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August 3, 2015

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LETTER FROM WASHINGTON:

This time, D.C. pols are fighting over … President Obama’s nominees

Sun coverage

Senate Republicans and Democrats are all but committed to a long summer’s fight over the speed at which President Barack Obama’s nominees get cleared through the Senate.

According to Republicans, the pace of things is fine. But according to Democrats, things aren’t moving fast enough — and some are starting to drop hints that if pushed, they might start rattling the sabre for filibuster reform again.

“It’s delay for delay’s sake,” Sen. Charles Schumer, a member of Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid’s leadership team, said last week of Republican behavior. “If they think they can win a debate over whether the Senate will change its rules, they might very well be mistaken.”

Republicans have objected, arguing Obama’s second-term nominees have been approved more quickly than former President George W. Bush’s were and accusing Democrats of fomenting a “culture of intimidation”: Do it our way, or we “blow the Senate up,” as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell put it.

Democrats are frustrated by what they see as Republicans’ overuse of the procedural filibuster — a threat to block a bill by talking it to death unless the Senate can come up with 60 votes.

Democrats this year toyed with the idea of making a rule change known as the “nuclear option” — have a vote, by simple majority, to allow only simple-majority votes.

But Reid got gun-shy and decided to strike a handshake deal with Republicans instead: He would allow them to bring up amendments to bills, and they would agree not to filibuster judicial and agency nominees. Now Reid’s dropping thunderous hints that his patience with that arrangement is running thin.

“The agreement we reached in January has done virtually nothing to alleviate the obstruction we have seen for five months now,” Reid said, listing the nominees who had encountered delays: Tom Perez, nominee for labor secretary (whose history working as a garbage collector to put himself through school clearly fascinates the majority leader); and Rob Cordray, who for 525 days has become the pawn in ideological fight over the National Labor Relations Board.

“We’re not picking a fight on any nomination,” Reid said. “We’re just saying this can’t go on.”

But it will likely go on, at least for a while, because the stakes are too high for Reid to push too far too soon.

Reid has pledged to clear the decks for the immigration reform debate as soon as Congress returns from Memorial Day recess. The Gang of Eight’s immigration bill cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee last week and is ready for consideration by the full Senate.

Immigration reform has been an elusive prize for Reid since he took over as majority leader of the Senate. This issue likely carried him to victory in his re-election race in 2010, and it’s the issue on which Democrats seem to have held sway over Republican hearts and minds — at least in the Senate — since the 2012 election.

In short, it’s not worth pitching the most perfect moment for immigration reform he’s ever encountered for another ornery round of sparring over procedural tactics.

“I am not going to do anything to interfere with the immigration bill,” Reid said last week.

But as soon as the immigration process is over — no promises.

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