Senate Republicans Give Reid Lumps of Coal for Christmas

National Journal
Michael Catalin
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Michael Catalin
Dec. 17, 2013, 2:40 p.m.

Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans this week un­veiled a fresh tac­tic in their at­tempt to pun­ish Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id for chan­ging the rules of the Sen­ate: for­cing roll-call votes on pro­ced­ur­al ques­tions on nom­in­a­tions. The only prob­lem is, it’s not clear if it’s work­ing.

By threat­en­ing to use all the post-clo­ture de­bate time, Re­pub­lic­ans hoped to spur Demo­crat­ic sen­at­ors to pres­sure Re­id not to keep the Sen­ate in ses­sion over the week­end and in­to Christ­mas week. Demo­crats, the think­ing goes, don’t want to be in ses­sion so close to the hol­i­days.

But if there’s one les­son Demo­crats learned throughout the shut­down, it’s the value of stay­ing united.

“They know ul­ti­mately that we’re gonna get it done,” said As­sist­ant Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Dick Durbin, D-Ill. “We’re gonna stick with it till it’s done, we’re com­mit­ted to it. We’ve waited too long to get this go­ing.”

Pub­licly, Re­id’s still threat­en­ing to work in­to the hol­i­day week.

“We have a lot to do be­fore Christ­mas, but we can get it done with a little bit of co­oper­a­tion from Re­pub­lic­ans on oth­er is­sues be­fore us,” he said. “If not, we will face an­oth­er long series of votes that will bring us to the week­end and at least the first part of next week.”

In ef­fect, now that Re­pub­lic­ans can’t block nom­in­a­tions, all they can do is slow down the con­firm­a­tion pro­cess, us­ing up all the de­bate time after clo­ture that the rules en­title them to. But it’s not clear ex­actly what Re­pub­lic­ans want — short of get­ting back their power to block nom­in­a­tions, which is not likely to hap­pen.

“It’s a tragedy the way the Sen­ate is be­ing run in­to the ground, by ba­sic­ally one per­son,” said Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell, R-Ky. “And I hope that one of the ma­jor­ity lead­er’s New Year’s res­ol­u­tions is go­ing to be to op­er­ate the Sen­ate in quite a dif­fer­ent man­ner.”

This week, Re­id filed clo­ture on 10 nom­in­a­tions, in­clud­ing Janet Yel­len to serve as chair­man of the Fed­er­al Re­serve. Mc­Con­nell forced roll-call votes on two of the 10 nom­in­a­tions, spe­cific­ally the mo­tion to pro­ceed to ex­ec­ut­ive ses­sion. In the­ory, he could have called for votes on all the nom­in­a­tions, but re­len­ted.

Be­hind the scenes aides and even mem­bers ad­mit that they’re not eager to be here over the week­end and in­to Christ­mas week.

Re­id him­self signaled that a deal to wrap up later this week could be had, say­ing he’s open to con­sid­er­ing an agree­ment that res­ults in the Sen­ate con­firm­ing only some of the pending nom­in­ees. That would sig­nal that per­haps the Re­pub­lic­ans’ tac­tics were gain­ing a foothold and that run­ning out the clock on nom­in­a­tions could be an ef­fect­ive tool.

But Re­id hastened to add that any such deal must also in­clude pla­cing re­main­ing nom­in­a­tions on the cal­en­dar for next ses­sion rather than send­ing them back to the pres­id­ent, as would oc­cur at the end of the ses­sion. “I would be happy to look at something like that,” Re­id said, be­fore adding that the Sen­ate would con­firm some nom­in­ees for sure, in­clud­ing Yel­len.

Asked about the wis­dom of the GOP ap­proach, Sen. Lamar Al­ex­an­der, R-Tenn., who spear­headed Re­pub­lic­an op­pos­i­tion to the rules change, sug­ges­ted speak­ing to Mc­Con­nell. Mc­Con­nell’s of­fice said the lead­er wouldn’t dis­cuss in­tern­al strategy.

Durbin offered his own view of the stick­ing point between parties.

“Part of it is the Re­pub­lic­ans want us to go through the pain of the mo­ment — hav­ing every roll call and run­ning out every time peri­od,” he said. “They want us to go through that be­cause they’re very un­happy with the chan­ging of the rule.”

That is, of course, an un­der­state­ment. Re­pub­lic­ans are furi­ous that Re­id changed the rules.

“He in fact has be­come the ob­struc­tion­ist-in-chief by cut­ting off our right to of­fer amend­ments, cut­ting off our right to of­fer de­bates, bring­ing bills to the floor by Rule 14,” Al­ex­an­der said, re­fer­ring to the rule by which Re­id can cir­cum­vent the com­mit­tee pro­cess. “He’s run­ning the Sen­ate like a one-man show, and we don’t like it.”

Des­pite their abil­ity to ex­ploit the clock as their chief means of re­tali­at­ing, Re­pub­lic­ans seem open to find­ing a way to go home for the hol­i­days and are in talks with Demo­crat­ic lead­ers to avoid week­end work.

“It turns out,” Durbin said, “as a rule in the Sen­ate, con­ver­sa­tion in­creases as you get later in the week.”

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