WASHINGTON — The Senate went nuclear on Thursday, making a dramatic change to the Senate rules for confirming judicial and executive nominees and significantly curbing the power of the minority party.
Under the new rules, only a simple majority would be needed to clear a procedural hurdle in the approval process for executive nominees and judicial nominees. Currently, 60 votes are required to clear that hurdle, which gives the minority party the power to filibuster and block nominees of whom they disapprove. For Supreme Court nominees, the 60-vote requirement would remain in effect.
In the past several weeks, Republicans have filibustered three nominees to the District of Columbia Circuit Court, prompting Reid to call for an end to the “gridlock” and move forward with the rules change.
“The need for change is so very, very obvious,” Reid said on the Senate floor Thursday, as almost every senator sat at his or her desk in recognition of the significance of the moment. “It’s clearly visible. It’s manifest we have to do something to change things.”
Fifty-two senators voted for the rules changes — all Democrats and Independents. Three Democrats joined Republicans in opposing the change: West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor, and Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, who has openly opposed the rules change.
The nuclear option has been a longstanding threat, and twice already this year, Democrats had threatened to move on it in the face of Republican opposition to nominees; both times an agreement was reached to avert the move. Republican Sen. John McCain told reporters Thursday that he had been working “night and day” to find an agreement this time, but that he had thus far had “no success.”
Republicans have repeatedly argued, as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell did Thursday morning, that Democrats will rue the day they changed the rules if they lose the majority.
“I realize this sort of wishful thinking might appeal to the uninitiated newcomers in the Democratic conference who served exactly zero days in the minority, but the rest of you guys should know better,” McConnell said in a floor speech Thursday, saying that Democrats would inevitably come to “regret” the rules change, possibly, he said, “a lot sooner than you think.”
Still, Reid said that the gridlock made it necessary for the Senate to “evolve.”
“It’s time to change,” Reid said. “It’s time to change the Senate before this institution becomes obsolete.”
*This post has been updated.