This would be an A-list political story if it weren't buried beneath the avalanche of scandal that's consumed the nation's attention and undermined the president's approval ratings in recent weeks. We reported on Monday that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is maneuvering to execute the so-called "nuclear option" on filibusters of executive appointments, perhaps as soon as July. Since the game plan was initially sketched out by a liberal blogger in the Washington Post (who also confirmed that the White House has bestowed its blessing on the power grab), more circumstantial evidence has emerged that appears to confirm Reid's intentions:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday that he will delay votes on several of President Obama’s nominees for key posts until July, a decision raising the prospect that he’ll seek further changes to Senate rules that would allow executive appointments to be confirmed by a simple majority. Senate leaders had considered holding a vote this week to confirm Richard Cordray as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a nomination Republicans have maintained they would filibuster unless the Obama administration agreed to overhaul the agency. Action is also pending on two of Obama’s Cabinet nominations — Thomas E. Perez for Labor secretary and Gina McCarthy for EPA administrator — after party-line votes in Senate committees last week. Two other Cabinet picks face confirmation hearings later this week. At his weekly news conference, Reid told reporters that he would not bring those nominations to the full Senate until after it considers two major pieces of legislation, the farm bill and comprehensive immigration reform. “So we'll have to look at July,” he said, with the possible exception of a pending nominee for the D.C. Court of Appeals. “We're going to make sure that all the nominees have votes.”
Senate Democrats may be itching to hit the nuclear trigger more than ever in light of two federal courts' repudiations of the president's unconstitutional "recess" appointments made while Congress was not technically in recess. Regardless of their motives, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is already warning Reid that any further action to curtail the rights of the minority would effectively "blow up" the institution of the Senate. In a floor speech this morning, McConnell tied Democrats' potential filibuster power grab to the federal government's "culture of intimidation" playing out in living color at the IRS, HHS, and DOJ:
Yesterday, McConnell blew the cover off of Senate Democrats' specious excuse for "filibuster reform;" namely, "Republican obstructionism." Just how intransigent and obstructionist have Senate Republicans been vis-a-vis President Obama's executive appointments? McConnell sketched out the contours of the so-called "crisis" Democrats are seizing upon as a pretext to change the rules and kneecap the minority:
“For example, Senate Democrats were incensed that Republicans had the temerity to exercise their Advice and Consent responsibility to block a grand total of one — that’s right, one — nominee to the D.C. Circuit. What did our Democrat colleagues do in response? They consulted with the White House and pledged to pack the D.C. Circuit with appointees, quote, ‘one way or the other’ — meaning using the nuclear option...
The Senate has confirmed 19 of the President’s judicial nominees so far this year. By this point in his second term, President Bush had a grand total of four judicial confirmations.
Moreover, Republicans on the Judiciary Committee just voted unanimously to support the President’s current nomination to the D.C. Circuit. And the Senate Republican Conference agreed yesterday to hold an up and down vote on his nomination, which has only been on the Executive Calendar since Monday, to occur after the Memorial Day Recess. That way, Members who do not serve on the Judiciary Committee could have a week to evaluate this important nomination. Instead, the Majority Leader chose to jam the Minority—he rejected our offer for an up or down vote and filed cloture on the nomination just one day after it appeared on the Executive Calendar...
And regarding nominees generally, Senate Republicans have been willing to work with the President to get his team in place:
The Secretary of Energy was confirmed 97 to 0.
The Secretary of the Interior was confirmed 87 to 11.
The Secretary of the Treasury was confirmed 71 to 26.
The Director of the [OMB] was confirmed 96 to 0.
And the Secretary of State was confirmed 94 to 3—just 7 days after the Senate received his nomination. So these continued threats to use the nuclear option point to the Majority’s own culture of intimidation here in the Senate. Their view is that you had better confirm the people we want, when we want them, or we’ll break the rules of the Senate to change the rules so you can’t stop us. So much for respecting the rights of the minority. So much for a meaningful application of Advice and Consent."
McConnell also cited Reid's own promises not to entertain the nuclear option, not that the Senator from Nevada's word means all that much. I leave you with this obligatory video, wherein one Senate Democrat after another predicts the collapse of civilization if the Republican majority invokes the nuclear option to grease the skids for -- ta-da! -- presidential appointments. That was back in 2005, and the GOP ended up scotching the highly combustible plan. Will Democrats unleash it?
One small postlude: Be careful what you wish for, current Senate Democrat majority.