Senate Majority Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell tangled over nominations for the second day in a row Thursday, with Reid raising the possibility of changing the filibuster rules on a simple majority vote to speed action.
“Despite the agreement we reached in January, Republican obstruction on nominees continues unabated, no different than it was the last Congress,” Reid said.
In an effort to avoid significant changes to Senate rules — in part because there were not 51 Democrats who supported such a change — the Senate agreed to modest adjustments to the filibuster rule that would be in effect for the two years of this Congress.
Reid said the agreement also included a pledge by Republicans to not filibuster nominees, except in the case of extraordinary circumstances, in return for Democrats agreeing not to change the rules on a simple majority. Historically, a change to Senate rules would require a 67-vote supermajority.
But the Nevada Democrat could maneuver to change the rules with a simple majority vote to eliminate the requirement for cloture on nominations, thus allowing confirmation of President Barack Obama’s nominees by a simple majority vote. Opponents call it the nuclear option.
“Republicans had agreed to cease the endless obstruction of presidential nominees,” Reid said. “They agreed that they would work with us to ‘schedule votes on nominees in a timely matter except in extraordinary circumstances.’
“In return for their saying that is what they would do, we agreed that we would not consider any changes to the rule outside regular order,” Reid continued. “Democrats have kept our word, we intend to keep our word, we have not altered the rule, but since we entered into the agreement Republicans have failed to hold up their end of the bargain.”
Earlier in his comments, Reid cautioned that he was not making a threat.
“These remarks I am giving here today are only in an effort to get this body to work well,” Reid said. “There is nothing sinister in what I am saying. I just want the Senate to work well.”
Republicans have opposed the nomination of Thomas E. Perez to head the Department of Labor, Gina McCarthy to lead the Environmental Protection Agency and Richard Cordray to keep running the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. They also twice filibustered Caitlin J. Halligan of New York to be a judge on the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals, most recently in March.
McConnell charged that Reid was seeking to manufacture a crisis and argued that Obama’s nominees have been approved at a quicker pace that those of President George W. Bush in his second term.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.