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If using the nuclear option to repeal Obamacare becomes a GOP litmus test, then the Republican senators running for president will have a problem.
Both Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have told conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt some variation of no way, no how to the idea of ending the 60-vote threshold for filibusters of legislation.
Updated May 30, 11:06 a.m. | Sen. Rand Paul made it official Saturday: Patriot Act surveillance authorities are going to lapse.
The Kentucky Republican fired off a series of tweets outlining his past steps designed to stop what he has called the unconstitutional use of general warrants.
There’s a limit to what Sen. Ted Cruz would do to repeal Obamacare.
The Texas Republican said Monday that Republicans should do “everything humanly possible to repeal Obamacare” during a speech at Heritage Action’s annual policy summit. It’s a line he’s used before. But he later added a caveat.
When asked if Republicans should use the “nuclear option” to ditch the filibuster on legislation and get more bills to President Obama’s desk, including a bill repealing Obamacare, Cruz told reporters, “no, we should not.”
“We should preserve the procedural protections in the Senate for the rights of the minority,” he said. Full story
For Sen. Harry Reid, going “nuclear” set the groundwork for his last great act of the 113th Congress.
A little more than a year after Senate Democrats deployed the “nuclear option” to effectively change the Senate rules on nominations with a simple majority, Democrats up and down Pennsylvania Avenue generally seem happy with the changes, even as the Senate shifts to Republican control for 2015.
White House Counsel Neil Eggleston on Wednesday highlighted the 134 judges confirmed in the 113th Congress alone, saying that was 44 percent of the total confirmed during President Barack Obama’s tenure. That number included 132 federal district and circuit judges, according to Senate Democrats.
After crying foul when Democrats used the nuclear option to essentially eliminate the filibuster for most nominations, Senate Republicans are wrestling with whether to change it back.
Republicans, who will take over the majority next Congress, met Tuesday evening to discuss the matter, but reached no decision on a course of action. Full story
Harry Reid’s strategy of blocking amendments all year was intended with one clear objective in mind — protecting his majority.
Republicans have complained vociferously about the Senate majority leader shutting down amendments — but behind the scenes, the Nevada Democrat’s senators asked him to do so for a very simple reason: Nobody wants to give an opponent fodder for 30-second ads in a tough election year.
Reid’s strategy had a downside, because Democrats had fewer opportunities to show their independence from an unpopular president.
But aside from that attack, Republicans have been left mostly to mine earlier votes from, for instance, the 2013 budget resolution vote-a-rama — or for parts of the Affordable Care Act they voted for years ago.
Here are some of the subjects — and TV attack lines — Reid’s strategy sought to avoid: Full story
Ruth Bader Ginsburg sounds like she might have retired from the Supreme Court if Senate Democrats went a step further with the “nuclear option.”
In an interview with Elle magazine, the 81-year-old associate justice pointed to the fact that filibusters of Supreme Court nominations are still allowed by the Senate.
“Who do you think President Obama could appoint at this very day, given the boundaries that we have? If I resign any time this year, he could not successfully appoint anyone I would like to see in the court,” Ginsburg said, pointing to the change in procedure that “took off the filibuster for lower federal court appointments, but it remains for this court.” Full story
Updated 12:14 p.m. | Having seen his Senate confirmation blocked by members of President Barack Obama’s own party, Debo P. Adegbile has withdrawn from consideration to be an assistant attorney general.
“Debo Adegbile has withdrawn himself from consideration for a position at the Department of Justice, and we are actively working toward announcing a new nominee for the post,” a White House spokesperson told CQ Roll Call.
Formal word of the withdrawal comes after the law firm WilmerHale announced Adegbile’s move back to private practice Monday morning. Adegbile has joined as a partner.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.”
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.