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October 7, 2015

Procedural Madness Wednesday: A Nominee and the Nuclear Option

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., fought Wednesday morning over when a vote should be held for a D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals judge, which isn’t uncommon C-SPAN2 fare. But this battle got particularly heated because it served as a proxy war over the filibuster — and Reid’s threat to go nuclear.

As my #WGDB partner and floor expert extraordinaire Niels Lesniewski has reported extensively, the threat of the “nuclear option” is growing as Democratic frustration over nominations mounts. Under the nuclear option, Reid would use parliamentary maneuvering to change the rules with a simple majority vote to eliminate the requirement for cloture on nominations.

McConnell, of course, is no fan of such a move. And in fairness, neither is Reid, at least historically. But on Wednesday, Reid had a bee in his bonnet and traded objections with his GOP counterpart over when to hold a vote on Sri Srinivasan, President Barack Obama’s nominee for the under-manned D.C. Circuit Court.

“There has been a stall going on here in the Senate for years. It doesn’t take a mathematician to figure it out. We’re being held up on nominations and legislation. President Obama has been trying to have the people he wants as part of his team for four and a half years. Multiple vacancies in the court. It’s all been reported out unanimously by the committee,” Reid said in one of two exchanges on Wednesday morning. “It’s all a stall. Let’s wait. Maybe they’ll be able to render a couple of opinions in the next few weeks.”

On the threatened changes specifically, Reid said: “I am not saying that we’re going to change the rules. But we have to do a better job of what’s going on around here.”

Meanwhile, McConnell tied the recent string of woes for the White House to a need to protect the longstanding Senate rules.

“The administration’s allies in the Senate are trying to intimidate their political opponents as well. What I’m talking about is the persistent threat by the majority to break the rules of the Senate in order to change the rules of the Senate—in other words, to use the nuclear option—if they don’t get their way,” McConnell said.

Of course, that’s the risk in going “nuclear,” as we say in the Senate biz. If Reid does make this move, he significantly reduces his options if the GOP takes back the majority, when it would be the Republicans getting “their way” without the tools to block them.

From Niels’ post Monday:

Reid plans a Senate test vote before the Memorial Day recess on the nomination of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Senate Republicans are sure to oppose his confirmation, but they’ll contend that the pace of confirmation of many other nominees is going much more smoothly.

A post at the Monkey Cage blog by Sarah Binder of George Washington University and Brookings followed a post by Jonathan Bernstein at the Washington Post, starting an exchange worth following if you’re interested in the nuances of the “nuclear option.” Binder explained some of Reid’s procedural conundrum:

Over the years, several scenarios have been floated that give us a general outline of how the Senate could reform its cloture rule by majority vote. But a CRS report written in the heat of the failed GOP effort to go nuclear in 2005 points to the complications and uncertainties entailed in using a reform-by-ruling strategy to empower simple majorities to cut off debate on nominations. My sense is that using a nuclear option to restrict the reach of Rule 22 might not be as straight forward as many assume.

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