(CBS) Washington DC Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is poised to put to a vote a proposal that would prevent Republicans from using a filibuster to block judicial and executive branch nominees.
Reid is proposing the so-called “nuclear option,” a procedural maneuver that would allow him to change the Senate rules with a 51-vote majority and make it more difficult for the minority party to use the filibuster. He has threatened several times in recent years to change the rules in the face of Republican opposition, but each time was able to reach a deal to avert the standoff.
Not so this time. In recent weeks, Republicans have blocked several of the president’s nominees, including Rep. Melvin Watt, D-N.C., to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency, and four nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, prompting an outcry from Reid.
“The consistent and unprecedented obstruction by the Republican caucus has turned ‘advise and consent’ to ‘deny and obstruct’,” he said on the Senate floor. “It’s time to get the Senate working again, not for the good of the current Democratic majority or some future Republican majority but for the good of the United States of America.”
Reid believes he has the votes necessary to change the Senate rules such that Republicans would no longer be able to use the filibuster to bock judicial and executive branch nominees. That would change the vote threshold from 60, the number needed to overcome a filibuster, to 51, a simple Senate majority that represents less than the Democrats’ 55-seat majority (a figure that includes the Senate’s two independents, who usually caucus with the Democrats).
Aides say the vote could come as early as Thursday, in the waning hours before the Senate leaves for their Thanksgiving recess. As a last-minute test, Reid put forth the nominations of two judges one more time to see if Republicans would still block the nominations even with the threat of the nuclear option on the horizon.
Speaking after Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., sought to tie the Democrats’ attempted rule change to the troubled rollout of the Affordable Care Act, arguing that Democrats were concocting “a fake fight over judges that aren’t even needed” in order to distract from the rollout.
He also scolded Democratic lawmakers who have been in the Senate before while Democrats were in the minority. “You should know better,” he said.