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Did Reid Break His Word To McConnell About The Nuclear Option?

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McConnell's referring to two different comments Reid made on the floor, two years apart. Both came after the two men agreed on trivial changes to Senate rules and customs, at the beginning of this Congress and the previous one. Most recently, Reid said any further rules changes in the current Congress would occur under regular order, which typically requires two-thirds support in the Senate. That time, his staff quickly clarified that Reid's pledge was contingent upon Republicans adhering to the spirit of the rules reforms.

But in January 2011, Reid's remarks had a "Read. My. Lips." quality to them.

"The minority leader and I have discussed this issue on numerous occasions," Reid said on the Senate floor, according to the congressional record. "I know that there is a strong interest in rules changes among many in my caucus. In fact, I would support many of these changes through regular order. But I agree that the proper way to change Senate rules is through the procedures established in those rules, and I will oppose any effort in this Congress or the next to change the Senate's rules other than through the regular order."

Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson says the remarks were implicitly conditioned on an understanding that Republicans wouldn't block nominees except under extraordinary circumstances.

"You can't credit McConnell's argument on its face," he said. "This agreement and the one from January were both two-way streets -- Republicans have a responsibility to honor their commitments, and they haven't."

Months after the Democratic push for filibuster reform failed in January 2011, Reid noted on several occasions that the agreement he had reached with McConnell had fallen apart, and that he'd erred by not changing the rules at the beginning of the 112th Congress. And since that time he's been pretty clear that he'd only resort to changing the rules by majority vote under extraordinary circumstances -- such as if Republicans were to serially block key nominees.

But that's not the impression Reid left when he initially made the comments two and a half years ago.

About The Author


Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at