Sen. Harry Reid Gets Ready to Go Nuclear

The Senate majority leader is preparing to change the chamber’s filibuster rules.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) speaks to members of the media after the Senate Democratic weekly policy luncheon November 19, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Matt Berman and Elahe Izadi
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Matt Berman and Elahe Izadi
Nov. 21, 2013, 5:47 a.m.

“The Amer­ic­an people be­lieve Con­gress is broken,” Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id said on the floor Thursday morn­ing. “The Amer­ic­an people be­lieve that the Sen­ate is broken. And I be­lieve that the Amer­ic­an people are right.”

With that, the Nevada Demo­crat set in mo­tion a fight over chan­ging the Sen­ate’s fili­buster rules that has been years in the mak­ing. There were roughly 67 sen­at­ors on the floor for Re­id’s re­marks, which is very rare for the Sen­ate.

The move for a rule change comes after a series of Re­pub­lic­an fili­busters on Obama nom­in­ees to the D.C. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals. Re­id said on the floor that he would like to see an up-or-down vote on nom­in­a­tions, not in­clud­ing the Su­preme Court. Cur­rently, those nom­in­ees need to re­ceive 60 votes in or­der to cut off de­bate and move to the up-or-down vote.

The Sen­ate, Re­id said, has “wasted hours and wasted days between fili­busters.” The need for change, he said, “is so, so very ob­vi­ous.” He ad­ded, “It’s time to change the Sen­ate be­fore the in­sti­tu­tion be­comes ob­sol­ete.”

Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, second in com­mand in the Re­pub­lic­an Sen­ate lead­er­ship, has already tweeted to call Re­id’s floor speech a “tem­per tan­trum.” Re­id and Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell spoke for about three minutes be­fore Re­id spoke.

Mc­Con­nell came to the floor fol­low­ing Re­id’s speech, call­ing the rules de­bate a failed dis­trac­tion from Obama­care. “This strategy of dis­tract, dis­tract, dis­tract is get­ting old,” he said. The fili­buster chal­lenge re­minds Amer­ic­ans, Mc­Con­nell said, of the Demo­crats “power grab” on Obama­care. Demo­crats, Mc­Con­nell said, have at­temp­ted to “cook up a fake fight over judges.”

The Ken­tucky Re­pub­lic­an man­aged to squeeze in a joke at the ex­pense of Pres­id­ent Obama: “If you like the rules of the Sen­ate, you can keep them!”

Lead­er­ship began count­ing votes this week to see if they had the 51 needed to make a change to the rules. The tide began to turn when Demo­crat­ic Sens. Di­anne Fein­stein and Bar­bara Box­er of Cali­for­nia backed a change.

“What changed my mind is the ob­struc­tion­ism that I’ve seen, day after day, week after week, hour after hour, month after month, year after year from my Re­pub­lic­an friends,” Box­er told Na­tion­al Journ­al Daily.

Pro­gress­ive groups had been a ques­tion mark on wheth­er they would sup­port Re­id’s pur­suit of a rules change, for fear that Re­pub­lic­ans would do the same once they take con­trol of the Sen­ate. But a group that in­cludes Demo­cracy for Amer­ica, CREDO, and Daily Kos an­nounced it would de­liv­er a pe­ti­tion con­tain­ing more than 285,000 sig­na­tures back­ing the move.

In 2005, Re­pub­lic­ans held the ma­jor­ity in the Sen­ate and threatened to change the rules, and Demo­crats cri­ti­cized the “nuc­le­ar op­tion” then.

At the close of his re­sponse to Re­id, Mc­Con­nell sug­ges­ted Thursday morn­ing that Demo­crats “may re­gret” a rule change “a lot soon­er than you think.”

Want to know more on what the “nuc­le­ar op­tion” ac­tu­ally does, and how Re­id will have to act from here? Check out this full re­port from the Con­gres­sion­al Re­search Ser­vice.

iBrian Resnick and Michael Catalin contributed to this article.
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