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 Catalini
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.”

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