WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is prepared to go nuclear.
The Nevada Democrat threatened Thursday to invoke the so-called nuclear option on the filibuster and change the Senate rules so that only 51 votes were required to overcome a filibuster, rather than 60, unless Republicans agreed to approve several stalled executive branch nominees.
“This place doesn’t work,” Reid said, “and it’s too bad.”
“For two successive congresses I have held back my caucus. The vast majority of my Democratic caucus wanted to move forward and change on this,” Reid said at a press conference after an extended meeting with Democrats on the issue. “I took Sen. McConnell at his word. He said that we would only do this filibuster stuff under extraordinary circumstances. I guess being in session is an extraordinary circumstance.”
Reid painted the move as a narrow change to the Senate rule, and not the monumental change to the functioning of the chamber that Republicans portrayed it as.
“All we’re asking is let the president have his team,” Reid said. “We’re not talking about changing the filibuster rules in regards to nominations or judges.”
The Majority Leader declined to specify his plan, but said he absolutely had one.
No bombs will go off in the Senate this week. Reid said he would wait to “see what the weekend brings. Maybe they will be brought to reality.”
If Republicans were to change course and approve the stalled nominees, Reid said all would be forgiven.
“Hallelujah,” he said, when asked about the prospect.
Republicans called the move a “destructive” threat to the very identity of the Senate.
“Changing the character of the Senate is encouraging the tyranny of the majority,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander at a Republican press conference later on Thursday.
“What’s at stake here is not just a change of the rule, it’s the way the rule is being changed. What it means is that with 51 votes, any majority can do anything it wants on any day in the United States Senate,” Alexander said. “It can change abortion rights. It can change civil rights. It can change environmental laws. It can change labor laws. Today, the House can do that, and when it comes to the Senate, we stop and think and consider. But after this, whoever has the majority can do anything it wants, on any day. That is a dangerous trend.”
Republicans said that Reid’s claim to be narrowly changing the rule would merely open the floodgates.
“They’ll say, well, they’ve limited it to only certain executive branch people. Once you start down that road, and open what Sen. Reid has characterized as Pandora’s Box, there’s no end to what one side or the other can do,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch. “They have to be very careful because a lot of the things that they hold very dear could go by the wayside if the majority were to change.”
“It’ll only be a matter of time,” echoed Sen. John Thune.
“I hope my colleagues wake up on the other side because this is not going to be fun for them one day in the future,” said Hatch.