Remember when the “nuclear option” got its name? It was back in 2004, when the idea was touted by Senate Republicans as a way to stop Senate Democrats from blocking a handful of the most extreme Bush/Cheney judicial nominees. But it’s important to remember how the phrase came to be.
The point wasn’t just to describe the change in Senate rules; it was also intended to describe the fallout from the tactic itself. Eliminating filibusters by majority rule was seen as such an aggressive move that its “victims” would declare a political war and the chamber would be brought to an indefinite halt.
Given the way the Senate operates – unanimous consent agreements are necessary for even the most basic tasks – an aggrieved minority could make it impossible for the chamber to even try to function. The “nuclear’ retaliation, many feared, could make the deeply divided Senate even worse.
But this afternoon, after the “nuclear option” was complete … nothing happened. Republicans didn’t even make any meaningful threats.
In fact, just the opposite is true – literally minutes after the vote that changed the filibuster rules, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) offered their consent for committee hearings to begin, and no one objected.
In the House, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) had threatened to ignore all Senate-passed legislation if Democrats dared to pursue this change, but this afternoon said immigration reform is “absolutely not” dead – and his comments came after the Senate’s move.
Conditions may yet change, but for now, Capitol Hill looks pretty much the same as it did yesterday, only now a majority-rule process is in place for judges and executive-branch nominees. The nuclear fallout appears quite contained.