Senate Democrats Leaning Toward Nuclear Option

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) (C) talks with Commodity Futures Trading Commission Chairman Gary Gensler after a hearing of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill July 30, 2013 in Washington, DC. Gensler and SEC Chairman Mary Jo White testified and took questions from Senators during the hearing titled, 'Mitigating Systemic Risk in Financial Markets through Wall Street Reforms.'
National Journal
Michael Catalin and Elahe Izadi
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Michael Catalin Elahe Izadi
Nov. 20, 2013, 5:15 p.m.

Sen­ate Demo­crats have markedly shif­ted their stance on the “nuc­le­ar op­tion” is­sue, with lead­ers say­ing more em­phat­ic­ally that they’re fed up with Re­pub­lic­an fili­busters and ready to make a change.

Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id said earli­er this week that he’s ex­amin­ing a change in the cham­ber’s rules to con­firm pres­id­en­tial nom­in­a­tions via a simply ma­jor­ity vote, in or­der to clear three nom­in­ees to the U.S. Court of Ap­peals for the Dis­trict of Columbia Cir­cuit. Now lead­er­ship is act­ively count­ing votes and is “very close” to the 51 needed to change the rules, a Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic lead­er­ship aide said.

“I be­lieve when the lead­er­ship de­cides to act, there will be 51 votes,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., a lead­ing pro­ponent of chan­ging the rules. “I do think that we’re in a com­pletely dif­fer­ent uni­verse now, where the prin­ciple of vot­ing to block a fi­nal vote or not al­low­ing an up-or-down vote simply be­cause you want to deny a pres­id­ent to fill ju­di­cial va­can­cies, as op­posed to any con­cerns over the qual­i­fic­a­tions of a nom­in­ee, has pushed us to the brink.”

In­deed, the fight is dif­fer­ent this time, as op­posed to this sum­mer, when sen­at­ors cut a deal to avoid go­ing nuc­le­ar. That fight was over ex­ec­ut­ive ap­point­ments, in­clud­ing re­cess ap­point­ments that faced ju­di­cial chal­lenges, which Re­pub­lic­ans ob­jec­ted to. This time around, Re­pub­lic­ans ob­ject to Pres­id­ent Obama filling the D.C. Cir­cuit Court with his ap­point­ments, ar­guing that the court’s work­load is light and it doesn’t need more judges.

Sen. Lamar Al­ex­an­der, R-Tenn., one of his party’s lead­ing op­pon­ents of the nuc­le­ar op­tion, said there’s a polit­ic­al com­pon­ent for Demo­crats to con­sider as well. Vul­ner­able Demo­crats fa­cing reelec­tion in 2014 could have to “an­swer for” the rules change if their votes res­ult in con­tro­ver­sial judges join­ing the court.

“I, for one, am tired of it,” said Al­ex­an­der, who sug­ges­ted on the floor that go­ing nuc­le­ar would be “Obama­care II,” be­cause the health law was passed without GOP votes. “I think it’s a fake crisis.”

Not all Demo­crats are on board with the move. Sen. Carl Lev­in, D-Mich., has been a vo­cal crit­ic against chan­ging the rules.

“I love Carl Lev­in, OK? He’s one of my friends. We’re go­ing to miss him so very, very much,” Re­id said Tues­day. “But the world’s not like it was 30 years ago. Dif­fer­ent world here.”

Sup­port for re­form­ing the rules grew this week with the ad­di­tion of Demo­crat­ic Sens. Di­anne Fein­stein and Bar­bara Box­er, both of Cali­for­nia. Box­er told Na­tion­al Journ­al Daily that Re­pub­lic­ans “don’t want to give the pres­id­ent his team.”

“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 said.

Asked wheth­er she feared that the GOP could turn the tables on Demo­crats if it re­takes the ma­jor­ity, Box­er sug­ges­ted that the big­ger con­cern is not con­firm­ing the side­lined ju­di­cial nom­in­ees now.

“I have to just say that I’m sit­ting here now — this is my time here — and I’m very will­ing to give a lot of rights and a lot of lee­way to the minor­ity,” Box­er said. “I’ve been in the minor­ity, but it’s be­ing ab­used, and it just can’t go on.”

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