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September 4, 2015

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Harry Reid threatens to push plunger on ‘nuclear option’

Harry Reid

Harry Reid

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Tick, tick, tick. Wait for the boom.

Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid warned the Senate this morning that he was all but ready to employ the so-called “nuclear option” and have the Senate vote, by simple majority, to end the procedural filibuster — at least for presidential nominations.

“I’m not going to wait another month, another few weeks, another year for Congress to take action on the things we have been doing for 240 years,” Reid said on the Senate floor Thursday morning. “I refuse to unilaterally surrender my right to respond to this breach of faith.”

Reid accuses Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of breaking a deal they made at the beginning of the year to work together to streamline President Barack Obama’s nominees “in a timely manner, by unanimous consent, except in extraordinary circumstances.”

In exchange, Reid promised not to upend the procedural filibuster, which requires the majority to collect 60 votes in favor of a bill or nominee whenever a member of the minority raises and objection.

“Those were his words, those were his commitments, those were his promises. By any objective standards, they have been broken,” Reid said.

Since then, Reid pointed out, Republicans have tried to block the nominations of former Sen. Chuck Hagel to lead the Department of Defense, Tom Perez to lead the Department of Labor, Gina McCarthy to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, Donald Berwick to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Richard Cordray to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and three recess-appointed nominees to the National Labor Relations Board.

“It is a disturbing trend when Republicans are willing to block executive branch nominees, even if they have no objection about the qualification of the nominee,” Reid said. “They’re blocking qualified nominees to circumvent the legislative process...They’re blocking qualified nominees because they refuse to accept the law of the land.”

Reid did not go so far as to detonate the so-called nuclear option and call for a vote to undo the filibuster then and there Thursday morning. But he hinted that this would be the topic du jour at a meeting of Senate Democrats on Thursday afternoon and that Republicans should brace for the impact.

If he goes ahead with it, Republicans are guaranteed to cry foul, because they say it’s Reid who will be breaking faith, not them.

“We got to this point on the basis of an absolute fairy tale,” McConnell said angrily in response to Reid’s speech Thursday morning. “If this isn’t a power grab, I don’t know what a power grab looks like.”

McConnell said he never uttered the words Reid presented as a promise McConnell made in early 2013.

Reid later allowed that they were his own words, but noted that McConnell had said, “I agree” when he spoke them.

McConnell said Republicans have done their part confirming judicial nominations at a fair pace and rejected the idea that Republicans were unduly delaying Obama’s cabinet nominees.

“What [Reid]’s really saying here is he doesn’t want any debate at all in connection with presidential appointments,” McConnell said. “Just sit down, shut up and rubber stamp everything.”

McConnell also questioned the motivation for the potential rules change, arguing that Democrats were simply motivated by trying to rush through the three National Labor Relations Board recess appointments made when Congress wasn’t necessarily in full recess. The Supreme Court will rule on the constitutionality of those appointments next year.

“This isn’t really a fight over nominees at all. It’s a fight over these illegal, unconstitutionally nominated nominees,” McConnell said. “It’s just laughable to think that Democrats would ever agree to such a thing if we were talking about a Republican president’s unlawful nominees.”

McConnell also charged that if Reid undoes the procedural filibuster for nominees, it would only lead to a further dismantling of the rules of the Senate down the line.

“This Pandora’s box, once open, will be utilized again and again by future majorities,” McConnell said. “No majority leader wants written on his tombstone that he presided over the end of the Senate. Well, if this majority leader caves to the fringes and lets this happen, I’m afraid that’s exactly what they’ll write.”

But Reid is sticking to his guns — and the principle that filibustering nominees is wrong.

“The Constitution gives the president, whoever that president might be, the right, the power to choose his team. He grants the Senate the right to advise and consent on those choices...But consistent objection by the Republican senators have turned advise and consent into deny and obstruct,” Reid said. “Nominees should be subject to simple up or down votes.”

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