Six months after he triggered a historic change to the Senate rules, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) on Tuesday suggested further weakening the filibuster if Republicans continue to force delays on presidential nominees.
He said the GOP has “handcuffed” law enforcement by preventing speedy confirmation of Justice Department appointees.
“We have two assistant attorney generals they’re holding up,” Reid said on the Senate floor. “Eric Holder called me yesterday and said, ‘Is there anything that can be done to help me?’ So, again, I’ll have to file cloture on these. … I don’t plan on changing the rules today again, but how much longer can we put up with this? Even law enforcement officers — even law enforcement officers, as I’ve indicated here, they’re holding them up for no reason.”
“It’s hard to fathom that the work of Attorney General Eric Holder is being recklessly hampered by Republican obstruction,” he said. “You don’t hear people coming down here giving speeches about what horrible people the president selected to be the U.S. Attorney in Connecticut, Louisiana, and New Mexico. Not a word. They just hide behind their obstruction.”
New rules established by Democrats via the so-called nuclear option in November eliminate the 60-vote requirement for non-Supreme Court judicial and executive appointees. But Republicans retain the ability to draw out the nominations and force up to 30 hours of debate (less for lower-level appointees) on each one of them. In recent months they have even put nominees with broad or unanimous support through the “cloture” process rather than provide consent. There are currently 129 nominations pending in the Senate.
Reid said Republicans are obstructing for the sake of obstruction, even when it comes to non-political appointments such as career ambassadors.
True to form, he parlayed the dispute into attack on the Koch brothers.
“Now, we have one of the assistant attorney generals is for the environment and natural resources division. That’s kind of important. We have fires burning all over the west. A number of the fires are caused by malicious acts,” Reid said. “Is it right that we have all the degradation of our environment and there’s nobody to enforce the law? I know the Koch brothers, they don’t want no environment protection. They say that. So maybe … it is the beck and call of the Koch brothers who don’t want any of these environmental laws enforced.”
Last week, President Barack Obama took the rare step of alluding to filibuster reform in a speech to Democratic donors, saying the Senate must “change how a filibuster works.” Progressive advocates are pushing Reid to further weaken the filibuster and his aides have said additional rules changes are on the table.
Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), took issue with Reid’s reference to U.S. Attorney nominees.
“Sen. Reid knows, or at least should know, that he hasn’t had to file cloture on a single U.S. Attorney nominee,” Stewart said in an email. “There has yet to be any ‘filibuster’ of a U.S. Attorney this Congress, so using that as a basis to break the rules, again, boggles the mind.”
This article has been updated to include comment from Sen. McConnell’s office.