what I say to them? If they feel like that, let them default on the debt, because this is not a negotiation. That’s the least we can do is pay our bills,” Reid said.
Reid also indicated that concessions on the debt ceiling could undermine the budget deal passed by the Senate Wednesday evening.
“I think that this is such a strong statement that the Congress has made that we can work together and why, why botch it up now with a[n] … illogical, tea-party-driven mentality now on let’s default on the debt?”
As for the immediate prospects of holding the majority in next year’s elections, Reid maintained his optimism Wednesday. He reiterated his insistence that the negative narrative the White House has been fighting over the Obamacare rollout and other issues is changing.
“We’re always very honed-in on the races. We feel pretty good about how things are going,” Reid said.