Beltway Confidential

Sen. Mike Lee: Harry Reid’s nuclear option filibuster threat is a bluff

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has been threatening to end the Senate minority’s ability to filibuster cabinet nominees, but Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, thinks that’s a bluff designed to “coerce” Republicans into positions they oppose.

“I suspect that some in the majority party in the Senate might circulate rumors to that effect to coerce Republicans into doing whatever it is that they want, but the fact is, Harry Reid knows — and his Democratic colleagues in the Senate know — that if they undo this now, they’ll have to live with that when they’re in the minority again,” Lee told the Washington Examiner yesterday.

“And, based on how Obamacare’s implementation is going, it looks like they’re going to be in the minority again very soon,” he said. “I think they’re going to be really reluctant to mess around with the rule that preserves important prerogatives for the minority party.”

Politico reported today that Reid is planning to discuss the so-called nuclear option with his caucus this week. “But what makes the move unprecedented is Reid’s likely decision to change the rules by 51 votes in a complicated process called the nuclear option,” Politico’s Manu Raju explained. “Typically, Senate rules are rarely changed because 67 votes are required to modify them, meaning the minority side can usually thwart any attempt by the majority to ram through rules’ revisions.”

If Reid does decide unilaterally that Republicans can’t filibuster cabinet picks — that is, hold them to a 60-vote threshold by refusing to end debate on the nominees — it would be a sharp departure from his previous positions.

“One of the good things about this institution we have found in the 214 years it has been in existence is that the filibuster, which has been in existence since the beginning, from the days of George Washington — we have changed the rules as relates to it a little bit but never by breaking the rules,” Reid said in 2005.

If he is bluffing, the act has convinced at least some Republicans. “Despite the fact that, by any standard, Republicans have treated Obama’s nominees very fairly, everything points to Harry Reid pulling the trigger on the nuclear option next week,” a Senate Republican aide who insisted on anonymity told the Washington Examiner.

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