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Roll Call

Reid Downplays 'Nuclear Option' Threat on Judges

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
Reid said he expects the White House to provide more nominees for the District of Columbia Circuit of Appeals, which could set up a battle over Senate rules.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday he expects a full slate of nominees for the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals to reach the chamber in the coming weeks.

The Nevada Democrat said he would keep an eye on the movement on the judicial nominations, and, when pressed on if he would seek to change the Senate’s filibuster rules, Reid said: “I hope that’s not necessary.”

In an April 5 interview with Nevada public radio, Reid held out the possibility that he would move to prevent Republicans from filibustering President Barack Obama’s court picks. Such a move — to change Senate rules by a simple majority — is widely known as the “nuclear option.”

The possibility that the White House might soon have the three other names to submit for the D.C. court vacancies would line up with a strategy outlined by Sen. Charles E. Schumer at a dinner last month. The New York Democrat suggested that all four nominees would move quickly to the Senate floor. If the nominees run into trouble, Reid and Schumer have hinted that they could try to go further to get people confirmed without needing 60 votes.

Speaking to reporters following the regular caucus meeting, Reid said he spoke by phone with the White House on Tuesday morning about the vacant seats on the federal appeals court viewed by many observers as the most powerful. The first of the four nominees — Principal Deputy Solicitor General Sri Srinivasan — will face a nomination hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. President Barack Obama has yet to nominate individuals for the other three slots.

“We’re going to have this young man, we hope that that can be done very quickly, and then we expect in the next couple of weeks ... three more nominations. But it’s just not the D.C. Circuit, it’s all nominations,” Reid said. “Scores and scores have been stopped in other means with holds and secret holds and other things of that nature.”

Caitlin J. Halligan, another nominee to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, withdrew from consideration following two unsuccessful attempts to get the 60 votes needed to limit debate and break a filibuster.

Using the nuclear option to change filibuster rules would, of course, escalate partisan tensions and be a last resort. And it might be difficult to pull off, as unanimous support from all 55 members of the Democratic Conference is not expected.

“I’m opposed to the nuclear option. That has not changed. I don’t mind changing the rules,” Sen. Carl Levin said. “I want to do it according to the rules. So, it’s not a question of whether you change the rules, the question is whether you try and do it in a way which is inconsistent with the rules, and I would not favor that course.”

The Michigan Democrat was among the senators who led an effort in January to stop Reid from changing the rules with only Democratic votes.

Republicans, led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, contend that the judicial vacancies are a function of Obama not submitting names and that, in fact, they have been more cooperative in getting judges confirmed than their Democratic counterparts were at the start of President George W. Bush’s second term in 2005. That fight took the Senate to the brink of a procedural standoff before the “gang of 14” senators reached an agreement. “About 75 percent of the vacancies that we have in the judiciary don’t even have nominees,” McConnell said. “So we have treated the president’s judicial nominations very, very fairly by any objective standard.”

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