In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Senate Republicans: We Won't Be The First To Go Nuclear

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AP Photo / J. Scott Applewhite

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), pressed repeatedly Tuesday by TPM, said he doesn't expect a hypothetical future GOP majority to use the nuclear option if Democrats opt not to.

"I do not -- if Senator Reid keeps his word, as I expect him to do," he said.

"Republicans believe that the Senate is a place where minority rights should be protected," the Tennessee senator said. "Democrats changed the rules -- they blocked President Bush's judges by filibuster and so now we've done that to President Obama's judges. If they do that on a wholesale basis that'll be the end of the Senate and we'll figure out what we can do by 51 votes just as they figured out what they can do."

In other words, Republicans aren't offering an ironclad commitment that they won't go nuclear on filibuster reform first. But by seeking to scare Reid out of doing so, they're dramatically narrowing the space for them to argue for changing the rules down the road.

"Make no mistake about it," McConnell told reporters Tuesday at his weekly news conference in the Capitol, in response to a question from TPM. "Using the nuclear option is the end of the Senate. I repeat, the end of the Senate. It turns the Senate into the House."

Reid promised early in January, after a bipartisan rules change agreement that preserved the filibuster, not to change the rules outside regular order. Regular order requires a two-thirds majority to change Senate rules. Reid has threatened to eliminate the filibuster for nominations, but not bills, with a bare majority of senators if Republicans don't stop blocking President Obama's cabinet and judicial picks.

"It would be naive to assume that you could break the rules of the Senate in order to change the rules of the Senate only for nominations," McConnell said. "There would be a widespread climate in our conference, were we to be the majority, to take that precedent and apply it to everything else."