Democrats use ‘nu­clear op­tion,’ un­der­cut Se­nate’s fil­i­buster rules

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DINAN AND JAC­QUE­LINE KLI­MAS

Se­nate Democrats trig­gered the “nu­clear op­tion” Thurs­day, us­ing a short­cut to un­der­cut the cham­ber’s fil­i­buster rules and giv­ing Pres­i­dent Obama a clear path to stack the fed­eral ju­di­ciary with ide­o­log­i­cal al­lies.

In a tense 52-48 vote, Democrats over­turned decades of prece­dent and re­duced the num­ber of votes needed to cut off the fil­i­buster of a nom­i­nee from 60 to a sim­ple ma­jor­ity — and in the process tin­ker­ing with a tool that has made the Se­nate unique.

Repub­li­cans were hint­ing at re­tal­i­a­tion and said the move fur­ther poi­soned the at­mos­phere on Capi­tol Hill.

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid, Ne­vada Demo­crat, said he didn’t fear re­tal­i­a­tion. He said he reached a tip­ping point af­ter Repub­li­cans fil­i­bus­tered three of Mr. Obama’s nom­i­nees to serve on the fed­eral ap­peals court in Wash­ing­ton, which is con­sid­ered the sec­ond most im­por­tant court in the coun­try be­cause it hears cases in­volv­ing key fed­eral agen­cies.

“It’s time to change. It’s time to change the Se­nate be­fore this in­sti­tu­tion be­comes ob­so­lete,” Mr. Reid said as he pushed his col­leagues to co­a­lesce on the crit­i­cal vote.

In­deed, it was a vote many of them — par­tic­u­larly the newer Demo­cratic mem­bers — have been an­tic­i­pat­ing. Frus­trated by Repub­li­cans’ re­peated abil­ity to thwart Mr. Obama through the fil­i­buster, they have been push­ing Mr. Reid to limit fil­i­busters of nom­i­nees and leg­is­la­tion.

The ac­tion, how­ever, lim­its fil­i­busters to nom­i­nees and doesn’t ap­ply to Supreme Court picks, which Democrats deemed im­por­tant enough to be sub­ject to a 60-vote thresh­old.

In­deed, hours af­ter the rules change, Repub­li­cans and Democrats fil­i­bus­tered the an­nual de­fense pol­icy bill, say­ing they wanted to ex­tend the de­bate to make sure their amend­ments get fair con­sid­er­a­tion.

Thirty-two se­na­tors, more than half of the 52 who voted for the rule change, have never served in a Repub­li­can-ma­jor­ity Se­nate. Of those, 11 took of­fice in Jan­uary and have not served for even a year in the cham­ber.

“They don’t know what it’s like to be in the mi­nor­ity, so they want to have a ma­jor­ity that will ride roughshod over the wishes and views and in­put of the mi­nor­ity,” Sen. John McCain, Ari­zona Repub­li­can, told re­porters.

“Now be­cause of the par­ti­san­ship and the new peo­ple who have never been in the mi­nor­ity, we are prov­ing one thing, and that is, if the ma­jor­ity only can change the rules, then there are no rules,” Mr. McCain said. “That’s the les­son here.”

Ex­actly how far Mr. Reid’s move re­ver­ber­ates will de­pend on Repub­li­cans. Even with­out a full fil­i­buster, the mi­nor­ity has plenty of other tools to slow op­er­a­tions in the Se­nate.

The level of par­ti­san­ship Thurs­day seemed to re­main. De­spite the heated floor speeches, Repub­li­cans and Democrats chat­ted am­i­ca­bly with one another on the floor, and the top law­mak­ers on var­i­ous com­mit­tees were talk­ing through de­tails.

At the White House, Pres­i­dent Obama wel­comed the change. As a se­na­tor, he reg­u­larly par­tic­i­pated in fil­i­busters, in­clud­ing when Democrats pi­o­neered the block­ade of ju­di­cial nom­i­nees un­der Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush.

But Mr. Obama said Repub­li­cans’ use of the fil­i­buster is worse.

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