Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) executed a rare power play to box in the GOP on Thursday night, setting a new precedent that effectively nukes a rarely used procedural motion and drawing a vociferous rebuke from Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Reid’s move to effectively neuter the obscure procedural motion — one that has not been successfully used since 1941 and had not even been attempted this year before today — came after months of frustration over GOP stalling tactics, Democrats said.
“This was not just about this bill,” a senior Democratic aide said. “This was a shot across the bow to Republicans who have been emptying the toolbox to block even the most bipartisan, job-creating, common-sense pieces of legislation.”
The dispute erupted as Democrats sought to wrap up final passage of legislation regarding the manipulation of Chinese currency, which had cleared a cloture vote of 62-38 earlier in the day.
McConnell insisted on a series of votes on motions to suspend the rules to pass unrelated amendments, even though cloture had already been filed. The rare maneuver requires a 67-vote threshold to pass.
The senior Democratic aide accused McConnell of trying to derail the currency bill after his own Conference bucked his wishes and voted for cloture. “He reached for the only tool he had to try and derail this bill,” the aide said. “We took it away from him.”
Reid warned on the floor that allowing unchecked procedural motions after 60 Senators have voted to invoke cloture could lead to unlimited amendments with no way to cut off debate, and he effectively blew up the procedure with a precedent-setting counterattack.
When the presiding officer at the time, Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), ruled that the motions sought by McConnell were not dilatory, a term of art meaning that they are intended to delay, Reid moved that the ruling of the chair be sustained. That led to a simple-majority vote that he wanted to lose and did, 48-51. The move set the precedent that such motions will no longer be allowed.
Reid’s power move appeared similar to a proposed “nuclear option” of changing the Senate filibuster rules with a simple majority. Reid did effectively change chamber rules with a simple majority vote, but the filibuster was unaffected. He said he still believes in the 60-vote rule and the right to filibuster. He also said he still disagrees with a GOP proposal from several years ago to do away with the filibuster for judicial nominations — the original “nuclear option.”
Reid also noted that there have been several previous occasions in which a majority has overturned the chair’s ruling on a procedural matter.
During a rare, lengthy floor debate over the Senate’s dysfunction from Members of both parties, McConnell accused Reid of changing the precedents of the Senate simply to avoid voting on the motions to suspend the rules sought by the GOP. He also accused Reid of fundamentally turning the Senate into the House.