POLITICS: PennAve

Harry Reid: Nuclear option a ‘minor change’ in an ‘evolving institution’

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid inched closer to invoking the so-called “nuclear option” in the Senate on Monday, arguing that the body was an “evolving institution” that is stuck in gridlock and needs reform to save it “from becoming obsolete.”

“Flip on C-. ... What do you see there the vast majority of the time? Nothing. Blank screens,” Reid said in an address at the Center for American Progress. “We’re wasting time, hour after hour, day after day. ... All we have from Republicans ... is obstruct and delay.”

The Nevada Democrat accused Republicans of an unprecedented number of filibusters on executive-branch nominees, calling it “unbelievable” and “untoward.”

The “nuclear option” would involve changing Senate rules so that a simple majority of 51 votes would be sufficient to end a filibuster on an executive-branch nominee. If Reid were to follow through on his threat, he would push through the change without the two-thirds majority customarily used to change the body’s regulations.

But changing the rules with 51 votes is nothing unusual, Reid argued, citing the 18 times the Senate has done so over the past three decades. Altering the body’s rules would be a “minor change. No big deal,” he said, calling it a mere “course correction.”

Republicans clearly don’t see it that way, and have threatened to bring the chamber to a “screeching halt” if Democrats change the rules with a simple majority of votes.

Appealing to members on the Republican side, Reid said that the constitution was clear about when a super-majority was required: for presidential vetoes, impeachment and treaties, for example.

“The status quo won’t work,” he said, saying that his efforts were aimed to “save the Senate from becoming obsolete.”

The GOP counters that not a single Obama cabinet nominee has been defeated, and that 1,560 of the president’s civilian nominees have been confirmed, compared to only four which have been blocked.

Several executive-branch nominees are currently pending, the most contentious of which include Labor Secretary nominee Thomas Perez, EPA administrator nominee Gina McCarthy and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau director nominee Richard Cordray.

Republicans and Democrats are scheduled to hold a joint conference meeting in the Old Senate Chamber of the Capitol Monday evening in an attempt to defuse the situation.

Reid said that if Republicans were to halt their filibusters on seven contentious nominees, normal business could resume in the Senate. Anything less than this would be insufficient to stop him from following through on his threat to change the rules, Reid told the audience.

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