Reid Mulls Nuclear-Style Filibuster Reform For Nominations

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is telegraphing his intention to use the nuclear option to reduce or eliminate the filibuster for nominations this summer if Republicans follow through with their threats to block President Obama’s upcoming nominees.

“If he were allowed to make the decision himself, he would definitely do it,” a Senate Democratic aide familiar with Reid’s thinking told TPM. “He more than anybody has experienced the Republican obstruction first hand.”

Reid — and other Democratic senators — will face tremendous pressure to change the rules of the Senate if Republicans filibuster Obama’s picks to run the Labor Department (Tom Perez), the Environmental Protection Agency (Gina McCarthy) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (Richard Cordray). Reid said he intends to bring up Cordray’s nomination this week and has also promised a cloture vote on Perez soon.The aide, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, said Reid’s patience with Republican obstruction “has basically worn out” — but cautioned that “at the end of the day, the reality is we do need 51 votes.” And it’s not yet clear he has that. With a total of 55 Democrats, he has little cushion.

Reid, who has discussed the issue with President Obama, is eying such a push in July so it doesn’t complicate immigration reform, the Washington Post reported. A few weeks ago, the majority leader met with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), the leading supporter of filibuster reform, to discuss the issue going forward, a pro-reform Democratic aide confirmed.

“All within the sound of my voice — including my Democratic senators and the Republican senators who I serve with — should understand that we as a body have the power on any given day to change the rules with a simple majority,” Reid told a Nevada radio station last month. “And I will do that if necessary.”

Back in January, Reid weighed the nuclear option but settled on a package of modest reforms that preserved the filibuster but let Senate business move more quickly. The aide said he didn’t have 51 votes to reform the filibuster then but he’s closer to it now.

“There’s been movement on that, but we haven’t done a whip count on that so it’s not clear where things stand,” the aide said. “But there is a really strong desire to fix this process that is larger than any individual nominee and it’s pretty deeply seated based on the last four years of unrelenting, blanket obstruction.”

The battle could turn ugly as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has been highly protective of the filibuster. Republicans will surely point out that they have let through a slew of Obama nominees to cabinet and judicial vacancies since his reelection.

But Democratic aides are coalescing around a message that the GOP filibusters of nominations at least, if not also legislation, must stop. There remains tension been leadership and pro-reform aides over the January effort. Some Democratic senators are said to be more worried privately about the nuclear option than they let on in public, although supporters of reform insist that Democrats can secure 51 votes if they push hard.

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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