In November, with little media coverage, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid led the charge in changing the Senate rules relating to filibusters. The Washington Post reported, “Democrats used a rare parliamentary move to change the rules so that federal judicial nominees and executive-office appointments can advance to confirmation votes by a simple majority of senators, rather than the 60-vote supermajority that has been the standard,” noting, “the rule change does not apply to Supreme Court nominations or to legislation.”
With this new rule in place, or rather with the old rule being suspended, the Senate has confirmed several of President Obama’s nominees for various federal offices. These include Brian Davis as federal district court judge in Florida who has waited more than 650 days for a confirmation. Another appointee was actually removed from the fast-track created by the Senate majority. The Senate vote 59-34 to invoke cloture on the appointment of Janet Yellen as Federal Reserve Chair, however Senators agreed to go on vacation before voting on her confirmation on January 6. I don’t understand why the Senate would delay this action. I also don’t understand how Harry Reid can justify his about-face on something that he once called “the nuclear option.”
In 2005, then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid issued a statement on the so-called nuclear option. Reid’s letter read “the Republican majority has threatened to break the Senate rules, violate over 200 years of Senate tradition and impair the ability of Democrats and Republicans to work together on issues of real concern to the American people… My Republican colleagues claim that nominees are entitled to an up-down vote. That claim ignores history, including recent history. Throughout the years, many judicial nominees have been denied up-down votes.” Reid added, “The American people have rejected the nuclear option because they see it for what it is — an unconstitutional abuse of power.
Regardless of political affiliation, Americans understand that this is a partisan power grab.” He concluded, “I want to emphasize that any potential compromise is contingent on a commitment that the nuclear option will not be exercised in any form during this Congress. The threat to break the Senate rules must end.” Even as recently as 2009, Reid opposed eliminating the filibuster, as too radical.
However, after changing the Senate rules in November, Reid said, “The American people believe the Senate is broken, and I believe the American people are right.” Adding that the Senate must evolve beyond parliamentary roadblocks.
Whenever the Democrats lose the majority in the Senate, Reid will most likely go back to his previous position of supporting the right of Senators to filibuster Presidential nominees. On the flip-side, Mitch McConnell and the Republicans will probably welcome the new power to stifle dissent within the Senate.