Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
March 27, 2015

‘Nuclear’ Thursday in the Senate? (Updated)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 11:10 a.m. | Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., opened a tense Thursday on the Senate floor, with Democrats appearing poised to change the way the Senate does business.

“The change we propose today would ensure executive and judicial nominations an up-or-down vote on confirmation: yes or no,” Reid said on the Senate floor, announcing he was proposing a precedent change that would provide simple majority cloture.

Reid started the procedural votes needed to get to the precedent-setting moment Thursday morning, beginning with a move to reconsider the failed cloture vote on the nomination of Patricia Ann Millett to a D.C. appeals court seat.

Senior Senate Democratic aides have said throughout the week that action was possible before Thanksgiving to set a new Senate precedent ending the need for 60 votes to limit debate on the vast majority of presidential nominations. What’s being floated would leave out only the Supreme Court, likely in a nod to concerns of liberal groups like those advocating for abortion rights.

“The American people believe Congress is broken. The American people believe the Senate is broken, and I believe the American people are right,” Reid said. “It’s time to change the Senate before this institution becomes obsolete.”

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said that the distinction between circuit court and Supreme Court nominees envisioned by Democrats would not hold water. He called it a “gerrymandered vision” of reality, suggesting that a future GOP-led Senate would go further if Democrats make the changes proposed by Reid.

“Our colleagues, evidently, would rather live for the moment,” McConnell said, calling on more senior Democrats to oppose the move.

Democrats have telegraphed the effort, which would involve the “nuclear option,” since it would effectively change the rules with a simple majority of Democratic senators.

One aide said the scenario would involve a ruling from the chair providing for a simple majority to invoke cloture on nominees, potentially preserving existing rules governing debate time after breaking filibusters.

Reid told reporters Tuesday that “we need to do something” to advance President Barack Obama’s nominations.

The move, which could come as early as Thursday, is the anticipated response to a decision by Senate Republicans to oppose limiting debate on each of the nominees put forth by Obama to fill vacancies on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

While the Senate’s been on the brink of the nuclear option numerous times since Democrats last took the majority, the previous debates were defused by narrow agreements between Democrats and Republicans.

Any vote on changing the precedent would be close, but if Reid has the majority vote required lined up, every indication is that he will move forward.

During the previous debate over the rules that ended with a bipartisan deal, Reid declined to entertain the idea that the D.C. Circuit vacancies would lead senators right back to the precipice of changing rules and precedents.

A few Democrats have not publicly committed, but the momentum is clearly on the side of the relatively new senators who have pushed for changes.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., told a Democratic dinner earlier this year that “we will fill up the D.C. Circuit, one way or the other.”

Senate Republican leadership is calling the standoff over federal appeals court judges a distraction from the troubled rollout of the health care law, though it seems some Republicans have reached the point where they think Reid should either move forward with the nuclear option or give up on it.

“I can only speak for myself: I’m tired of threats,” said Sen. Richard M. Burr, R-N.C., “If he’s going to do it, then go ahead and do it. If he’s not going to do it, then quit talking about it. I think that this shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody.”

“We’re not interested in having a gun put to our head any longer,” McConnell said Thursday, echoing Burr’s sentiment.

“This rules change charade has gone from being a biennial threat, to an annual threat, to now a quarterly threat. It’s become a threat every time Senate Democrats don’t get their way,” McConnell said. “And their repeated promises at the end of every crisis, that they won’t threaten it again, just don’t seem to be worth any more than their promises on Obamacare.”

Burr said he did not think Democrats would win a public opinion battle over the Senate’s rules in relation to appeals court judges.

“It’s a pretty weak argument, but if they want to take that one publicly, if that’s something to change 200 years worth of history, I don’t think the American people are going to side with them,” Burr said Wednesday.

  • MrSmith

    A blatantly radical and extreme act. Yet will the media still succeed at portraying Dem Senators as ‘moderate’ and ‘independent’ in the 2014 elections?
    It will be an even more difficult lie to sell than it was before after Harry goosesteps them to victory in this battle.

    • EdKulzer

      Mr. Smith: when the blocking of candidates has absolutely nothing to do with the candidates, nothing to do with ANYTHING except the right wing demand to keep a conservative majority in the courts?

      Then that’s absolute crap.

      I’m very sorry you are incapable of observing that.

  • Cameiros

    Both parties are clueless. Their priorities are based on political infighting, not on whats good for the country.
    Having said that, the Repubs are over the top. Their stated priority – to make Obama a one term president leaves little doubt that they have ABSOLUTELY
    no interest in doing America’s business.

    • Layla

      Your first paragraph was correct, blaming the R’s more than the D’s was not. You are leaving the American people with no choice but to vote you out.

      This President has made it abundantly clear, all by himself, that he is the least qualified man to ever hold the office of the Presidency. And what is most upsetting to the American people is that BOTH SIDES stand by and do NOTHING.

      There won’t be a country left in 3 years.

  • James

    The GOP will stand aside and let Reid break rules that have been in place for hundreds of years. My question is why make it so blatantly obvious your intent to pack the DC circuit. If your going to change the filibuster rules for judicial nominees change it for all courts. Reid won’t because of the increasingly likely possibility they will not be in the majority forever.

    • EdKulzer

      And there’s the “pack the court” line.

      While the Right’s attempt is to “vacate the court”.

      Who said the filibuster rules are being changed “for one court”?


      James? is that what the Right is saying now?

      • James

        The idea that people who are interested in politics in this country can be neatly separated into Left and Right is so wrong headed its incomprehensible as is proven by the fact 3 democrats voted against the rule change. Also i was under the impression it was only for judicial nominations. Reid also changed it for presidential appointments. Should be interesting to see how long miss HHS secretary lasts.

        • EdKulzer

          You were under the false impression. It was for appointments, period, with an exemption given for SCOTUS appointments.

          I did not state YOU were “of the Right”— I was questioning which sources led you to believe that interpretation, which you had merely baldly asserted.

  • Wuthie

    Republicans are using the filibuster rule as an obstruction to Obama and the Democrats, not because the bill or the people are bad, but just for obstuctiive purposes. Besides they don’t even get up and talk any more.

    When Democrats were doing it during the GW Bush adm. I remember Orrin Hatch say “we need to just give an up or down vote.” Now the shoe is on the other foot and Orrin is doing the same thing he was complaining about the Democrats.

    The rules need to be changed and I’m tired of Reid farting around with it. GET IT DONE

  • Layla

    With today’s action, I think Sen. Reid has made it clear that he has no interest in working with Republicans. I vote both sides of the aisle, but will never vote Democrat again.

  • Tmaxx

    The door has been opened for Obama to remake the Courts,

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