Washington Bureau

07.15.13

Reid Readies ‘Nuclear Option’

Harry Reid is ready to press the little red button. In a Monday speech at the Center for American Progress, the Senate majority leader announced his readiness to invoke the so-called nuclear option and push through filibuster reform on a procedural vote.

Reid, citing the refusal of Senate Republicans to allow up-or-down votes on seven of the president’s nominees, including Tom Perez to be secretary of Labor and Gina McCarthy to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, said, “The Senate is broken and needs to be fixed,” and emphasized “I am prepared to take whatever actions necessary” to do so. 

The Nevada senator made clear though that he was prepared only to end the filibuster, the Senate’s tradition of requiring a supermajority of 60 votes to force an end to debate, on presidential nominees. In Reid’s words, “That’s where the big plug is.” In contrast, Reid maintained that the 60-vote threshold still had a useful purpose both with legislation and judicial appointments to protect the rights of both “progressive and conservative groups.” But, for all of Reid’s insistence that he had no desire to apply filibuster reform to judges, his argument seemed to imply that was the next logical step.

In his speech, Reid stated that his opposition to the filibuster was based on the Constitution. The Constitution is very specific as to what requires a supermajority, vetoes, impeachment and treaties, said the Senate majority leader. He then went on to note that in the same paragraph where those supermajority requirements are laid out, it also makes clear that presidential nominations should require only a majority. But the part of the Constitution that he seemed to be citing, Article II, Section 2, paragraph 2, explicitly includes “Judges of the supreme court” as being subject to majority vote by “advice and consent” of the Senate.

The Senate will engage in a rare closed-door joint caucus on Monday night in the Capitol in hopes of finding common ground and avoiding the nuclear option. But Reid made clear to the audience on Monday that Republicans will have to agree to allow up-or-down votes on all seven nominees for him not to go forward on filibuster reform.