All systems are go for the "nuclear option" on the floor of the Senate, unless Republicans decide to meet a demand they have viewed as untenable.
Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters after a caucus luncheon Thursday that he has the votes to get rid of the ability to filibuster executive branch nominations. Reid came to floor later in the afternoon to file motions to limit debate on seven executive branch nominations, with votes lined up for next week.
"We want to break gridlock and make Washington work for America, particularly for the middle class," Reid said. "The first step is to stop blocking the president's nominees."
"We're not interested in cutting a deal to pass one or two or three nominees. The president deserves to have his team in place, and there are no more major objections to the qualifications of any of these nominees," Reid said. "All we need is six [GOP votes] to invoke cloture. Let them vote against these people."
During another heated floor exchange, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., snapped that Reid would come to be viewed as the worst leader in the chamber's history.
McConnell tried to set up a unanimous consent agreement to process a slew of nominations more quickly next week, but Reid objected, noting that the consent might lead to a GOP-majority on the National Labor Relations Board if two recess appointees expire.
McConnell has said that most of the nominees on the list will likely be confirmed, including Gina McCarthy to be EPA administrator and Thomas E. Perez to be Labor secretary.
McConnell's list would have sped up votes on those nominees likely to overcome attempted filibusters. But the nominations of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and two choices for the NLRB are the most likely to bring about the actual floor standoff. Those three individuals hold recess appointments that Senate Republicans have challenged in court. Thus far, federal courts have agreed that the appointments are not legal.
Reid put Cordray first on the list, meaning the standoff will come sooner, rather than later. Motions to limit debate, or invoke cloture, "ripen" for votes in the order filed.
"The National Labor Relations Board ... they'd rather see it disappear. So, the president was forced to do a recess appointment. Now, they've said these two people are disqualified from ever serving,"Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., said. "Have they raised any questions about competency or corruption with them? Not a one. There are no questions about their competency."
Asked about three D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals nominees that are expected out of the Senate Judiciary Committee in the coming weeks, Reid signaled the revised filibuster rules would not apply to judicial nominations, even though a number of Senate Republicans say the court doesn't need any more judges.
Republicans say that the procedural move would lead to the end of the Senate as it is known, because a future majority will inevitably expand the procedural changes to judicial nominations and legislative business. However,Democratic leaders say the changes have already happened.
"How sad it is to see where we are today," Durbin said. "The norm[s] sadly are 60-vote margins, filibusters, 30 votes on the floor, people looking very closely at their television screens on C-SPAN to see if there's any evidence of life on the floor of the United States Senate."
Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who has been a GOP point-man on rules issues, said that if things develop as it now appears they will, Republicans should take the case to the voters.
"It will turn this into a national debate about who controls the new majority institution in our country because we'll have a new one for the first time in 230 years," Alexander said. "If Sen. Reid changes the character of the Senate, then the Senate ceases to function. We'll take our case to the people. We'll argue for a new majority, and then Republicans will be in a position to do whatever Republicans with 51 votes want to do.
"We can take up right to work, we can take up finishing Yucca Mountain, we can take up building the Keystone pipeline, we can take up medical malpractice, we can repeal Obamacare, we can change the Dodd-Frank Act," Alexander continued. "In fact, the more we think about it, the more attractive it becomes."
"I hope that cooler heads will prevail again in the United States Senate this year, and the Democrat majority will decide to reverse its plans and continue the tradition, the history the precedent and the rules of the United States Senate," said Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota.
Reid and McConnell have set up a special joint meeting for Monday evening in the Old Senate Chamber following the first vote. That might be the last chance to avert the end-game, but there's little evidence such a discussion will bear fruit.