The Price Reid Will Pay for Going Nuclear

The move allows him more leeway on nominees, but it will make it more difficult for him to do just about anything else.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) talks to reporters about the use of the 'nuclear option' at the U.S. Capitol November 21. (National Journal)

Harry Reid won a great victory Thursday by ramming through the nuclear option, but it's a victory he'll pay for for the rest of his career.

Republicans — furious over Reid's nuclear maneuver — have more incentive than ever to find new ways to make trouble. And so, while Reid now has more leverage to move most nominees, he'll find new hurdles when he tries to do just about anything else.

The onslaught started Thursday, when Democrats asked for unanimous consent to move legislation renewing severe restrictions on nonmetal firearms that escape detection from metal detectors. The legislation is largely noncontroversial, and it was initially expected to pass without incident.

But Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions objected to the unanimous-consent arrangement, saying that it was the wrong time to move the bill. Instead, the measure will languish at least until the Senate reconvenes Dec. 9, the same day the ban is set to expire. Also left to languish: a vote on Patricia Millett, the D.C. Circuit Court nominee whose blocked nomination provided the impetus for Reid to go nuclear.

And those two hurdles are just a preview of what's to come, as Republicans' tools to not just delay Reid's objectives, but to block them entirely.

The so-called nuclear option, which ends the minority's ability to filibuster judicial and executive nominees, does not bar filibusters of nominees to the Supreme Court. Now that Republicans have lost their voice on lower-court nominees, they're all the less likely to play ball when Obama needs their votes to fill vacancies on the country's premier judicial panel.

None of this negates that, for now at least, Reid's successful change to the rules is a net victory for Democrats. The newfound freedom it gives Obama to shape the judicial system will affect the course of American government for years.

But Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley took to the Senate floor Thursday to warn Democrats of the price they'll pay if, and likely when, the political tide breaks in the other direction: "Majorities are fickle. Majorities are fleeting. Here today, gone tomorrow."

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