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Reid Considering "Nuclear Option" on Nominees

Reid Considering "Nuclear Option" on Nominees

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - November 19, 2013

The "nuclear option" is back.

With Republican lawmakers blocking three D.C. Circuit Court nominees, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday he is mulling a change to arcane upper chamber rules that would allow a simple majority vote for executive appointees.

“I’m at the point where we need to do something to allow government to function,” Reid told reporters. “I’m considering looking at the rules,” he said.

Reid would not speculate whether he has the 51 votes required for the filibuster rules change -- the so-called nuclear option. But the majority leader is gaining support from some unlikely Democratic allies, such as California Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, who have signaled they would now support a rules change.

On Monday night, the Senate voted 53-38 against proceeding with the nomination of Robert Wilkins to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. The nominations of Nina Pillard and Patricia Millet were also blocked earlier this month. Senate Republicans argue that having an eight-person panel is unnecessary given the workload, and have accused Democrats of packing the now-evenly divided court with liberal judges.

“If advise and consent means anything at all, then occasionally there’s going to be a situation where consent is not given,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday, seeming undeterred by Reid’s threat. “So far, majorities of both sides over the years have resisted the temptation to break the rules to change the rules, but we know full well the majority could decide to break the rules to change the rules if they so chose."

President Obama lashed out at the GOP’s obstructive stance on Monday, saying, “When it comes to judicial nominations, I am fulfilling my constitutional responsibility, but Congress is not."

Reid said he would not back down from getting all three of the nominees through.

In July, he took his finger off the nuclear option trigger after a Senate deal was struck to move forward on seven stalled nominations by replacing two nominees for the National Labor Relations Board with new appointees. But that agreement, forged with Democrats by Republican Sen. John McCain, did not apply to future nominations. Now, the Senate is at the same crossroads, and more agitated Democrats are looking for another way out of the impasse.

McCain said he didn’t know whether he would intervene this time, and warned of longer-term consequences of rules changes involving the minority’s rights in the chamber. “If I were the Democrats, I would be a little cautious because Republicans will be in the majority some day,” he told reporters. “And if you break the rules by just a 51-vote margin, you are then breaking all the rules of the Senate, and that’s the serious aspect of this.”

But Reid argued, as he did over the summer, that GOP obstruction of nominees has reached unprecedented levels: "This is not how democracy's supposed to work or function, and the American people are sick of this. In the name of simple fairness, any president -- not just President Obama, Democrat or Republican -- needs to be able to have the team that he wants in place." 

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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