Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is increasingly focused on the month of July as the time to exercise the so-called “nuclear option” and revisit filibuster reform, and he has privately told top advisers that he’s all but certain to take action if the Senate GOP blocks three upcoming key nominations, a senior Senate Democratic aide familiar with his thinking tells me. Reid has privately consulted with President Obama on the need to revisit filibuster reform, and the President has told the Majority Leader that he will support the exercising of the nuclear option if Reid opts for it, the aide says, adding that senior Democrats expect the President to publicly push for it as well. “If Senator Reid decides to do something on nominations, the president has said he’ll be there to support him,” the aide says. Reid is eyeing a change to the rules that would do away with the 60-vote threshold on all judicial and executive branch nominations, the aide says, on the theory that this is a good way to immediately break an important logjam in Washington — without changing the rules when it comes to legislation.
The Bush-era "nuclear" Senate stand-off was defused by the 'Gang of 14,' which remains intact today -- on judicial nominations, at least. Republicans have only mounted filibusters against a tiny handful of the president's most radical judge selections. Democrats are also looking to wipe out filibusters against executive appointments, as the GOP has stifled a number of extreme nominees Obama has put forward to groups like the NRLB. The White House sought to circumvent Congress on this score by making a series of "recess" appointments while Congress was...not in recess. In doing so, they undercut a practice Democrats pioneered to thwart would-be Bush recess appointments. Several federal courts have since dealt legal blows to these non-recess "recess" gambit,s which may explain Reid's new-found sense of urgency. I reached out to Mitch McConnell's office for comment, but they declined to wade into this until they get a better handle on whether they're dealing with a real threat or more bluster from Reid. One thing is very clear, based on multiple discussions with senior Republican Senate aides: Given how poisonous the political climate already is, a move by Democrats to change the Senate rules would push the chamber into full partisan meltdown.