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The best way to view the linked fights over nominations and the "nuclear option" is as a bitter but largely public negotiation between Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell over how the Senate should operate and treat the Obama administration.
Matt's correct that Reid's shown very little desire to make major rules changes since he became majority leader in 2007. And Republican behavior hasn't changed all that much since then either. So on the one hand you have a Democratic majority that's been unwilling to exercise power, and a GOP minority that's more emboldened than usual to block all of these judicial nominees. That's why Matt's pessimistic.
But that's also why the series of confirmation fights Reid's teed up for this summer are so consequential. Reid's basically set up a situation where if McConnell makes good on each of the GOP's filibuster threats -- or worse actually blocks confirmation of all these judges and political designees -- he'll face a Hobson's choice between going nuclear and getting nothing.
I don't think he's going to humiliate himself. And I think McConnell knows that.
That means the smart play for McConnell is to deal with Reid -- to allow as few noms as possible to be confirmed, but not so few that Reid feels he has to go nuclear.
My suspicion is that means some Circuit Court judges will have to be confirmed. Maybe McConnell will decide to relent on executive branch nominees alone, and Reid will be OK with that. But my guess -- really just a guess -- is that judges will have to be part of the equation.