Senate Republicans Daring Democrats to Go Nuclear

(FILES) A file picture taken in 1971 shows a French nuclear test in the south Pacific atoll of Mururoa. Expertises on a 'probable link' between the French nuclear tests in Algeria and Polynesia and cancers of soldiers exposed revive the hope of a change for victims compensation law.
National Journal
Michael Catalin
Add to Briefcase
Michael Catalin
Nov. 7, 2013, 1:18 p.m.

Don’t ex­pect an­oth­er sum­mit in the Old Sen­ate Cham­ber to de­fuse an­oth­er nuc­le­ar stan­doff in the Sen­ate this fall.

At least, that’s the mes­sage from a num­ber of Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors as the de­bate heats up again over chan­ging the Sen­ate’s rules to weak­en the minor­ity’s abil­ity to block nom­in­a­tions — the so-called nuc­le­ar op­tion.

“This is what I’ve told my Demo­crat friends,” said Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho. “Do it. Be­cause when we have a Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­ent and we’ve got 55 mem­bers of the U.S. Sen­ate or 51, we’re gonna be able to re­peal Obama­care with a simple ma­jor­ity.

Sen­at­ors are en­ga­ging in the nuc­le­ar-op­tion fight again since Re­pub­lic­ans blocked two nom­in­ees last week. The GOP is poised to pre­vent an­oth­er ju­di­cial nom­in­ee when the Sen­ate re­turns next week and con­siders Cor­ne­lia Pil­lard to be a judge for the U.S. Court of Ap­peals for the D.C. Cir­cuit.

Re­pub­lic­ans ex­pect Pil­lard will not get the 60 votes needed to over­come a fili­buster.

Demo­crat­ic lead­er­ship will not com­mit to go­ing nuc­le­ar.

“I don’t think any fi­nal de­cision has been made,” said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Sen­ate Demo­crat. But, he ad­ded: “There comes a tip­ping point.” Durbin did not elab­or­ate on what the point would be.

A Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic lead­er­ship aide said that while Demo­crats had 51 votes to change the rules on ex­ec­ut­ive nom­in­ees in Ju­ly, it’s not clear there are 51 votes to change the rules on ju­di­cial nom­in­ees. The dif­fer­ence, the aide said, is that some groups ad­voc­at­ing for abor­tion rights worry about the im­plic­a­tions for a rules change should there be a Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­ent and a Re­pub­lic­an-con­trolled Sen­ate.

Still, a fa­mil­i­ar group of Demo­crats, in­clud­ing Sens. Jeff Merkley of Ore­gon and Tom Ud­all of New Mex­ico, are call­ing for a change in the rules.

So far, the is­sue does not seem to have reached the fevered pitch it did over the sum­mer, with Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers keep­ing their dis­tance from the dis­cus­sion.

But rank-and-file GOP sen­at­ors are is­su­ing a double-dog dare to Demo­crats.

“At some point you say, ‘Just bring it on,’ ” said Sen. Bob Cork­er, R-Tenn. “I don’t think Demo­crats would want a Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­ent put­ting people on the Su­preme Court with 51 votes.”

While Demo­crats sug­gest chan­ging the rules to af­fect only ex­ec­ut­ive or per­haps even ju­di­cial nom­in­a­tions, Re­pub­lic­ans ar­gue that such a change would open the floodgates and pave the way for them to change the rules on le­gis­la­tion as well, if they take back the cham­ber.

“That kind of breaks the mold, doesn’t it?” Risch said. “If you do it on ex­ec­ut­ive nom­in­a­tions — what dif­fer­ence does it make [for le­gis­la­tion]? If you feel so strongly about it that you’re will­ing to break the rules to change the rules, what dif­fer­ence does it make?”

While it was a closed-door meet­ing in the Old Sen­ate Cham­ber that seemed to break the lo­g­jam in Ju­ly, Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans said they knew of no bi­par­tis­an be­hind-the-scenes meet­ings on avoid­ing the is­sue this time.

Asked wheth­er Re­pub­lic­ans are ac­tu­ally dar­ing Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id, D-Nev., to try to change the rules, Sen. Jerry Mor­an, R-Kan., who over­sees the Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Sen­at­ori­al Com­mit­tee, thought for a mo­ment.

“Sen­at­or Re­id and his col­leagues just need to de­cide if they’re gonna change the rules or not,” Mor­an re­spon­ded. “If this is what they’re gonna do every time, I don’t think we’re in­ter­ested in be­ing in­tim­id­ated by that.”

What We're Following See More »
Colin Powell to Vote for Clinton
2 hours ago
Cook Report: Dems to Pick up 5-7 Seats, Retake Senate
3 hours ago

Since the release of the Access Hollywood tape, on which Donald Trump boasted of sexually assaulting women, "Senate Republicans have seen their fortunes dip, particularly in states like Florida, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada and Pennsylvania," where Hillary Clinton now leads. Jennifer Duffy writes that she now expects Democrats to gain five to seven seats—enough to regain control of the chamber.

"Of the Senate seats in the Toss Up column, Trump only leads in Indiana and Missouri where both Republicans are running a few points behind him. ... History shows that races in the Toss Up column never split down the middle; one party tends to win the lion’s share of them."

Tying Republicans to Trump Now an Actionable Offense
5 hours ago

"Some Republicans are running so far away from their party’s nominee that they are threatening to sue TV stations for running ads that suggest they support Donald Trump. Just two weeks before Election Day, five Republicans―Reps. Bob Dold (R-Ill.), Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), David Jolly (R-Fla.), John Katko (R-N.Y.) and Brian Fitzpatrick, a Pennsylvania Republican running for an open seat that’s currently occupied by his brother―contend that certain commercials paid for by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee provide false or misleading information by connecting them to the GOP nominee. Trump is so terrible, these Republicans are essentially arguing, that tying them to him amounts to defamation."

Former Congressman Schock Fined $10,000
6 hours ago

Former Illinois GOP Congressman Aaron Schock "recently agreed to pay a $10,000 fine for making an excessive solicitation for a super PAC that was active in his home state of Illinois four years ago." Schock resigned from Congress after a story about his Downton Abbey-themed congressional office raised questions about how he was using taxpayer dollars.

Clinton Reaching Out to GOP Senators
7 hours ago

If you need a marker for how confident Hillary Clinton is at this point of the race, here's one: CNN's Jeff Zeleny reports "she's been talking to Republican senators, old allies and new, saying that she is willing to work with them and govern."


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.