The Price Reid Will Pay for Going Nuclear

The move allows him more leeway on nominees, but it will make it more difficult for him to do just about anything else.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) talks to reporters about the use of the 'nuclear option' at the U.S. Capitol November 21.
National Journal
Patrick Reis Matt Berman
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Patrick Reis Matt Berman
Nov. 22, 2013, 4:30 a.m.

Harry Re­id won a great vic­tory Thursday by ram­ming through the nuc­le­ar op­tion, but it’s a vic­tory he’ll pay for for the rest of his ca­reer.

Re­pub­lic­ans — furi­ous over Re­id’s nuc­le­ar man­euver — have more in­cent­ive than ever to find new ways to make trouble. And so, while Re­id now has more lever­age to move most nom­in­ees, he’ll find new hurdles when he tries to do just about any­thing else.

The on­slaught star­ted Thursday, when Demo­crats asked for un­an­im­ous con­sent to move le­gis­la­tion re­new­ing severe re­stric­tions on non­met­al fire­arms that es­cape de­tec­tion from met­al de­tect­ors. The le­gis­la­tion is largely non­con­tro­ver­sial, and it was ini­tially ex­pec­ted to pass without in­cid­ent.

But Alabama Re­pub­lic­an Jeff Ses­sions ob­jec­ted to the un­an­im­ous-con­sent ar­range­ment, say­ing that it was the wrong time to move the bill. In­stead, the meas­ure will lan­guish at least un­til the Sen­ate re­con­venes Dec. 9, the same day the ban is set to ex­pire. Also left to lan­guish: a vote on Pa­tri­cia Mil­lett, the D.C. Cir­cuit Court nom­in­ee whose blocked nom­in­a­tion provided the im­petus for Re­id to go nuc­le­ar.

And those two hurdles are just a pre­view of what’s to come, as Re­pub­lic­ans’ tools to not just delay Re­id’s ob­ject­ives, but to block them en­tirely.

The so-called nuc­le­ar op­tion, which ends the minor­ity’s abil­ity to fili­buster ju­di­cial and ex­ec­ut­ive nom­in­ees, does not bar fili­busters of nom­in­ees to the Su­preme Court. Now that Re­pub­lic­ans have lost their voice on lower-court nom­in­ees, they’re all the less likely to play ball when Obama needs their votes to fill va­can­cies on the coun­try’s premi­er ju­di­cial pan­el.

None of this neg­ates that, for now at least, Re­id’s suc­cess­ful change to the rules is a net vic­tory for Demo­crats. The new­found free­dom it gives Obama to shape the ju­di­cial sys­tem will af­fect the course of Amer­ic­an gov­ern­ment for years.

But Iowa Re­pub­lic­an Chuck Grass­ley took to the Sen­ate floor Thursday to warn Demo­crats of the price they’ll pay if, and likely when, the polit­ic­al tide breaks in the oth­er dir­ec­tion: “Ma­jor­it­ies are fickle. Ma­jor­it­ies are fleet­ing. Here today, gone to­mor­row.”

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