The so-called “nuclear option” first came up eight years ago, when Senate Republicans, in the majority at the time, were apoplectic about Democrats obstructing Bush/Cheney nominees. GOP senators considered a sweeping tactical move that would eliminate all filibusters on administration nominees forevermore.
Ultimately, that didn’t happen – the “Gang of 14” struck a deal, which Republicans have since shredded, that put the “nuclear option” back on the shelf – but the GOP’s idea never fully went away. Indeed, now that the partisan tide has turned; there’s a Democratic majority and a Democratic White House; and Senate obstructionism has reached a level unseen in American history, the “nuclear option” is suddenly in vogue once more.
Indeed, Greg Sargent has quite an interesting scoop this afternoon.
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.
Obviously, Obama would not get a vote, but the White House’s support matters more than you might think. For one thing, there would be some members of the Senate Democratic old guard who may be resistant, and presidential nudging could prove important. For another, without digging too deep into the procedural weeds, Vice President Biden’s vote would be necessary in his capacity as president of the Senate, so the White House kinda sorta would have a vote.
And why wait until July, when there are so many procedural breakdowns now? A couple of reasons, actually.
First, it’s likely Reid and his office see this as an opportunity to send a shot across the GOP minority’s bow. “Stop the obstructionism,” the argument goes, “or we will.” Putting a timeline on this effectively gives Republicans a deadline to stop playing their ridiculous games.
Second, as Greg explained, the idea is to delay a confrontation until after immigration reform is complete. It’s called the “nuclear option” because of the fallout – the minority party will be so outraged by the tactical move that it’ll likely be a long while before the Senate even tries to function again. Dems really want to get immigration done, so the idea is to do that first, then consider procedural changes.
Of course, it’s worth noting that this would represent a rather permanent change. Yes, President Obama’s nominees – both to the courts and to administration posts – would be subject to majority-rule, up-or-down votes, which would greatly reduce gridlock in the chamber. But as members of both parties should realize, it would also mean that every future president would be afforded the same opportunity.
Recently, some Senate Dems were cautious about this very point, wanting to preserve the right to block future GOP nominees (as if Republicans wouldn’t use the nuclear option the moment they felt it necessary). But that caution is reportedly fading.
With this in mind, keep a close eye on three specific nominations: Richard Cordray (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau), Thomas Perez (Labor Secretary), and Gina McCarthy (EPA administrator). Greg’s Senate source said if there’s Republican obstructionism against these nominees, “then our position will be very easy.”