Something terrifying happened in the Senate on Thursday. Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada announced that he wanted the body to vote for some judicial nominees on a majority-rules basis. In order to avoid a move that would force them to do so, one senator suggested that all of the senators should get together and debate the idea. Both of these are novel, even shocking ideas.
This fight—which involved several gentlemanly fellows in suits speaking gently from behind sturdy wooden lecterns—has been coming for a while. In May, Reid made clear that the ongoing use of the casual filibuster—that is, the general threat to hold up decisions thereby forcing a 60-senator vote—necessitated a change to the rules. That change? Nominations from the executive branch would not be able to be filibustered. In other words, what Senator Ted Cruz of Texas called the "traditional 60-vote threshold" would not be an option. The president forced the issue in June, nominating three judges to the D.C. Circuit Court, expecting that the Republicans would be tempted to exercise that threshold.
Reid announced today that he planned to bring those nominees up for a vote next week in a speech from the Senate floor. He singled out the perceived intransigence of Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. As transcribed by Talking Points Memo:
The Republican leader has failed to live up to his commitments. He’s failed to do what he said he would do — move nominations by regular order except in extraordinary circumstances. I refuse to unilaterally surrender my right to respond to this breach of faith.
McConnell responded in kind. Calling Reid's frustration a "phony, manufactured crisis," the Republican leader suggested that such a change would mark the "end of the Senate." He insisted that two of the delayed nominees — the president's Labor and EPA Cabinet picks — would get the 60 votes needed to block a filibuster. The broader theme of Republican senators who spoke, though, was that slow approval of nominees is hardly exceptional. Tennessee's Lamar Alexander—who echoed comments from McConnell about Reid's post-mortem legacy—pointed out past examples of nominees from previous presidents who faced similar delays.