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Posted at 11 a.m. on May 20, 2014
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.
Reid’s latest comments follow a conversation he said he had Monday with Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. about vacancies at the Justice Department. It follows similar statements Reid has made about State Department vacancies, which he referred to again on Tuesday, citing roughly 40 ambassador slots that remain open.
“We have three people who, it’s very important, who want to be U.S. attorneys,” Reid said. “These are people for prosecuting crimes in the states of New Mexico, Louisiana and Connecticut, but they’re being held up. Why? No good reason. These are all good men and women.”
A senior Republican aide said that the three nominees had actually cleared for consideration on the GOP side before Reid’s floor speech, which seemed to be triggered by the conversation with Holder.
“The U.S. attorneys are our nation’s top prosecutors for drug trafficking, bank robbery, counterfeiting,” Reid said.
“They’re not making federal cases out of those cases in New Mexico, Louisiana and Connecticut. Everyone that’s watching what I say today — that is a shame,” Reid said. “And the reason I mention the attorney general, we have two assistant attorney generals they’re holding up.”
“Eric Holder called me yesterday, and said is there anything that can be done to help me? So again, I’ll have to file cloture on these,” Reid said, calling the time for debate after cloture votes on nominations an “arbitrary number.”
That may prove telling. An agreement last year reduced debate time on the Senate floor for a variety of lower-level positions. What Reid suggested Tuesday is that if there isn’t more time yielded back (or confirmations in large batches by unanimous consent), he may move to curtail that debate time.
Such a move would no doubt infuriate Republicans, and it would likely require a reprise of last November’s use of the “nuclear option” to effectively change the Senate rules by changing precedent with just a simple majority vote.
It would, however, amount to a change in “how a filibuster works,” as President Barack Obama put it in speaking at a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee fundraising event just last week.
In response to that comment by Obama, Reid had quipped: “Does he know we already did that?”
Perhaps Reid is contemplating doing it again.