Harry Reid Sets Up Nuclear Showdown To Protect Consumer, Labor Agencies

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has set up a high-stakes Senate rules showdown this week over the confirmation of several presidential nominees, threatening to eliminate the filibuster for executive nominations (but not judges or legislation) with a simple majority — the so-called nuclear option — if Republicans block them.

Test votes will begin Tuesday on seven of President Obama’s executive nominees. But the real threat comes down to the confirmation of nominees for two agencies that Republicans dislike: The National Labor Relations Board and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

“It is a disturbing trend when Republicans are willing to block executive branch nominees even if they have no objection about the qualification of the nominee,” Reid said last Thursday. “They’re blocking qualified nominees because they refuse to accept the law of the land.”Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has aggressively warned Reid not to go nuclear, promising him that he’ll regret doing so. He concedes that Obama’s picks to run the Labor Department (Tom Perez), Environmental Protection Agency (Gina McCarthy) and Export-Import Bank (Fred Hochberg) have 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.

That means the filibuster reform threat is really about the three Democratic nominees to serve on the NLRB (Mark Gaston Pearce, Sharon Block and Richard Griffin), and Richard Cordray to lead the CFPB. The NLRB, among other things, enforces the law barring unfair labor practices; the CFPB, created by the 2010 financial regulatory reform law, protects consumers from predatory banking practices.

The clash over these nominees is unique because Republicans haven’t voiced objections to their qualifications or character. Republicans don’t want these agencies to function unless they’re weakened, a tactic that resembles an attempt at nullification.

McConnell warned Thursday during a floor clash with Reid that if the Democrat follows through with a partisan rules change, he’ll “be remembered as the worst leader in the Senate, ever.”

Labor unions have been aggressively pushing Democrats to go nuclear if Republicans don’t agree to staff the NLRB. They warn that due to a court ruling invalidating Obama’s recess appointments, the board will be inoperable this fall without Senate action.

Reid signaled last week that if Republicans confirm all seven nominees, he’ll back off his nuclear option threat — which involves changing the rules of the Senate with a 51-vote threshold (regular order requires a two-thirds majority for a rules change). Democrats say they have the votes to eliminate the filibuster for executive nominations, but privately admit they lack the votes to scrap the tool when it comes to blocking judges or legislation.

Unlike the filibuster reform debate last winter that ended with a whimper, this time Reid is more fed-up and working in tandem with the drivers of the rules change effort.

At 6 p.m. ET Monday, the Senate will hold a rare, all-member meeting behind closed doors so senators can discuss the matter. McConnell said Sunday he hopes that meeting will persuade Democrats to head off the nuclear option.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at sahil@talkingpointsmemo.com and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.
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