“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.