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Reid Hints at Using 'Nuclear Option' on Judges

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Friday that unless nominations start moving swiftly through the Senate, another round of dramatic rules changes may be in the offing.

The Nevada Democrat said that while he was “happy” with the modest rules changes adopted in January on a bipartisan basis, the number of pending judicial nominations led him to warn his colleagues of the potential for the chamber’s rules to be modified at any point in the year, not just at the opening of a new Congress.

“All within the sound of my voice, including my Democratic senators and the Republican senators who I serve with, should understand that we as a body have the power on any given day to change the rules with a simple majority, and I will do that if necessary,” Reid said on Nevada Public Radio.

Reid last year adopted the position that rules could be changed using a simple majority — instead of a filibuster-proof majority — if done on the first day of the legislative session. But these recent comments appear to signal that he believes he has an even broader ability to reshape the chamber’s rules.

In the interview, Reid said he discussed Senate business Friday with President Barack Obama and New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the No. 3 in the Democratic leadership hierarchy.

“I’m a very patient man. Last Congress and this Congress, we had the opportunity to make some big changes. We made changes, but the time will tell whether they’re big enough. I’m going to wait and build a case,” Reid said. “If the Republicans in the Senate don’t start approving some judges and don’t start helping get some of these nominations done, then we’re going to have to take more action.”

Reid’s comments are similar to those of former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., who in 2005 appeared prepared to take procedural steps to end the use of delay tactics against President George W. Bush’s judicial nominations. Reid vigorously opposed Frist at the time. A group of seven Republicans and seven Democrats known as the “gang of 14” cut a deal that blocked Frist from having the majority needed to deploy the “nuclear option.” In exchange for the Republicans opposing Frist’s effort, the Democrats and Republicans in the group would only back filibusters of nominees under “extraordinary circumstances.”

On a point sure to draw particular attention from the GOP, Reid said the issue he sees with delayed nominations extends beyond vacant judgeships to the nomination of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Republicans have said repeatedly that no one will be confirmed to that post until Congress makes changes to that agency’s organizational structure. The CFPB was established under the 2010 financial regulator overhaul.

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