Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D- Nevada, said on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday that Democrats needed to change Senate rules in order to give President Barack Obama executive branch officials whom he wanted to carry out his agenda. “Whoever is president should be able to have the people on their team that they want,” Reid said.
But appearing later on the program, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R- Ky., accused Reid of “breaking the rules of the Senate in order to change the rules of the Senate.”
Rule 22 of the Standing Rules of the Senate says that on a motion to amend the rules, “the necessary affirmative vote shall be two-thirds of the Senators present and voting,” or 67 senators if all of them vote.
But in the past, a few senators have contended that under the provision of the Constitution that says “each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings,” the Senate could at any given moment change its rules by a simple majority vote.
The Senate is poised for votes Tuesday on ending debate on several of Obama’s nominees, including his choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency Gina McCarthy, Labor Secretary nominee Tom Perez, Richard Cordray as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and two nominees to the National Labor Relations Board.
On Monday night in the old Senate chamber, there will be a meeting which all senators have been asked to attend in order to discuss the rules change.
Under the Senate rules, the votes of 60 senators are needed to end debate on nominations to the federal judgeships and to certain executive branch posts. Republican senators have used the three-fifths requirement to block votes on several of Obama’s nominees.
Reid said “the changes we’re making are very, very minimal.” They would allow a simple majority vote to end debate on a nomination. He asked, “Shouldn’t President Obama have somebody working for him that he wants?”
Reid said his proposed rules change would not apply to judicial nominees – only to appointees to executive branch agencies and Cabinet departments. “We’re not touching judges, that’s what they (the Republicans) were talking about (in 2005), this is not judges, this is not legislation – this has allowing the people of America to have a president who can have his team in place,” Reid said. “This is nothing like what went on” in 2005 when Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist threatened the same “nuclear option” in the face of Democratic filibusters, supported by Reid at that time, of President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees.
McConnell supported Frist’s attempted rules change in 2005, but told NBC’s David Gregory on Meet the Press Sunday that “I’m glad we didn’t do it” then.
He claimed that the “provocation” by Democrats filibustering Bush judicial nominees was so serious that it had prompted Frist’s attempted rules change. But “cooler heads prevailed” in 2005, McConnell said, “We knew it would be a mistake for the long-term future of the Senate and the country. That’s what I hope is going to happen here, David. We have an opportunity to pull back from the brink in this meeting we’re going to have of senators in the old Senate chamber Monday night. I hope we’ll come to our senses and not change the core of the Senate.”
Apparently seeking to soothe his rancorous relations with Reid, McConnell said Reid was “a reasonable man, he’s a good majority leader.”
On Thursday on the Senate floor McConnell told Reid that, “If we do not pull back from the brink, my friend the majority leader is going to be remembered as the worst leader of the Senate ever, the leader of the Senate who fundamentally changed the body.”
McConnell said that if Reid would bring most of the nominees to the floor for a vote and that “most of them are going to be confirmed. It really kind of comes down to three appointments that the federal courts have told us were unconstitutionally recess-appointed” by Obama on Jan 4. 2012.
The three that McConnell referred to are Cordray and two of the NLRB nominees, Sharon Block and Richard Griffin.
Two federal appeals courts have ruled that the Block and Griffin appointments were invalid because the Senate was not in recess when Obama used his recess appointment power to place them on the NLRB.
Some legal observers infer that since Cordray was recess-appointed on the same day, his appointment, too, is invalid, but no court has yet determined that.
The Supreme Court will hear the NLRB recess appointments case this fall.
The current Senate party lineup is 52 Democrats and two independents who caucus with the Democrats and 46 Republicans.
Reid said Thursday that all Republicans needed to do to avert a rules change was to have six GOP senators vote Tuesday for the motion to end debate on the nominations, which would then allow an up-or-down majority vote to confirm each of them.
Reid said Thursday a Republican senator had asked him, “What happens if cloture (a motion to end debate) is invoked on the people you put forward?”
Reid replied, “Well, if that happens, I have no complaints…. All you need is six Republicans to agree to do something” about the nominees.
On a separate issue, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, Reid praised the law, saying, “Obamacare has been wonderful for America. Six million seniors have wellness checks now, 3.1 million young people now have insurance, insurance (companies) can’t rip off people anymore, that’s why people got millions of dollars of refunds last year….”
But McConnell said, “This is a big controversial issue, it’s not going away. It is in all likelihood going to be the premier issue in the 2014 election. The American people dislike it even more now than they did when it was passed.”
He criticized Obama for delaying the employer penalties in the law. “He’s selectively delaying parts of it, as if it’s all just kind of a smorgasbord of options for him to figure out which ones to execute and which parts of the law not to.”
McConnell is up for re-election next year. His Democratic opponent will be Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.