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Filibuster threat looms as Senate huddle fails to reach deal on appointees

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., speaks at the center for American Progress Action Fund in Washington, Monday, July 15, 2013. Reid spoke about ending the current gridlock in the Senate that according to him is harming the nation’s ability to address key challenges.

After nearly three-and-a-half hours behind closed doors, the Senate is still at an impasse over how to craft a compromise that will coax Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid away from deploying a procedural nuclear weapon: undoing the filibuster by majority fiat.

It is now up to Reid and his counterpart, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, to strike a mutually agreeable deal, or leave Reid to make good on his word to call a simple majority vote to invalidate the filibuster — a move that will undoubtedly anger the Senate’s Republican minority.

“I don’t think there’s a solution yet; we’ll probably find out about 10 o’clock (Tuesday) morning if calmer heads have come together,” Republican Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada said, exiting the meeting room. “If we don’t solve this problem, we’ll be the Hatfields and the McCoys on steroids before this is over.”

Reid, fed up with what he describes as excessive Republican obstruction of President Barack Obama’s executive branch nominees, says he is ready to end the procedural, 60-vote filibuster for executive nominations, even if he has to, as Republicans put it, “break the rules to change the rules.”

Reid maintains the Constitution, which is silent on the filibuster, gives him the option to change the rules of the Senate with 51 votes. Republicans and a few Democrats maintain that it takes 67 votes to change Senate rules.

In the past week, the standoff has boiled down to an ultimatum: At 10 a.m. EST Tuesday, Reid wants Republicans to vote to confirm the nominations of Richard Cordray to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; Gina McCarthy to head the Environmental Protection Agency; Thomas Perez as secretary of Labor; Fred Hochberg as president of the U.S. Export-Import Bank; and the trio of Sharon Block, Richard Griffin and Mark Pearce as members of the National Labor Relations Board. If Republicans vote to confirm, Reid will dispense with his filibuster threat.

But Republicans refuse to be pushed into voting under threat — especially not for NLRB nominees they and the courts say were appointed illegally.

Republicans have indicated there may be support for some of the nominees, if Reid backs off his threat to deploy the “nuclear option.” Heller indicated that under a deal, he might vote for at least some of the pending nominees.

But Republicans are drawing a line in the sand over the NLRB nominees, whom Obama self-approved as recess appointees in 2012, during a short period in which Republicans argue the Senate really wasn’t in a period of real recess. Thus far, the courts have ruled against the president; the Supreme Court will have final say on the matter next year.

“If we allow you to make appointments like that, we’ll go out to lunch and there’ll be a new Supreme Court justice,” said Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

Alexander, who emerged from the meeting with a doorstopper copy of the Senate’s rulebook under his arm, pointed out that Republicans have already made Democrats an offer to settle the crisis: Simply nominate new people for the NLRB slots.

In the Old Senate Chamber, lawmakers listened to a new compromise offer as well, spearheaded by Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, which would seemingly offer Democrats a semblance of a rule change in exchange for a guarantee not to go nuclear on the filibuster.

“We had many Republicans who supported that proposal. We thought we were getting progress,” McCain said.

“I’m not saying there isn’t a need for change,” Heller said. “But if there is a good rule, there will be 67 [votes] to pass it.”

Some Democrats, however, are committed to the idea of a full revocation of the filibuster, believing it is the only way to guarantee that executive nominations will continue to progress after the fate of the seven in question are resolved.

“If you don’t change the filibuster you might as well take a four-year vacation,” Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa recalled telling Obama during his re-election.

“Can we get the votes?” Harkin recalled Obama asking him. “I said: ‘Oh yeah, if you get behind it.’”

Obama has said he supports Reid’s effort to change the filibuster if that is the direction in which the majority leader decides to go. His chief of staff, Denis McDonough, spent much of Monday afternoon meeting with senators in Reid’s office, trying to work out a solution.

Democrats, especially those who are angling for the nuclear option, seemed more pessimistic than Republicans heading out of the old chamber.

“At this point the way I see it we're headed to votes (Tuesday)," said Democratic Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico, who has been calling for filibuster reform. He added that Republicans didn’t indicate during the meeting that they were inclined to support the president’s nominees.

“Right now the vote’s scheduled. It could be vitiated at any time by unanimous consent,” offered a slightly more upbeat Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas. “I think we’re in a little bit better shape.”

Yet all the predictions of 98 senators won’t necessarily determine what bargain the key two — Reid and McConnell — will or won’t strike overnight.

“We had very good conversation,” Reid said in very brief comments to the press late Monday night. “The conversation is going to continue tonight.”

If efforts fall short, it will be up to Reid — who vociferously opposed reforming the filibuster via nuclear option when he was in the minority — to push the trigger button or retreat.

If efforts succeed, however, some senators are eying Monday night’s experience as a blueprint for more effective compromises.

“It was a great opportunity to sit in that chamber,” Heller said, palpably excited about having been occupying the desks where some of the Senate’s most storied statesmen worked. “I think we ought to do that more often. If we actually solve this problem, and that was the reason why — we’ve got to do that more often.”

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  1. The GOP filibusters are the same group that are suing in Federal Court to remove Voting Rights and gerrymander their State voting districts so that the minority GOP represents the majority of districts and controls the legislature by treachery.

    The GOP filibuster group support unlimited and secretive corporate contributions to election campaigns to destroy equal protection. They believe in rule and control by the privileged - that is the definition of a Republic and the way Dean Heller votes. Dean supports rule by the privileged, unlimited gun rights and censorship of speech.

  2. The usual suspects (Hi Jon!) are spreading misinformation again.

    They forget that Reid thought it would be the end of the Senate when the GOP brought up the nuclear option in '05, when they were in the majority.

    Personally, go ahead and end it. Nate Silver sees the GOP as the majority after the '14 elections.

  3. Every Republican who wants to keep the filibuster and the current rules in place, just cite the arguments of this guy:

    What [the American people] don't expect is for one party -- be it Republican or Democrat -- to change the rules in the middle of the game so that they can make all the decisions while the other party is told to sit down and keep quiet.

    The American people want less partisanship in this town, but everyone in this chamber knows that the majority chooses to end the filibuster. If they choose to change the rules and put an end to democratic debate, then the fighting and the bitterness and the gridlock will only get worse.

    We need to rise above the "ends justify the means" mentality because we're here to answer to the people -- all of the people -- not just the ones that are wearing our particular party label.

    If the right of free and open debate is taken away from the minority party, and the millions of Americans who asked us to be their voice, I fear that the already partisan atmosphere in Washington will be poisoned to the point where no one will be able to agree on anything. That doesn't serve anyone's best interests, and it certainly isn't what the patriots who founded this democracy had in mind. We owe the people who sent us here more than that -- we owe them much more.

    Those words are from then-Senator Barack Obama, speaking April 13, 2005.

    Then again, maybe they can point to the arguments of this other guy:

    The filibuster is not a scheme and it certainly isn't new. The filibuster is far from a procedural gimmick. It's part of the fabric of this institution we call the Senate. It was well-known in colonial legislatures before we became a country, and it's an integral part of our country's 214-year history. The first filibuster in the United States Congress happened in 1790. It was used by lawmakers from Virginia and South Carolina who were trying to prevent Philadelphia from hosting the first Congress.

    Since then, the filibuster has been employed hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times. It's been employed on legislative matters, it's been employed on procedural matters relating to the president's nominations for Cabinet and sub-Cabinet posts, and it's been used on judges for all those years. One scholar estimates that 20 percent of the judges nominated by presidents have fallen by the wayside, most of them as a result of filibusters. Senators have used the filibuster to stand up to popular presidents, to block legislation, and, yes, even, as I've stated, to stall executive nominees. The roots of the filibuster are found in the Constitution and in our own rules.

    That, of course" is Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada back in 2005.

  4. TAP says "Senator Reid was talking about judges then and he is talking about Cabinet appointments now."

    Guess you didn't actually read Reid's speech. He specifically defends use of the filibuster to block "legislative matters" and "the president's nominations for Cabinet and sub-Cabinet posts" along with judges.