WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid signaled his intent to make good on a threat to deploy the "nuclear option" by changing Senate filibuster rules, a move he said was necessary after Republicans continued to hold up presidential appointments without cause.
According to aides, Reid will begin taking the steps Thursday to eliminate use of the filibuster on executive branch and certain judicial nominations. If he succeeds, such appointees could be confirmed by a simple majority vote, rather than the 60-vote threshold that has become the standard in recent years.
The Nevada Democrat's decision to change a historic Senate rule that has long given the minority party unique leverage threatens to escalate the spoiled relationship between the parties in Congress. Republicans are threatening to retaliate against what they called a "power grab."
In remarks on the Senate floor, Reid conceded that neither party’s hands were “entirely clean on this issue.” Republicans have noted that Democrats in the past, when they were in the minority party in the Senate, also used the filibuster.
But Reid said the time had come to change the rule.
“Can anyone say that the Senate is working now?” he said in remarks to an unusually packed chamber. “I don't think so… The American people are fed up with this kind of obstruction and gridlock.”
Twice this year, Senate Democrats had considered changing the rules. In January, Reid sided with more senior colleagues by pursuing only minor changes to procedural rules to speed up certain Senate processes, despite the interest of newer Democrats in making broader changes.
In July, Reid was poised to eliminate the ability to filibuster certain executive branch nominees until a group of Republicans agreed at the eleventh hour to support stalled Cabinet nominations.
After that agreement, both sides expressed their hope that tensions would ease. But a significant break occurred this week, after Republicans blocked a vote on the third straight Obama nominee to the important D.C. Circuit court. More senior Democrats who had been resistant to rules changes, including Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), said they would support the move.
Republicans accused Democrats of seeking to change the subject from the problematic rollout of President Obama’s healthcare law.
“It doesn’t distract people from Obamacare, it reminds them of Obamacare,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, following Reid at the lectern. “It only reinforces the narrative of a party that is willing to do and say just about anything to get its way.”