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Senate GOP Wrestles With Whether to Undo the Nuclear Option

Graham wants Republicans to defuse the nuclear option and return the 60-vote threshold on nominations. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

After crying foul when Democrats used the nuclear option to essentially eliminate the filibuster for most nominations, Senate Republicans are wrestling with whether to change it back.  

Republicans, who will take over the majority next Congress, met Tuesday evening to discuss the matter, but reached no decision on a course of action. Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., John McCain, R-Ariz., and others are calling on their colleagues to reinstate the 60-vote threshold for breaking a filibuster on nominations to force people to go across the aisle.  

“I think that moderating exercise has served the country well," Graham said.  

Senate Democrats got rid of the filibuster last year for all nominations except Supreme Court nominees by reducing the threshold for breaking a filibuster to a simple majority. They did it using the nuclear option, which allowed them to essentially change Senate rules on a simple majority vote by overturning the ruling of the chair.  

Republicans were livid because changes to Senate rules typically require a two-thirds majority.  

But now that the genie is out of the bottle, some Republicans believe they should keep the nomination process as is.  

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, had been leading the charge in favor of leaving the issue alone, recently penning a couple of op-eds on the issue.  

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said he agreed with Hatch, noting that he believes it was a mistake for Democrats to trigger the nuclear option.  

“But once it’s done, I don’t think we should go back,” Cruz said. “I don’t think there should be one rule for Democrats and one rule for Republicans.”  

Cruz said that whatever is decided, the Senate should ratify it under the regular process, which requires 67 votes early in the next Congress.  

Other Republicans echoed his position, including Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who wants to see proposals considered by the Senate Rules Committee before they go to the floor with Republicans and Democrats offering amendments on the plans.  

“I’d like to adopt a rule the right way through the regular order with 67 votes,” Alexander said, adding, “How can people trust us to write rules for them if we don’t follow our own rules?”  

Alexander intends to develop a proposal with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, which would address the issue. He said other proposals might be offered.  

While no decisions have been made on the Alexander-Lee plan, Alexander said his preference would be to have a 51-vote threshold for all nominations, including for Supreme Court nominees.  

“I imagine that some senators would say that they prefer 60 votes for the Supreme Court and that is an amendment they could offer in the Rules Committee, it’s an amendment they could offer on the floor of the Senate," Alexander said.  

He added that he didn't know how senators would vote on such an amendment.  

Republicans also were supposed to vote on other conference business, but ran out of time. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., said he expects a vote on his proposal Wednesday at the Republican Steering Committee lunch. Vitter is looking to require all Republican staff to get their health care from the exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act.  

Related: Truce in 'Nuclear' Filibuster War May be GOP's Best Option The 114th: CQ Roll Call's Guide to the New Congress Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.