WASHINGTON — Senators from both parties spent more than three hours in a rare closed-door meeting inside the Old Senate Chamber of the Capitol on Monday evening to discuss Democratic majority leader Harry Reid’s threats to stop Republicans from being able to filibuster President Obama’s executive nominees.
But lawmakers indicated after the meeting that no deal was struck to keep Reid from invoking the “nuclear option.”
“We’ve had a very good conversation,” Reid told reporters after the meeting. “The conversation is going to continue tonight.”
Frustrated by Republicans’ keeping Obama’s nominees from being confirmed, Reid, a Nevada Democrat, has vowed to change the Senate rules to prevent future Republican filibustering. Under those changes, Senate rules would only require 51 votes to end a filibuster on presidential nominees, instead of the current 60 required votes.
That would mean the 42 Republicans in the Senate would have no ability to stop the confirmation of presidential nominees they find unacceptable. Obama could nominate virtually anyone despite Republican opposition if the 52 Democrats in the body supported his pick.
“The votes are scheduled at 10 o’clock in the morning,” Reid said of a number of appointees up for confirmation.
The move is also highly contentious because Reid would change the Senate rules on filibustering by a simple majority vote instead of the required 67-vote majority normally required for parliamentary changes.
“I’m hopeful,” Sen. John Thune, a Republican from South Dakota, said from the Senate floor before the meeting, expressing a desire for a resolution to Reid’s threat that “preserves the integrity of the Senate.”
“We’ll see,” Thune said. “This meeting will tell us a lot tonight.”
Reid’s office argues the reforms are needed because of the increasing numbers of filibusters since Obama has been office.
“Senators Lyndon Baines Johnson and Harry Reid have each served as Majority Leader for six years,” Reid aide Adam Jentleson wrote in a memo Monday. “During their tenures, then-Senator Johnson faced one filibuster while Senator Reid has faced 413.”
“The change contemplated by Senate Democrats would simply restore the Senate’s long tradition of delivering simple up-or-down votes for executive nominees,” he wrote. “Senators would still be free to debate and vote against nominations they oppose.”
Republicans have made clear they are against President Obama’s nominees to the National Labor Relations Board and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
“It really kind of comes down to three appointments that the federal courts have told us were unconstitutionally ‘recess appointed’” Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, explained Sunday.
But McConnell has accused Reid and Democrats of contriving a phony crisis over these nominees in order to push through rule changes.
“Rather than getting down in the weeds on the rules, what is the problem here?” the Republican said Sunday on Meet the Press. “The President has had 1,540 of his nominations confirmed, only four defeated. He’s not lost a single member of the cabinet. He’s getting them faster than President Bush was at the same time in his second term. The Majority Leader needs to bring these nominees up. Most of them are going to be confirmed.”
When it comes to appointing cabinet officials, the Constitution says the president shall nominate a candidate with the “advice and consent of the Senate.”
Reid says the rule change would not affect judges or legislation.