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How Many Votes Does It Take to Go Nuclear? How Many Votes Does It Take to Go Nuclear?

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How Many Votes Does It Take to Go Nuclear?


It took four votes to change the senate rules in a process that was difficult for laymen to follow.(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

When posterity looks back on the day Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., changed the Senate's rules and asks what playbook he was running, let the record show it took four votes for the Senate to blow up its rules on nominations.

First, the scene: Reid stood at his lectern as senators took their seats on the floor. In the rare cases when the Senate gathers en masse on the floor, most tend to look bored, checking their phones or casually chatting with one another. But on Thursday, most senators listened attentively to Reid and then to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.


Having filed a motion to reconsider Patricia Millett's appointment to the D.C. Circuit, Reid effectively used her nomination as the instrument to change the rules.

The Senate's jargon, while arcane, has a certain rhythm. And as if this whole process weren't mind-bending enough, the actual vote that resulted in the rules change saw Democrats voting no. That's because the question was on upholding the ruling of the chair that 60 votes are needed to end debate on nominations.

With that in mind, here's how each vote went and what you need to know about each.

  • First, there was the motion to proceed to the motion to reconsider the motion to invoke cloture on Millett. This effectively ended debate on reconsideration of the cloture motion on Millett's nomination. It was agreed to on a 57-40 vote with three senators voting present. All Democrats and Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska voted yes. Georgia Republicans Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson along with Orrin Hatch of Utah voted present.
  • At this point McConnell, perhaps stalling for time to work out a compromise, moved to adjourn. That vote failed on a mostly party-line vote of 46-54, with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., voting with Republicans.
  • Then came a motion to reconsider the motion to invoke cloture on Millett. This vote essentially put the Senate in position to invoke cloture once again. It was agreed to 57-43, with Collins and Murkowski voting again with Reid. Chambliss, Isakson, and Hatch voted with the GOP.
  • After McConnell made a few parliamentary inquiries, Reid sought a ruling from the chair on whether Senate rules held that it takes 60 votes to invoke cloture on nominations. Preident Pro Tempore Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., ruled that they do. Then Reid appealed the ruling. Senators were asked whether the decision should stand and voted 48-52 against sustaining the chair's ruling. Reid lost three Democrats: Manchin and Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan and Mark Pryor of Arkansas.

At that point, the Senate had officially gone nuclear. Clear as the sound of a gavel coming down, right?

This article appears in the November 22, 2013 edition of NJ Daily.

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