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April 25, 2014

Posts in "nuclear option"

April 14, 2014

‘Nuclear’ Nominations Aftermath Slows Senate to Crawl

reid 225 032614 445x294 Nuclear Nominations Aftermath Slows Senate to Crawl

( Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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

Mumia Abu-Jamal Case Reverberates in Senate Nomination Fight

143344021 protestor stands next to an image of mumia gettyimages 445x297 Mumia Abu Jamal Case Reverberates in Senate Nomination Fight

A protestor stands next to an image of Abu-Jamal in 2012. (AFP/Getty Images)

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

Reid Second-Most Likely Dem to Vote Against Obama in 2013

reid 083 121813 445x327 Reid Second Most Likely Dem to Vote Against Obama in 2013

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

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.

Full story

January 13, 2014

Recess Appointment Debate Unlikely to End at Supreme Court

courts002 011314 445x300 Recess Appointment Debate Unlikely to End at Supreme Court

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

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.

GOP Expects Supreme Court Victory Over Obama on Recess Appointments

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.”

Full story

January 8, 2014

Dueling Senate Leaders Lament Obstructionism, Partisanship (Video)

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

Senate on Record-Setting ‘Filibuster’ Pace

Reid 13 121713 1 445x296 Senate on Record Setting Filibuster Pace

(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

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.

Full story

December 18, 2013

Harry Reid Isn’t Going Anywhere Anytime Soon (Updated)

reid121813 445x311 Harry Reid Isnt Going Anywhere Anytime Soon (Updated)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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.

December 16, 2013

Yellen Leads Nominees Reid Wants Confirmed By Christmas

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid warned that the Senate could be working right through Christmas Eve processing nominations, running through a list of nine more individuals he would like to see confirmed by year’s end.

“It’s up to the minority to determine what, if anything, they’re going to stop us from doing,” the Nevada Democrat said. “I’m happy … to work with them on time, but there are certain things … we have to get done before Christmas.”

Atop the priority list after legislative work on the big-ticket budget deal and defense authorization bill is President Barack Obama’s choice of Janet L. Yellen to be the chairwoman of the Federal Reserve.

The legislative items should ultimately have clear paths through the Senate, each achieving 60 votes on the important procedural votes. The nominees may have to clear time hurdles, but they no longer have a similar 60-vote requirement, thanks to the change in precedent Reid engineered through the “nuclear option.”

Full story

December 13, 2013

Reid Ends Marathon Session, Announces Schedule for Budget, Defense Bills (Updated)

reid100213 445x309 Reid Ends Marathon Session, Announces Schedule for Budget, Defense Bills (Updated)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 3:33 p.m. | One all-nighter was not enough, but two will suffice.

The Senate’s leaders have reached an agreement that will bring to an end days of round-the-clock sessions following a series of noon votes.

“This schedule’s been extremely difficult for everyone,” Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in announcing the deal, which essentially allows votes that would have taken place late Friday and Saturday to instead occur at the usual hour of 5:30 p.m. on Monday.

Reid said he spoke with his counterpart, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, to come up with the path forward.

“On Tuesday, we’ll begin consideration of the budget. On Wednesday, the defense bill. After that, we’ll address further nominations … the most important one is Janet Yellen to be on the Federal Reserve,” Reid said. “The others, I will work with Sen. McConnell. We’ll file on a number of them, see how many we can get done.”

Full story

December 12, 2013

Will One Senate All-Nighter Be Enough? (Updated)

reid 048 121013 445x311 Will One Senate All Nighter Be Enough? (Updated)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 11:59 a.m. | The Senate GOP minority may have found its greatest weapon in responding to a “nuclear” rules change: the clock.

The Senate stayed in session from Wednesday afternoon into the early morning Thursday to burn through hours and hours of post-cloture debate time on a number of President Barack Obama’s nominees to executive and judicial posts. The long hours, which could continue into Saturday, is the first real test of attrition for Democrats in the aftermath of last month’s rules change.

It’s the expense of time, more than anything said on the floor, that could make life difficult. When the process is completed, as many as 11 of the president’s choices will be confirmed to their new jobs.

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said that this might not be the only list of names to be processed before the end of the year because, as it turns out, Christmas isn’t the only deadline confronting the Obama nominees. A provision of Senate rules requires pending nominations to be sent back to the White House at the end of the session, unless there’s unanimous consent to hang onto them.

Full story

December 11, 2013

Senate All-Nighter on Tap for Nominations (Video)

cots 445x288 Senate All Nighter on Tap for Nominations (Video)

(Courtesy Senate Historical Office)

It may be time once again for senators to pull out the cots.

The Senate looked poised for an all-night session Wednesday to work through the process of confirming an assortment of President Barack Obama’s nominees to posts ranging from federal judgeships to the top official at the Department of Homeland Security.

“Whatever it is, we’re going to do it,” to get the nominations considered on the floor by week’s end, said Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

“Roll call votes are possible at any time this afternoon or this evening,” Reid said.

Full story

December 9, 2013

Reid, Alexander Spar as ‘Nuclear’ Fallout Begins to Take Shape

reid 193 092413 445x296 Reid, Alexander Spar as Nuclear Fallout Begins to Take Shape

( Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Senate saw the first serious fallout from the Democrats’ use of the “nuclear option” Monday evening, with Majority Leader Harry Reid moving to limit debate on 10 mainly midlevel executive and judicial nominations.

The cloture motions on nominations range from the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to district judges to President Barack Obama’s choice of Jeh Johnson to be Homeland Security secretary.

That’s on top of the previously failed cloture votes on the nominations of Nina Pillard and Robert L. Wilkins to be federal appellate judges in the District of Columbia, as well as the nomination of Rep. Melvin Watt, D-N.C., to helm the Federal Housing Finance Agency. The Nevada Democrat may move to reconsider those votes at times of his choosing. A special election in North Carolina is also waiting on Watt’s confirmation.

The procedural moves came after Reid sought unanimous consent to confirm a slew of nominations in both the judicial and executive branches, facing an objection from Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander, a senator who had helped lead previous bipartisan efforts to avert a procedural standoff.

Full story

November 25, 2013

Uncertain ‘Nuclear’ Fallout in Senate

reid mcconnell 034 010313 445x319 Uncertain Nuclear Fallout in Senate

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Just how much fallout will Majority Leader Harry Reid’s deployment of the “nuclear option” have for the Senate?

That will be the key question when the Senate returns from what’s scheduled to be a two-week recess for Thanksgiving and Hanukkah. The Nevada Democrat said he was left with no choice but to effectively change the rules with a simple majority vote after Republicans filibustered three consecutive nominees by President Barack Obama to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit — positions some Republicans argue shouldn’t exist at the moment.

The move means Obama will be able to get high-profile nominations and judgeships approved at least through the midterm elections. But Reid surely knows that the wildly controversial move invites a retaliatory response from Senate Republicans, though they’ve thus far demurred from identifying exactly what they may do.

“I don’t think this is a time to be talking about the reprisal,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters shortly after the procedural votes that enshrined the “nuclear” maneuver in the Senate’s precedents. “I think it’s a time to be sad about what’s been done to the United States Senate, the greatest deliberative body in the world.”

Full story

November 22, 2013

Ask Us Anything About the Nuclear Option on Reddit (Updated)

Updated 2:11 p.m. | Thursday marked the biggest Senate rules change in a generation. If you have questions about what happened when the majority leader went for the nuclear option and what it means for the chamber going forward, you’re in luck. Roll Call procedure guru Niels Lesniewski will be answering questions today at 2:30 ET on Reddit.

The thread is here.

Related: 6 Questions to Ponder About the Senate’s Nuclear Winter from Roll Call Senior Editor David Hawkings.

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