IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Assessing the 'nuclear' fallout in the Senate

As Capitol Hill came to terms with the looming "nuclear option" fight next week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was still fuming last night. The
Assessing the 'nuclear' fallout in the Senate
Assessing the 'nuclear' fallout in the Senate

As Capitol Hill came to terms with the looming "nuclear option" fight next week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was still fuming last night. The Republican who precipitated the showdown by abusing the rules yesterday accused Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) of sabotaging a meeting on the issue by scheduling it for a Monday night.

Yes, according to McConnell, asking senators to work on a Monday night is necessarily outrageous. It's shaping up to be that kind of debate.

In the meantime, we're also getting a sense of how McConnell's party will respond to the move, if Democrats follow through on their threat.

Senate Republicans vow no other legislation will pass the Senate until after the next elections if Democrats trigger the "nuclear option" to change the chamber's rules. [...]"If Sen. Reid changes the character of the Senate, then the Senate ceases to function. We'll take our case to the people, we'll argue for a new majority and then Republicans will be in a position to do whatever Republicans with 51 votes want to do," said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who spoke out against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) threat to trigger the nuclear option.

This is why it's called the "nuclear" option -- the tactic is considered so aggressive that the minority party will retaliate by effectively blowing up the chamber's ability to function.

But there are three angles to keep in mind here. First, note the specifics of Alexander's threat of retaliation: while Reid is eyeing the end of filibusters on executive-branch nominations, Alexander is saying Republicans will respond by eliminating filibusters on literally everything. (I'm not sure why anyone should consider a majority-rule institution a scary thing.)

Second, if Republicans follow through on their retaliatory threat, Congress will pass nothing until 2015. Since Congress was unlikely to pass anything anyway, this doesn't sound especially scary, though it does make the prospect of a government shutdown more serious.

And third, I find it curious that Lamar Alexander considers himself a credible voice on this issue. He's not.

As Joan McCarter recently noted, take a look at what Alexander said in 2003:

"I will pledge to do what the Senator from Utah pledged to do. While I am a United States Senator, if a nominee comes to the floor for a judgeship by any president, Democrat or Republican, I will not participate in a filibuster," he said. "I will vote to cast an up-or-down vote on any nominee of any president. I think that is the right thing to do."

And here was Alexander again in 2005:

On April 12, he said he "would never filibuster as long as I were a senator." On May 20, he said while he may vote against a nominee he doesn't support, he will "insist that we eventually vote up or down, as the Senate has for two centuries." And on June 9, he said he made a pledge that "I would never filibuster any president's judicial nominee. Period."

And then President Obama was elected, at which point the Tennessee Republican did exactly what he promised never to do. Lamar Alexander gave his word, and then he broke it. He made a public vow, and then he abandoned it, not because he had a good reason, but because he felt like it.

Alexander now wants to give lectures and threats about the integrity of Senate procedures? He wants to get on his high horse about senators "keeping their word"? Please.

Note to Republicans: as the debate unfolds, you might want to find someone in the caucus who has more credibility to take the lead on this.