A Senate vote is expected to take place to get rid of the 60-vote threshold for all executive appointments with the exception to those on the US Supreme Court.
It looks like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has his finger on the nuclear button – for real this time.
Democrats are positioning themselves to deploy the so-called “nuclear option” to change the rules of the Senate, which would clear the way for Obama’s judicial nominees who are being blocked by Republicans.
“It’s time to change the Senate before this institution becomes obsolete,” Reid said on the Senate floor Thursday. He is expected to bring a vote to scrap the 60-vote threshold needed for all executive branch nominations, except in cases of Supreme Court nominees.
“The need for change is so, so very obvious,” he said, adding that the Senate was wasting far too much time on matters that should be routine, like green-lighting judges.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called the potential move “utterly absurd” and accused Democrats of setting up “one set of rules for themselves and another for everybody else.” He told Democrats “you may regret this a lot sooner than you think.”
Reid’s threat comes as Senate Republicans blocked – for the third time in three weeks—Obama’s latest pick, Robert Wilkins, to be a judge on the powerful D.C. Court of Appeals.
If Reid decides to move forward, the filibuster rules would be overhauled in this Congress so that the continual GOP threat of filibuster didn’t effectively require 60 votes to get anything done. The rule change requires only a simple majority, or 51 votes, to pass. So the Dems could technically lose 4 of their 55 members’ votes and still pass it.
Over the summer, Reid threatened to go nuclear after Republicans blocked a number of executive nominations, including Richard Cordray as permanent director of the Consumer Financial Protection Board. But Republicans eventually hammered out a deal and approved the nominations in exchange for Democrats agreeing not to alter the rules.
This time is different, however. There seems to be no deal on the horizon and some Democratic senators like Dianne Feinstein of California and Tom Harkin of Iowa – who have been holdouts in the past – now say they are in favor of the nuclear option.
There are clear incentives – Republicans in the upper chamber could no longer block Obama’s nominees. But there are drawbacks, too. After all, Democrats won’t always hold a Senate majority – they may well lose it next year – and by setting a reformed-filibuster precedent, Dems could find themselves without a key tool when they’re inevitably in the minority again.
Republicans, meanwhile, are arguing that the court’s workload does not justify three more judges and said Democrats are merely trying to distract Americans from the troubled rollout of HealthCare.gov.
GOPers are warning that if Dems go through with the change, they’ll reciprocate when they have the majority, including for Supreme Court picks.
Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa released a statement saying: “It appears the Majority Leader is now trying to convince his caucus that somehow he’d be able to change the rules on judicial nominees, but limit the change to only lower court nominees. This is a difference without a distinction. If he changes the rules for some judicial nominees, he is effectively changing them for all judicial nominees, including the Supreme Court.”