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McCain Looks to Defuse 'Nuclear' Threat

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo
McCain and Rubio disagree over how hard the GOP should push debt limit restrictions when allowing the appointment of budget agreement conferees.

Reid’s statement followed a morning exchange he had on the Senate floor with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., that foretold some of what’s to come between now and July, when the majority leader could once again push the envelope, provided he can find 51 votes among the Democrats to do so.

Levin said he still opposes the nuclear option but said it’s too early to speculate on what might actually take place come July.

Democrats are making moves to set up the standoff. Reid delayed a test vote on Richard Cordray’s nomination to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau until after the Senate considers an immigration overhaul, and the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Wednesday set up floor consideration of contested nominations to the National Labor Relations Board.

Reid took the step of setting up a Thursday cloture vote on Sri Srinivasan, President Barack Obama’s choice for a seat on what’s generally regarded as the nation’s second-highest court.

Republicans are crying foul. “These continued threats to use the nuclear option point to the majority’s own culture of intimidation here in the Senate,” McConnell said. “Their view is that you had better confirm the people we want, when we want them, or we’ll break the rules of the Senate to change the rules so you can’t stop us.”

Senior Senate GOP aides have noted the number of times Reid has filed cloture on nominations to speed up the confirmation process, even when Republicans have already agreed to hold up-or-down votes at a later point.

“I’m always amused when a Senator who led serial filibusters against nominees in the Bush administration is in high dudgeon over ONE judicial nominee being stopped,” McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said in an email.

McConnell sought to emphasize that point by making his own consent request to schedule the Srinivasan confirmation vote after the Memorial Day recess without requiring a 60-vote threshold for cloture.

Democrats favoring broader changes, including requirements for talking filibusters of legislative business, say they would view July action on nomination rules as only a start.

“I’m ready to go with the rules changes the minute that Harry Reid presses the button,” said Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., who declared himself a revolutionary on filibuster changes after a minority blocked the key amendment on background checks. “If the beginning of rules change is limited to nominations, I think that’s as good a place to start as any.”

The HELP Committee action came despite ranking member Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., saying that the NLRB nominees already serving as recess appointees should resign because of an ongoing legal dispute about the Constitution’s provisions regarding recess appointments.

“In speaking of President Reagan’s recess appointments, the late Sen. Robert Byrd on the Senate floor said in 1985: ‘The president’s lawyers know full well the recess appointments clause in the Constitution was not created as a political loophole to thwart the will of the Senate,’” Alexander said, referencing the legendary West Virginia Democrat.

HELP Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, vehemently disagreed with Alexander’s logic, saying the two nominees considered Wednesday — who received recess appointments in 2012 — are well-qualified.

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