WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, claiming Republicans have engaged in unprecedented obstruction of presidential nominations, signaled Thursday that he would proceed with long-threatened changes to Senate rules to limit use of the filibuster.
In remarks on the Senate floor, the Nevada Democrat called it a “disturbing trend” that Republicans have blocked or delayed some of President Obama’s appointees even when their qualifications are not in doubt, bogging them down “with unreasonable demands.”
He cited an earlier filibuster of Chuck Hagel to be Defense secretary and continued delays in the confirmation of Obama’s picks to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Labor Department and Environmental Protection Agency, as well as appointments to the National Labor Relations Board. The obstruction, Reid said, “has continued at every level and through creative new methods.”
“They're blocking qualified nominees because they refuse to accept the law of the land,” he said, adding that the American people “know the Senate hasn't worked. And we need to do something to change that.”
Reid was convening a meeting of Senate Democrats to outline the strategy for implementing rules changes that would streamline the process for confirming executive appointments, and possibly most judicial nominations, by simple majority votes, limiting the use of the filibuster to legislation. The filibuster is part of the Senate rules and can be changed by a majority vote.
The Republican Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, bitterly protested the threat to employ what he called the “nuclear option,” saying it would be “one of the most consequential changes to the United States Senate in the history of our nation.”
“This is no small matter,” he said. “And I guarantee you it's a decision that if they actually go through with it they will live to regret.”
The Kentucky Republican said Reid was manufacturing a crisis to appease Democratic allies in labor and the party’s liberal base to replace the Senate mandate of “advise and consent” with “sit down and shut up.”
He noted that every Obama Cabinet choice brought to the Senate floor for a vote this year has been confirmed and maintained that it was Reid’s decision not to schedule votes on other nominations that is holding them up, not Republican obstruction.
Reid countered that he has no such power to unilaterally bring nominations to the floor, and that McConnell also proved his point – that some nominees who were eventually confirmed with overwhelming bipartisan majorities still had to wait more than a month to work through the confirmation process.
He even compared the situation to depriving the manager of Washington's baseball team, the Nationals, with key players until long after the season had begun.
"We shouldn't be waiting around here for months and months and months to get a vote," he said.
Reid’s comments on the Senate floor to start Thursday’s session drew a number of Republicans to the chamber to protest. Some senators suggested that the full Senate convene in private – perhaps in the historic Old Senate Chamber – to have a fuller debate before acting. Reid said he might be open to such a discussion, but in the meantime would schedule votes on some of the controversial nominees.