Reid weighs ‘nuclear option’ on nominations

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is considering changing the Senate rules to end filibusters on executive branch nominations, calling Democratic senators to gauge whether he would have the support he needs to invoke the so-called “nuclear option.”

"I'm considering looking at the rules," Reid told reporters Tuesday when asked if he might use a controversial Senate procedure to change the filibuster rules using only 51 votes, rather than the current 60 vote threshold. If invoked, that would mean executive branch nominations would also only need 51 votes for approval in the future. 

"The American people are sick of this. In the name of simple fairness, any president, not just President Obama, Democrat or Republican, needs to be able to have the team that he wants in place," Reid said.

One leadership aide said Reid could decide to push for the rules change before the Senate breaks for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Senate Republicans have blocked three of President Barack Obama's nominees to the influential D.C. Circuit in recent weeks -- and Democratic frustration is mounting.

The Senate came to the brink of the rules change earlier this year -- only to step back after an hours-long private session in the Old Senate Chamber where members from both sides aired their grievances. Republicans ultimately caved and allowed a series of nominees to the National Labor Relations Board to move forward.

It's different this time, sources say, with Republicans less likely to give in and Democrats further entrenched. Democrats argue that the GOP isn't even bothering to find ideological objections to nominees and instead are simply refusing to move Obama's nominees for partisan reasons.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said Tuesday that Reid had called her personally to ask whether she would support changing the Senate rules. Earlier this year, she was opposed to it, but now she said she has changed her mind.

"I have changed my mind, and I am for it," Feinstein said. She said that the Old Senate Chamber session had led to good feelings on both sides -- but that "it lasted maybe one week or two weeks."

The switch is notable because Feinstein is a long-serving senator -- first elected to the Senate in 1992 -- who remembers when Democrats were in the minority.

Older members of the Senate have been more opposed to changing the rules; Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., has been a vocal opponent of Reid's attempts to go “nuclear.”

Feinstein said she wasn't sure whether Reid had the votes to make the move, but said he is making calls to find out whether he does.

"I don't know what the count is, but he called me, and I said, 'yes I changed my mind,' I will support it," she said.