Reid’s ‘nu­clear op­tion’ rules clear path for Trump Cabi­net nom­i­nees

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY SETH MCLAUGH­LIN

Democrats are in­creas­ingly antsy over the lineup Pres­i­den­t­elect Don­ald Trump has an­nounced for his Cabi­net, but they are also pow­er­less to do very much to stop him — thanks to their own leader, Sen. Harry Reid.

It’s un­likely Mr. Reid had a Pres­i­dent Trump in mind when he pulled the so-called “nu­clear op­tion” trig­ger three years ago, chang­ing Se­nate rules to evis­cer­ate the use of a fil­i­buster to block pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nees.

Set up to help Pres­i­dent Obama’s picks over­come GOP op­po­si­tion, those same rules now will clear the path for Sen. Jeff Ses­sions to be­come the new

at­tor­ney gen­eral, Rep. Tom Price to head Health and Hu­man Ser­vices and two bil­lion­aires to lead the Trea­sury and Com­merce de­part­ments.

Lib­eral in­ter­est groups are plead­ing with Democrats to fight the nom­i­nees, even though there’s not a lot they can do with­out the fil­i­buster and against a uni­fied GOP.

De­spite that, those who helped Mr. Reid said they have no re­grets.

“I sup­ported what was done,” said Sen. Ron Wy­den, Ore­gon Demo­crat. “I think it was in the pub­lic in­ter­est then. I think it is still in the pub­lic in­ter­est.”

The Con­sti­tu­tion gives the pres­i­dent the power to nom­i­nate top of­fi­cials and the Se­nate the role of pro­vid­ing “ad­vice and con­sent.” That has been un­der­stood to mean se­na­tors must vote to ap­prove each nom­i­nee — and, in re­cent decades, it has meant a nom­i­nee must be able to sur­vive a fil­i­buster.

Both par­ties trade blame for who’s re­spon­si­ble for things. Democrats, how­ever, in­ten­si­fied the par­ti­san bat­tles un­der Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, us­ing the fil­i­buster to pre­vent him from nam­ing a se­ries of con­ser­va­tive ap­peals court judges.

The GOP re­tal­i­ated un­der Mr. Obama. Mr. Reid, de­spite hav­ing been part of the Bush-era fil­i­busters, promised to de­fend the use of the tool as leader. He didn’t. With the sup­port of his fel­low Democrats he used a short­cut pro­ce­dure to change Se­nate rules: Any nom­i­nee save for the Supreme Court can now be con­firmed by ma­jor­ity vote.

Un­der the new rules Mr. Reid man­aged to push through con­tro­ver­sial Obama picks in­clud­ing Ale­jan­dro May­orkas as deputy sec­re­tary at Home­land Se­cu­rity and for­mer Rep. Melvin Watt be­com­ing di­rec­tor of the Fed­eral Hous­ing Fi­nance Agency.

The Se­nate also voted to con­firm three judges — Pa­tri­cia Ann Mil­lett and Cor­nelia T.L. Pil­lard in 2013 and Robert Leon Wilkins in 2014 — to the pow­er­ful U.S. Court of Ap­peals for the D.C. Cir­cuit, which hears a num­ber of cases in­volv­ing fed­eral agen­cies and has be­come a prov­ing ground for fu­ture Supreme Court nom­i­nees.

The bench of the D.C. Cir­cuit is now com­posed of seven Demo­crat-ap­pointed jus­tices and four Repub­li­can-ap­pointed jus­tices.

“This is not about Democrats ver­sus Repub­li­cans,” Mr. Reid said at the time of the rules change. “This is about mak­ing Wash­ing­ton work — re­gard­less of who is in the White House or who con­trols the Se­nate.”

Af­ter Repub­li­cans won con­trol of the Se­nate, the fil­i­buster was less im­por­tant. They could use other tools, such as con­trol of com­mit­tees and the cal­en­dar, to de­lay Mr. Obama’s nom­i­nees — or use their ma­jor­ity to de­feat ones that did come up for a vote.

Democrats had been con­fi­dent of keep­ing con­trol of the White House with Hil­lary Clin­ton and of tak­ing back con­trol of the Se­nate. Mr. Reid, who is re­tir­ing at the end of this year, even en­cour­aged Democrats to con­sider ex­pand­ing his use of the nu­clear op­tion to elim­i­nate the 60-vote thresh­old for Supreme Court nom­i­nees.

“It’s clear to me that if the Repub­li­cans try to fil­i­buster an­other cir­cuit court judge, but es­pe­cially a Supreme Court jus­tice, I’ve told ’em how and I’ve done it, not just talk­ing about it. I did it in chang­ing the rules of the Se­nate. It’ll have to be done again,” Mr. Reid told Talk­ing Points Memo.

Now it’s the GOP that is con­sid­er­ing that step, with Mr. Trump poised to make a Supreme Court pick and Democrats’ in­com­ing leader, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, threat­en­ing a fil­i­buster.

Still, Democrats main­tain the de­ci­sion has not come back to haunt them.

Asked whether he re­grets the de­ci­sion, Sen. Richard Blu­men­thal, the Connecticut Demo­crat who has an­nounced he op­poses Mr. Price’s nom­i­na­tion, said, “That is the most com­mon ques­tion that has been asked of me” since the elec­tion.

“The an­swer is then and now, I be­lieve that ma­jor­ity rule should pre­vail in the United States Se­nate,” Mr. Blu­men­thal said. “That has been my po­si­tion since my ar­rival here when I voted to elim­i­nate the fil­i­buster, and the vote of the ma­jor­ity should pre­vail.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

OPEN ROAD: Re­tir­ing Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Harry Reid’s rules will ease the con­fir­ma­tion process for Don­ald Trump’s picks.

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