Incensed by what they call unfair blocking of executive branch nominees, Senate Democratic leaders issued an ultimatum Thursday, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid daring Republicans to keep up their objections and warning that he could change Senate rules to prohibit future nominee filibusters if necessary.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that he will move forward with procedural votes on seven Obama nominees, whom he says have been stonewalled by Republicans who simply dislike the federal agencies the nominees would be charged with leading.
“The reality is, if they’re [Republicans] not willing to be reasonable, we know where we’re headed,” he said of the possibility of modifying the filibuster rules, which he said a simple majority of 51 Democrats are prepared to do.
The threat of changing the Senate rules using a simple majority is what’s known in Senate as “the nuclear option.” Reid confirmed to reporters that Democrats have the votes to make that move.
A vote on the nominees is expected to come early next week, setting up a possible showdown on the rules change as early as Tuesday.
Republican leader Sen. Mitch McConnell railed against the move on the Senate floor during a bitter back-and-forth with Reid, saying a rules change would make Reid go down in history as "the worst leader of the Senate, ever."
"He believes that 'advise and consent' means 'sit down and shut up,'" McConnell said of his Democratic counterpart.
The proposed change in rules would make the threshold for confirming agency and Cabinet nominees -- but not judges or legislation -- a simple majority rather than the 60 votes required now.
Asked if he will move to change filibuster rules if Republicans relent on those seven nominees, an unusually punchy Reid shot back: “If they approve all seven, why would I do that?”
The fight centers on nominations to the National Labor Relations Board -- they've been pending in some cases for years -- as well as appointees to head the Labor Department, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The NLRB nominations have been pending so long that President Obama used so-called recess appointments -- appointing board members while the Senate was out of session -- to allow the board to function. Republicans argue that's illegal, and the Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether making such appointments is constitutional.
Republicans say the move would undermine the Senate's role as a more deliberative chamber that gives wide discretion to the minority party.
"Basically what you’re doing is destroying the Constitution if we go ahead with this,' said Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, ripping a piece of paper in illustration.
Earlier Thursday, McConnell, pointing out that Reid objected to some changes in filibuster rules when Democrats did not hold the majority in the Senate, said such a change would be inscribed on Reid’s “tombstone.”
“I just hope the majority leader thinks about his legacy, the future of his party and, most importantly, the future of our country before he acts,” McConnell said.