Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) launched a barn-burner of a speech Thursday on the Senate floor, excoriating Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) for continued obstruction when it comes to presidential nominees. He escalated the battle by setting up test votes next week on a series of potentially controversial nominees.
“Senator McConnell broke his word,” Reid said. “The Republican leader has failed to live up to his commitments. He’s failed to do what he said he would do — move nominations by regular order except in extraordinary circumstances. I refuse to unilaterally surrender my right to respond to this breach of faith.”The remarks were Reid’s first in weeks on the issue of nominations and Senate gridlock, a brewing fight that he sidelined last month in order to pass immigration reform through the Senate. McConnell has been regularly arguing for weeks that Reid is breaking his word by threatening to change the rules with the nuclear option after he agreed not to upon passage of the modest rules changes in January which preserved the filibuster.
In Thursday’s speech, Reid cited GOP filibusters to slow down the confirmations of Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense and John Brennan for CIA director. He also cited the GOP’s promise to filibuster Richard Cordray or any other nominee for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau unless Democrats agree to weaken the agency.
“It is a disturbing trend when Republicans are willing to block executive branch nominees even if they have no objection about the qualification of the nominee,” Reid said. “They’re blocking qualified nominees because they refuse to accept the law of the land.”
The majority leader declared that no “matter who is elected, whether it is Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden, that person shouldn’t have to go through what we’ve gone through the last four and a half years.”
“Is there anybody out there in America that thinks this body is functioning well?” he said.
Pending nominations that could play a role in the filibuster fight include three to run the Labor Department (Tom Perez), Environmental Protection Agency (Gina McCarthy) and CFPB (Cordray); several nominees to serve on the National Labor Relations Board, and three picks to fill vacancies on the powerful D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
“I’m going to start the process today,” he said Thursday. “We’re going to file cloture on a bunch of nominations. And those votes will occur next week.”
McConnell, clearly worked up over Reid’s speech, responded on the floor shortly after and vowed that Democrats will “live to regret it” if they follow through with the threat to change the rules of the Senate with a bare majority of votes. He called the accusations of obstruction an “absolutely phony, manufactured crisis,” and conceded that McCarthy and Perez “already have enough votes to clear a 60-vote hurdle.”
“Senate Democrats are getting ready to do permanent damage to this body,” McConnell warned, and made a morbid reference regarding Reid. “No majority leader wants written on his tombstone that he presided over the end of the Senate.”