Harry Reid Downplays Nuclear Option Threats

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) forcefully criticized GOP obstruction again Thursday but sought to downplay his nuclear option threats, seemingly careful not to incite an all-out filibuster reform battle that could damage the prospects of immigration reform.

“We’re doing nothing to interfere with immigration [reform],” Reid told reporters at a noon press conference in the Capitol. “This is no fight we’ve picked. We’re just laying out the facts. We’re not threatening anybody with anything.”Reid and Democratic leaders took turns excoriating Republicans for using the filibuster to delay or block President Obama’s nominees to cabinet and judicial positions. But the majority leader demurred in response to several questions about his suggestions that he may seek to change the rules of the Senate with a bare majority of votes.

“We’re not picking a fight with anybody,” he said. “We’re just saying this can’t go on.”

But Reid left no doubt that he believes the Republican obstruction is unparalleled and unacceptable and kept all options open to mitigate it.

“The agreement we reached in January has done virtually nothing to alleviate the obstruction that we have seen for five months now from the Republicans,” he said. “So I’m very disappointed that we’re where we are.” He and his leadership colleagues cited recent GOP filibusters of nominees including Chuck Hagel, Caitlin Halligan and Richard Cordray.

The remarks reflect the tightrope Reid is walking, caught between wanting to ease the gridlock in the Senate but eager not to rattle immigration reform. Sources say he’s ready to change the rules with the nuclear option but it’s not clear he has the votes. The pressure appears to be having some effect on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). But raising the volume on the nuclear option threat risks damaging the immigration overhaul as it gets closer to passing the Senate.

“I’m not going to do anything to interfere with the immigration bill,” Reid said, praising the Gang of Eight’s work and calling it a vitally important issue that must be resolved.