UPDATE - And in a flash, it's over. The nuclear option is now a nuclear reality:
Senate votes 52-48 against the ruling of the chair, thus implementing the #nuclearoption— Chad Pergram (@ChadPergram) November 21, 2013
Read Sen. Mitch McConnell's impassioned speech by clicking through. Just three Senate Democrats voted with all Republicans to keep the filibuster rules intact. Democrats govern with an 'ends justify the means' mentality. They pioneered circuit court filibusters under Bush, then changed the rules when Republicans used their own tactic against them. Rest assured that they will start threatening to nuke the legislative filibuster when it suits their needs. Maybe the GOP can play hardball and beat them to the punch next time they have a majority. This is exactly right. Harry Reid lit this fire. Let the Senate burn. And what future Republican majorities could do in this brave new world is precisely what veteran Democrat Sen. Carl Levin is worried about:
Sen Carl Levin (D-MI) says new precedent "used to change rules (makes) people's health and welfare less secure. #nuclearoption— Chad Pergram (@ChadPergram) November 21, 2013
Harry Reid has initiated the process of invoking the so-called "nuclear option," which would break Senate rules to change the way the upper chamber considers certain presidential appointments. The coup de grace to decades of Senate precedent could come this afternoon. Reid is acting with the explicit consent of President Obama -- who, as a Senator, voted to filibuster one of President Bush's Supreme Court nominees. Senate Democrats came awfully close to pulling this move over the summer, but ended up balking at the eleventh hour. Having manufactured a judicial crisis -- which Republicans allege is a transparent attempt to turn attention away from Obamacare -- Reid and his caucus are taking another bite at the apple. Republican leader Mitch McConnell slammed the proposed power grab:
"The Majority Leader promised over and over again that he wouldn't break the rules of the Senate to change the Senate," responded McConnell. "When Democrats were in the minority they argued strenuously for the very thing they now say we will have to do without, namely the right to extend a debate on lifetime appointments. In other words they believe that one set of rules should apply to them and another set to everybody else." ... Typically 67 votes are required to change Senate rules, but under the nuclear option Democrats - who control the chamber with a 55-45 majority – would change those rules with a simple majority vote.
McConnell cited Reid's repeated promises not to fiddle with filibuster rules, invoking a familiar Obamacare-style construction: “He might as well have said if you like your Senate rules you can keep them.” The Kentucky Republican noted in his speech that Senate Democrats pioneered the practice of filibustering circuit court nominees when they were in the minority, adding that Republicans have used their filibuster prerogative judiciously and rarely. He reminded Democrats that more than 200 judicial nominees have been confirmed during President Obama's term in office, warning Democrats that they would end up regretting their decision if they move forward. Indeed, it wasn't long ago that Reid and company zealously defended the rights of the minority party as sacrosanct:
What was once a "constitutional crisis" and "unAmerican" is now on the brink of being implemented by the very people who leveled those charges. Here's how I described the recent history of this battle back in July:
If he pulls the trigger on this, Reid would not only break his on-the-record, unambiguous promise to the Senate in 2011, he would also execute a ploy that he deemed "un-American" when the shoe was on the other foot. Here is a parade of Senate Democrats angrily denouncing a(n abandoned) Republican proposal to enact a similar rule change in 2005...The 'Gang of 14' compromise ultimately prevailed in '05, thus averting the "Constitutional crisis" Chuck Schumer warned about. It has held ever since.
That bipartisan compromise is now on extremely thin ice as frustrated Democrats seem intent on getting their way every time, and appear willing to destroy long-standing checks on their power. Harry Reid has already chipped away at minority rights during his time as leader, but executing the nuclear option on nominees would be an unprecedented escalation in partisan tensions. Democrats' pretext for going nuclear is thin. They're allegedly outraged over a series of votes on DC circuit court judges, which Republicans have denounced as a "court packing" scheme. The Wall Street Journal editorial board explains the context:
We remember when a "judicial emergency" was the Senate's way of calling attention to vacancies based on a court's caseload. Those were the good old days. Now Democrats are threatening to change Senate rules if Republicans don't acquiesce to their plan to confirm three new judges to the most underworked appellate circuit in the country. That's the story behind the fight over the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, with the White House trying to pack the court that reviews much of its regulatory agenda. On Monday Senate Republicans blocked the third nominee to the D.C. appellate court in recent weeks, and Democrats with short memories of their judicial filibusters in the Bush years are claiming this is unprecedented. Majority Leader Harry Reid and other Democrats are threatening to resort to the so-called nuclear option, which would let the Senate confirm judicial nominees by a simple majority vote. This is nothing but a political power play because the D.C. Circuit doesn't need the new judges. It currently has 11 authorized judgeships and eight active judges—four appointed by Democratic Presidents and four by Republicans. The court also has six senior judges who hear cases varying from 25% to 75% of an active judge's caseload. Together they carry the equivalent caseload of 3.25 active judges, according to numbers from Chief Judge Merrick Garland. That means the circuit has the equivalent of 11.25 full-time judges. That's more than enough considering that the court's caseload is the lightest in the country.
Reid's crew has been saber-rattling on the nuclear option for years, with liberal members leading the charge. Will they finally take this radical plunge? Stay tuned...
Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson. He is co-authors with Mary Katharine Ham for their new book End of Discussion: How the Left's Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun).
Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography